Nothing conjures up visions of the “foreignness” of coffee quite like Yemen. With tales of coffee being smuggled out of the country one bag at a time to the otherworldly landscape of the terraced, rocky soil, Yemen looks like another planet in many ways. So, when I saw OQ Coffee in New Jersey offering up four selections of Yemeni coffees recently, I reached out to them and their generosity was overflowing. Today we’re looking at the first of these four coffees, a microlot called Malala.
OQ COFFEE MALALA MICROLOT
Yemen has me a bit confused. Some company’s marketing departments would have us believing that coffee has to be smuggled out of Yemen one briefcase at a time and, therefore, necessitates a $16/cup or $65/6oz price tag. On the other hand, you have folks like Rayaan Mill in Yemen exporting coffee to roasters like my pals at OQ Coffee in New Jersey and they’re able to sell the coffees at reasonable prices. What gives?! I’ll leave that up to the imagination of you smart and savvy readers so we can focus on this Malala microlot instead!
This coffee comes to us from the capable roasting hands of Catie, the roaster at OQ. She did an amazing job on last week’s Las Delicias from Colombia (link is above, in the link section!) and so I was really excited to see what she was going to do with this coffee. This is my first single origin foray into Yemeni coffee, so I have nothing to compare it to… a blank slate! Catie told me that these coffees take a long time to develop flavors, seemingly and paradoxically improving long after roasting. She said giving them a full month or more off-roast is acceptable. This particular one was roasted July 21 and I didn’t dig into it until August 27. It took a lot of patience!
OQ sourced this coffee from Rayaan Mill in Yemen. Rayyan is sort of like the La Palma y El Tucan of Yemen… they set the mill up to help sort and process Yemen’s coffees to a higher standard, something that has always been lacking in this country that sits at the tip of the Arabian peninsula. This is of particular importance in Yemen where coffee is all natural process. It takes a keen eye and a huge attention to detail to sort these coffees and see the defective cherries to pull them out. It’s a ton of work.
Malala is a small valley in Yemen’s Bani Isma’el coffee growing region. It’s unique because the varietal that grows there is rare because of how it has adapted to the harsh climate of the area. These are mixed heirloom varietals that, I’m guessing, trace their lineage back to the mokka variety based on the tiny bean size in this bag. The elevation in Bani Isma’el is 1500-2000masl and the conditions are harsh, which often can lead to nice coffee! At $15/8oz, this is a steal.
Opening this coffee, I had no idea what to expect. I got a VERY raisiny fragrance from the whole beans and a very wine-like note from the grounds after grinding. I tried this coffee both as Aeropress and pourover and the pourover was definitely the winner for me, so we’ll focus on that. I used my usual 1:16 ratio (28g beans, 450g water, around 3:30 total brew time) in the notNeutral Gino pourover with Kalita 185 white filters. The aroma from the brewed cup is a little bit of winey grape with as lot of cereal grain.
OQ gives us tasting notes of, “wheat grain, light, apple acidity, dry red wine” for this coffee. Pretty unusual and that’s the adventure of coffee and especially discovering new origins. I was struck by how light the body is on this coffee. I had it in my mind that this would be a thick, rich body, but it was thin and downright watery in the Aeropress. It was a bit more robust as a pourover, but this is still one of the lightest cups of coffee I’ve had. In the Aeropress I got a lot of that cereal grain, almost earthy character and that was minimal in the pourover, which is why I think I preferred it from the Gino.
There is a hint of malic acid in this cup (which gives that clean, crisp apple acidity) but the main flavor is a wine-like, red grape and red fruit tone. It’s complex and has a hint of spiciness to it, especially in the aftertaste. It’s really hard for me to describe this coffee because it is so foreign to me and I have nothing to compare it to (yet) from Yemen. I didn’t love this coffee as an Aeropress, but it’s so good as a pourover. It has a tea-like feeling to it if you go a couple minutes between sips you’ll notice a light astringency on the palate. That comes with a spiciness, maybe grainy, sort of baked goods aftertaste, too. In the sip itself there is inherent appley, winey sweetness but it doesn’t hit hard like a Central American coffee might… the light body means this is a subtle cup with lots of nuances. It’s not dirty or earthy at all and I don’t detect any ferment like I’d get from an Ethiopian natural.
I’m glad I took the time to try this coffee out as a pourover as well as Aeropress because the method changed a so-so coffee into something exceptional, in this case. This is a beautiful and delicate cup and Rayaan Mill and OQ Coffee should be proud of themselves with what they’ve accomplished here. Absolutely gorgeous!