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Coffee in Middle East

The Varieties of Coffee Grown in the Arabian Peninsula

Dive into the rich history and cultural significance of coffee in the Arabian Peninsula, where the beloved beverage originated. Explore the coffee-producing regions, such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Oman, and learn about the Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora plant species. Discover the unique taste profiles of notable Arab coffee varieties like Yemeni Mocha, Matari, Ismaili, Harasi, Saudi Arabian Al-Qahtaniyah, and Omani varieties. Get insight into traditional cultivation methods, modern agricultural techniques, and the harvesting process of Arab coffee beans. Finally, understand the economic impact, challenges, and future outlook for the Arabian Peninsula’s coffee industry.

Arabian Peninsula Coffee Varieties

History and Introduction to Coffee in the Arabian Peninsula

Origin of coffee and its arrival in the Arabian Peninsula

The history of coffee dates back to the 15th century and is believed to have originated in the highlands of Ethiopia. The coffee plant grew wild in these regions and was consumed by the indigenous people as a beverage. This beverage was usually made by crushing the coffee beans, adding them to hot water, and drinking the liquid that resulted from the infusion. The name “coffee” is thought to have been derived from the Arabic word “qahwah,” which means wine or intoxicating drink.

In the early 15th century, coffee beans and recipes began their journey across the Middle East to Yemen, through the port city of Mocha. Sufi monks based in Yemen adopted coffee drinking as a means to stay awake during long hours of nighttime prayers. Soon, coffee became an integral part of the Arab society and trade. By the late 15th century, coffee made its way to the Arabian Peninsula, where it began to change the social fabric of the region.

Cultural significance of coffee in Arab countries

Coffee has had a significant impact on the culture of the Arab world. As it spread across the Arabian Peninsula, it became deeply ingrained in the daily life of the people. It was consumed in homes, marketplaces, and local gathering spots known as “qahveh khaneh” or coffee houses. These coffee houses played a crucial role in Arab society, serving as central hubs for socializing, intellectual discussions, and political debates.

Drinking coffee became a sign of hospitality and social status in the Arab world. Offering coffee to a guest was seen as an essential display of goodwill and respect. The preparation and serving of coffee also became an elaborate ceremony involving various rituals and customs. Traditionally, coffee was made using a special pot called a dallah, which is designed to retain the fresh aroma and robust flavor of the coffee. The coffee was then poured into small, handle-less cups known as finjan.

In Arab countries, coffee is often served alongside dates, dried fruits, and sweets to counterbalance the bitterness of the drink. In some parts of the Arabian Peninsula, coffee is also prepared with the addition of spices such as cardamom, cloves, and saffron to enhance the flavor.

Coffee remains an integral part of many special occasions, such as weddings and religious celebrations, in Arab countries today.

Development of the Arabic coffee tradition

Arabic coffee is distinct from other global coffee styles in terms of its preparation, serving, and flavor profile. Traditionally, the coffee beans are lightly roasted, which results in a light and delicate flavor. Once roasted, the beans are ground to a fine powder and brewed using the dallah.

The brewing method used in the preparation of Arabic coffee is essential in creating its unique taste. Boiling water is added to the finely ground coffee, and the mixture is allowed to simmer for several minutes. The result is a strong, concentrated coffee that is often less acidic than its counterparts made with darker roasts. The addition of spices such as cardamom, cloves, and saffron also evokes the rich and exotic flavors associated with the region.

The Arabic coffee tradition continues to evolve as new generations adapt and reinterpret the rituals and customs surrounding its consumption. Modern variations of Arabic coffee include the use of French presses and espresso machines, and the inclusion of new flavorings and sweeteners.

Arabic coffee’s history on the Arabian Peninsula has fostered the growth of a rich and diverse tradition, demonstrating the significant role that coffee plays in Arab culture. From its early beginnings in Ethiopia to its widespread adoption across the Middle East, coffee continues to be central to Arab customs, rituals, and social interactions, reflecting its beloved and storied past.

Geographical Distribution and Major Arab Coffee Producing Regions

Arabic coffee, also known as Gahwa, is not just a drink, but a symbol of hospitality and cultural history shared among the Arab nations. Although it originated in Ethiopia, Arab traders brought coffee to their homeland, and it spread within the Arabic world. Today, several countries in the Arab region produce their unique Arabic coffee. The three main Arab coffee producers are Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Oman.

