Yemen should have a special place in every Indian coffee drinkers heart. As legend has it, all Indian coffee is the progeny of a few seeds brought by a Sufi pilgrim named Baba Budan. In the late 17th century, Baba Budan set off from his home in what is now Chikmagalur for Haj in Mecca. The Arabs had introduced coffee to the pilgrims in Mecca and all across the peninsula the coffee industry was booming. Coffee shops became such popular places of gathering that there were several short-lived attempts to ban the drink to prevent any potential dissent from the free mixing of people.
On his way back home, Baba Budan stopped off in Yemeni port city of Mocha. Yemen had adopted strict controls on the trade of coffee, as the Arabian and Muslim African countries enjoyed a worldwide monopoly on coffee production, and the sale of live seeds was punishable by death. Nevertheless, the story goes that Baba Budan was able to procure seven live seeds, hid them under his belt and made it back to the Malabar coast in India undetected. How much truth there is to this legend is difficult to ascertain – the Dutch were also known to be cultivating coffee in Malabar around the same time, though they could have also been using descendants of Budan’s famous seeds. Interestingly, the Dutch were never successful ingrowing the plants in India, so they transported them to Sri Lanka where the industry flourished for more than a century before the coffee rust fungus decimated the industry. Nevertheless, the results speak for themselves – Babu Budan attained sainthood, had a mountain range named after him and even adorns the name of cafes and beer.
Legend aside, we were excited to try some Yemeni coffee that we bought from Sweet Marias. Yemeni coffee is notorious for poor processing and the fact that it is grown at relatively low altitudes in near drought conditions doesn’t help either. The green coffee we bought reflected exactly that: lots of bleached beans, greens, browns, bits and broken.
Coming out of the roaster, the beans we’re equally unimpressive. The lack of uniformity in the greens led to an uneven roast, with some beans very light and others scorched.
But no one drinks coffee based on appearance and all that matters is taste. In that department, the Mokha Sharasi beans delivered. Using our Aeropress, the roasted coffee had a great body that stood out immediately. There was a bit of a woody earthy quality and it was not surprising to have some off notes given the amount of defect beans in the sample. The acidity was well balance, if muted, and we could taste the canteloupe but little of the plum and raisin that the tasting notes indicated. The finish was spicy with a strong bitter chocolate flavor. All in all, we were impressed. With ancestral roots like this, it is little surprise that Indian coffee from Baba Budan’s region tastes great!