Yemen – The birthplace of Arabic coffee

Yemen, situated on the Arabian Peninsula’s southern tip, is often considered the birthplace of Arabic coffee. The coffee plant is believed to have first been cultivated in this region, spread to other countries from here, including Ethiopia, in the 9th century. The coffee bean, called “qahwa” in Arabic, was first consumed as a drink in Yemen as early as the 15th century. The port of Mocha in Yemen became a vital coffee bean trading hub during the 16th and 17th centuries, and it is from here that coffee sailed across the world.

Yemeni coffee is typically characterized by its bold and intense flavor. It is usually made from Arabica beans grown in Yemen’s high-altitude terrains over 2,500 meters above sea level. Despite facing numerous challenges such as limited cultivable land, water scarcity, political instability, and conflict, Yemeni coffee production persists. The country will forever remain connected to Arabic coffee because of its rich historical ties to its origin and worldwide trade.

Saudi Arabia’s coffee cultivation

Saudi Arabia is known for its coffee cultivation in regions such as Al-Baha, Jazan, and the Asir highlands. Despite the arid desert climate, coffee cultivation thrives in these regions due to relatively cooler temperatures and higher altitudes. The Saudi coffee beans are usually small, round, and produce a light to medium-bodied coffee with a subtle flavor due to the slower ripening of the cherries.

In recent years, there has been renewed interest in Saudi coffee production. The government has initiated various programs to boost local coffee farming and reduce the dependence on coffee imports. These efforts are aimed at reviving a century-old tradition and promoting it as an authentic part of Saudi culture.

Cultural aspects of coffee in Saudi Arabia are noteworthy. Coffee preparation and consumption play a significant role in traditional Saudi hospitality. Guests are invariably offered Arabic coffee, often accompanied by dates or sweets. Particular attention is paid to the presentation, with special coffee pots, cups, and trays.

Oman’s coffee production and history

In Oman, coffee production is primarily concentrated in the Jebel Akhdar mountain range. The region, which lies 2,000 meters above sea level, provides near-ideal conditions for coffee cultivation. Coffee plants benefit from the cooler temperatures, high-altitude terrains, and ample rainfall in this region.

Omani coffee has a distinct flavor, with a mix of medium body, low acidity, and moderate sweetness. The beans are typically medium to dark roasted, which gives the coffee a robust taste and aroma. Drinking coffee in Omani culture is an important social tradition, integral to the cultural fabric of the nation. The customary way of serving coffee in Oman is in small, handle-less cups called “finjan,” which are refilled multiple times during the coffee ceremony.

Overall, the Arab coffee producing regions, particularly Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Oman, boast a rich cultural history intertwined with their coffee production. This connection to their past adds a unique dimension to the Arabic coffee that is much more than just a beverage: it is a symbol of the Arab world’s historical significance, tradition, and hospitality.

Arabian Coffee Plant Species and Varietals

Coffea Arabica

Coffea Arabica and its subspecies

Coffea Arabica is the most prolific and well-known coffee species in the world, accounting for approximately 70% of global coffee production. It is native to the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia, but it has been cultivated throughout the Arabian Peninsula for centuries in countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. Arabica’s widespread appeal is largely due to its pleasant taste and high quality. There are two main subspecies of Arabica coffee, which are Typica and Bourbon.


Typica is the original Arabica varietal, from which all other varietals have been derived. It is known for its delicate, mild, and balanced flavor profile that can exhibit fruity and floral undertones. Typica tends to produce lower yields but boasts excellent cup quality, making it a highly sought-after bean by coffee connoisseurs. While Typica plants are susceptible to diseases such as coffee leaf rust, they continue to be cultivated in many parts of the world, including the Arabian Peninsula.


Bourbon is a natural mutation of the Typica varietal, discovered on the island of Reunion, formerly known as Bourbon. The Bourbon varietal tends to produce fruitier and brighter cup profiles than its Typica ancestors with higher acidity and a more rounded body. Bourbon plants are more productive than Typica plants but are still susceptible to diseases like coffee leaf rust. Bourbon is cultivated in several Arabian regions, playing a significant role in the development of the region’s unique Arab coffee varieties.

Coffea Canephora (Robusta) and its limited presence

Coffea Canephora, also known as Robusta, is another coffee species that has limited presence in the Arabian Peninsula. Robusta tends to produce bolder flavor profiles with higher levels of caffeine and a lower acidity compared to Arabica beans. Due to its natural resistance to diseases, it is easier to grow; however, the growing conditions for Robusta are restricted to lower altitudes than Arabica. While the Robusta species is less common in Arab countries, it is sometimes used in traditional Arabian coffee blends to add strength and balance.

Notable Arab Coffee Varieties and Their Unique Features

1. Yemeni Mocha (Mokha)

History and origin of Mocha coffee

Mocha is an ancient coffee variety hailing from the Mokha port city in Yemen. The Mocha variety boasts a rich history dating back to the 15th century when Yemen was a significant coffee trading hub in the ancient world. Mocha is widely regarded as the first global coffee varietal, giving birth to the modern coffee culture and trade. The original Mocha beans were a blend of the Arabica varieties grown in the neighboring mountain regions that produced the coffee known as Mokha.

Flavor profile and characteristics

Yemeni Mocha coffee is well-regarded for its complex flavor profile that can exhibit chocolate, earthy, spicy, and fruity notes. The small-sized beans display a unique taste inherited from the high-altitude cultivation and harsh mountain terrains. Yemeni Mocha is known for its smooth body, low acidity, and lingering aftertaste, making it a popular choice for coffee aficionados across the globe.

2. Yemeni Matari

Geographical region and growing conditions

Matari coffee is a Yemeni variety grown in the high-altitude region of Bani Matar in the western part of the country. Bani Matar is located at altitudes ranging from 1,800 to 2,500 meters above sea level and is renowned for its ideal coffee-growing conditions. This region is known for a cool climate, steep slopes, and fertile volcanic soil, leading to the cultivation of unique and flavorful coffee beans.

Flavor profile and characteristics

Yemeni Matari coffee is known for its vibrant flavors, distinctive wine-like acidity, and rich body. The beans showcase unique fruity notes of cherries or berries, followed by earthy and spicy undertones. Matari coffee is highly sought-after for its complexity and balance, making it a must-try for those who appreciate specialty and unique coffees.

3. Yemeni Ismaili

Geographical region and growing conditions

Ismaili is a Yemeni coffee variety cultivated predominantly in the Hajjah and Al-Mahwit governorates in the country’s northwestern region. The plants are typically grown at altitudes between 1,800 and 2,400 meters above sea level. The cool climate and rocky terrain with fertile soil mixtures create ideal conditions for producing high-quality coffee beans.

Flavor profile and characteristics

Yemeni Ismaili coffee is recognized for its smooth body, delicate acidity, and sweet flavor notes of chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts. The small-sized beans exhibit unique complexities that have become a point of interest for specialty coffee enthusiasts seeking remarkable Yemeni coffee experiences.

Cultivation and Harvesting Practices in the Arabian Peninsula

The Arabian Peninsula is a region endowed with a rich history and diverse culture. Agriculture, particularly the cultivation of date palms and coffee plants, is one of the key activities that have shaped the region’s history and economy. Traditionally, Arabian farmers have relied on a combination of time-tested techniques and tools to cultivate and harvest their crops. However, modern agricultural practices have slowly been making inroads in the region over the past few decades. This article will delve into the cultivation and harvesting practices, both traditional and modern, in the Arabian Peninsula.

Traditional cultivation methods

Traditional agricultural practices have long played a significant role in the Arabian Peninsula’s farming sector. Farmers in the region have leveraged their knowledge of the elements and the environment to grow various crops successfully. The most popular and widely grown crops in the Arabian Peninsula include coffee and date palms.

One of the key traditional cultivation methods used in the region is terrace farming. This technique involves constructing a series of horizontal, step-like platforms on the side of a mountain or hill to enable the planting of crops on the slopes. This method reduces soil erosion and optimizes the use of water, particularly in areas with limited water resources. In countries like Yemen, terrace farming has been used for centuries to cultivate coffee plants and date palms.

Another traditional cultivation method used in the Arabian Peninsula is irrigation using aflaj, which are ancient systems of channels, tunnels, and wells used for the distribution of water. These irrigation systems are particularly prevalent in Oman and the United Arab Emirates, where they have been used to cultivate date palm groves for centuries.

Modern agricultural techniques and tools

Modern agricultural practices have brought a wave of technological innovations to the farming sector in the Arabian Peninsula. Some of the most widely adopted modern agricultural techniques and tools include drip irrigation, greenhouse cultivation, and the use of tractors and other farming equipment.

Drip irrigation is a water-saving technology that has been widely adopted by farmers in the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in desert areas with scarce water resources. This method involves the slow release of water directly to the roots of plants through a network of pipes and emitters. By delivering water and nutrients directly to the plants’ root zones, drip irrigation ensures less water is wasted due to evaporation, runoff, and overspray.

Greenhouse cultivation is another modern agricultural technique that has gained traction in the region. Greenhouses allow farmers to grow crops year-round, despite the harsh climate conditions of the Arabian Peninsula. They provide a controlled environment with optimal sunlight, temperature, and humidity levels that promote faster and more efficient growth of crops. This method has proved particularly useful in growing fruits, vegetables, and flowers that would otherwise struggle to survive in the arid climate.

Tractors, harvesters, and other mechanical equipment have now become a common sight in the Arabian Peninsula’s agricultural landscape. These modern tools have significantly improved farming productivity, as they allow farmers to cultivate and harvest their crops faster and more efficiently.

Harvesting and processing of Arab coffee beans

The Arabian Peninsula is widely renowned for its coffee culture since the 15th century, particularly in Yemen. The harvesting and processing of Arab coffee beans is a delicate and time-consuming process that involves a combination of traditional and modern techniques.

Harvesting coffee beans in the region is primarily done by hand, as the uneven terrain makes it difficult to use mechanical harvesters. Coffee pickers skillfully pick the ripe coffee cherries, leaving behind unripe and overripe cherries. This selective harvesting process ensures that only the highest quality coffee beans are processed.

Once the coffee cherries are picked, they undergo a series of processing steps. The most common method used in the Arabian Peninsula is the dry or natural process, where coffee cherries are spread out in the sun to dry for several weeks. This method imparts a distinctive fruity flavor to the beans, characteristic of Arab coffee.

After the drying process, the coffee beans are hulled to remove the outer layers of the cherries. The beans are then sorted by size, color, and density before being packaged for export or local consumption.

In conclusion, the Arabian Peninsula’s cultivation and harvesting practices have evolved over the years to combine both traditional and modern techniques. This combination has allowed farmers in the region to adapt to the harsh climatic conditions and cultivate a diverse range of crops, including the world-famous Arab coffee beans.

Economic Impact and Future of the Arabian Peninsula Coffee Industry

The Arabian Peninsula, home to some of the world’s oldest and most highly prized coffee varieties, has long played a critical role in shaping global coffee culture and market dynamics. In recent years, the coffee industry of this region has experienced significant changes, in response to shifting demand patterns, challenges to agricultural production, and initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable and responsible coffee cultivation. This article will explore the global demand and export of Arab coffee varieties, challenges and threats to Arab coffee production, efforts to promote sustainability, as well as the future outlook of the Arabian Peninsula coffee industry.

Global demand and export of Arab coffee varieties

Coffee has strong links to the Arabian Peninsula, with the drink’s origins traced back to the region. Yemen is often considered the birthplace of coffee cultivation, and its native Arabica coffee – which now accounts for nearly 60% of global coffee production – has set quality benchmarks revered by coffee connoisseurs around the world. Today, Arab coffee from Yemen and other countries on the Arabian Peninsula continues to be in high demand, with exports reaching markets like China, Europe, and North America.

The global demand for Arab coffee is largely driven by its distinctive flavor profile, historical significance, and niche market appeal. Some of the most sought-after varieties include Yemen’s Mocha, a smooth and chocolaty coffee, and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Dalam, a medium-bodied blend with fruity and floral undertones. The growing appreciation for specialty coffees and increased awareness of the importance of origin has further enhanced the status of Arab coffee on the international market.

Challenges and threats to Arab coffee production

Despite its rich tradition and global prestige, the Arab coffee industry faces a range of threats and challenges that have significant consequences for the region’s producers. One of the most prominent challenges is climate change, which affects coffee cultivation in multiple ways. These include temperature increases, erratic rainfall patterns, and changing pest dynamics. These factors contribute to reduced yields, increased vulnerability to diseases, and the potential extinction of unique coffee varietals.

Moreover, the political turmoil and security issues in the region have hampered coffee production. In Yemen, for instance, conflict and instability have severely disrupted coffee cultivation, leading to reduced exports and diminishing the country’s presence on the global coffee market. Other challenges include labor shortages, lack of access to modern agricultural techniques, and the high cost of inputs, all of which contribute to a decline in the competitiveness of the Arab coffee industry.

Efforts to promote sustainable and responsible coffee cultivation

To address the challenges facing the Arabian Peninsula coffee industry, various efforts have been initiated to promote sustainable and responsible coffee cultivation. Both regional and international organizations collaborate to provide technical assistance, financial resources, and training programs aimed at enhancing production quality and environmental sustainability. The focus lies on areas like coffee nursery management, erosion control, integrated pest management, and post-harvest processing.

Certification schemes, such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and Organic, are being increasingly adopted by coffee farmers in the region, helping to improve market access and ensure better prices. In addition, some local initiatives have been undertaken to leverage traditional farming practices, such as terrace farming, which not only helps preserve the unique characteristics of Arab coffee but also enhances its ecological sustainability.

The future outlook of the Arabian Peninsula coffee industry

Arabian Peninsula coffee industry

The future of the Arab coffee industry will largely depend on its ability to address the challenges it currently faces and capitalize on its unique strengths. The growing global interest in high-quality, responsibly sourced coffee offers a significant opportunity for Arab coffee producers to establish a strong market position.

Sustainability and innovation will be key in ensuring the future success of the Arab coffee industry. Regional initiatives to improve agricultural techniques, reduce environmental impact, and promote social equity should be further reinforced and expanded. Moreover, the development of branding strategies that emphasize the region’s rich coffee heritage, the role of coffee in its culture, and the unique flavor profiles of Arab coffee varieties can help attract consumers and maintain the industry’s competitive edge.

In summary, the Arabian Peninsula coffee industry holds immense potential, given its historical significance and the premium quality of its coffee varieties. However, addressing the challenges and threats posed by climate change, political instability, and market dynamics is crucial in ensuring the future sustainability and prosperity of the region’s coffee production. Innovation, collaboration, and a commitment to promoting responsible and sustainable cultivation practices will be critical in shaping the industry’s future prospects.


Also read: The Spread of Coffee Consumption from Ethiopia to the Arabian Peninsula And Beyond


FAQs on the Varieties of Coffee Grown in the Arabian Peninsula


1. What is the most common variety of coffee grown in the Arabian Peninsula?

The predominant variety of coffee cultivated in the Arabian Peninsula is Coffea arabica, a species known for its mild flavor and well-balanced aroma. This cultivar originated in Ethiopia and has since become popular across the globe.

2. What role does Yemen play in the history of coffee cultivation?

Yemen has a rich history of coffee cultivation dating back to the 15th century. The nation facilitated the spread of Coffea arabica through trade, with the famous Yemeni port of Mocha contributing to the coffee’s distinct name and flavor.

3. Are there any indigenous coffee varieties present in the Arabian Peninsula?

While Coffea arabica is the most common coffee variety in the Arabian Peninsula, indigenous varieties exist in the region. One such example is the Dawairi coffee grown in Yemen, which offers a distinct fruity taste and complex flavor profile.

4. How does the coffee’s growing environment in the Arabian Peninsula influence its taste?

The Arabian Peninsula’s harsh and arid climate, combined with high elevation, rocky terrain, and traditional growing methods, creates a unique environment for coffee cultivation. This results in beans with a trademark bright acidity, rich body, and complex fruity undertones.

5. What is the connection between the Arabian Peninsula and the term “Arabica” in coffee names?

The term “Arabica” traces its origin to the Arabian Peninsula, where coffee was first grown and traded. The famous Coffea arabica variety, native to the region, gained its name due to its association with Arabian coffee production and trade.

6. How do modern Arabia coffee growers help preserve traditional cultivation methods?

Modern Arabian coffee growers are dedicated to maintaining traditional cultivation methods, including utilizing shade-grown plants, natural fertilization, and hand-picking ripe cherries. These practices help preserve the authentic flavors and unique qualities that Arabian coffee is celebrated for.