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Africa And Arabian Peninsula Coffee Tour

Welcome back to another installment of our travelogue series. We have previously visited Central America , The Caribbean, and South America. And if you’re wondering what this is all about, we started with this introduction. This week, we are off to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. This is our longest trip to date. Measuring around 7,700 miles from CoffeeAM to Yemen, our first stop, it would take approximately 20 hours via air. Fortunately, all you need is your favorite cup of joe and to sit back and relax while we do all the work. And off we go!  
Coffee Plantation Yemen Coffee plantation in Yemen.
 

Yemen

Our first stop is Yemen, purported to have developed how we consume coffee today – with the pulp removed and the beans dried, roasted, ground, and boiled with water. Yemen is found in the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea. Yemen was once home to the Queen of Sheba, where wise men gathered frankincense and myrrh, and was thought by Gilgamesh to contain the secrets of eternal life. Unfortunately, in today’s climate, Yemen is not safe for travel. It is the poorest country in the Middle East and is currently experiencing a great deal of unrest and political crisis.

The people of Yemen are chiefly tribal and of Arab descent with some Afro-Arabs, South Asians, and Europeans. Most minority groups have left due to conflict in the area. The official language is Modern Standard Arabic with regional usage of Yemeni Arabic and Balochi. English is the most prevalent foreign language though there are a large number of Russian speakers and a community of Cham speakers who came from or descended from Vietnam.  

Tourist areas are made up of four “World Heritage” sites. First, the Old Walled City of Shibam, nicknamed “Manhattan of the Desert.” Next, the Old City of Sana’a, with mosques, hammams, and over 6,000 houses all built before the 11th century. The Historic Town of Zabid was the capital of Yemen from the 13th to 15th centuries and is home to the university known to have been the center of learning for the Arab world. Finally, the Socotra Archipelago found in the Gulf of Aden. It is made up of four islands and two islets, and home to flora and fauna some of which are found nowhere else in the world.  

Due to its location between eastern and western civilization, Yemen has been considered a crossroads of culture. In addition to the mainland, Yemen also includes volcanic islands in the Arabian Sea. Geographically, Yemen can be split into four different regions – the coastal plains, the western highlands, the eastern highlands, and the Rub al Kali which is considered the largest contiguous sand desert in the world.  

Along the Red Sea coastline is the coastal plain. It can get very hot in this area with temperatures ranging from 77F to 99F and spikes up to 129F. There are many lagoons and boggy marshes causing humidity to reach 50-70% and making ripe conditions for malaria mosquitos. 

The plain butts up against the western highlands. This area has been terraced to create farmlands. It receives the highest amount of rainfall in Arabia ranging from 40 to 60 inches annually. During the day, temperatures are very hot, reaching into the 90F range and dropping dramatically at night, dipping to the low 30s. The many streams that run through these mountainous regions never reach the shoreline due to evaporation in the arid conditions in the plains.  

The western highlands give way to the lofty plateau of the eastern highlands. Though drier than the western area, there is still enough rainfall which, in addition to water storage and irrigation, allows for extensive farming. The region is home to the Sarawat Mountain range which runs from the border of Jordan through Saudi Arabia and Yemen and ends in the Gulf of Aden. The highest point in these mountains is Jabal an Nabi Shu’ayb which soars to an incredible 12,028 feet. On the other side of the mountain region is the desert, Rub al Khali. It is extremely dry and has caused a great deal of concern worldwide due to the scarcity of water.  

Coffee in Yemen grows in the mountainous region of the western highlands. It typically has a smaller bean size than most coffee beans. They are hand-harvested and dry-processed. The medium to full-bodied taste is distinctive with a bright and complex acidity. It features notes of candied fruit, wine, and dark chocolate and a finish described as wild or gamey. Our Yemen “Arabian Mocca” coffee bean is grown at elevations of over 4,500 feet in the southern mountains of the western highlands. It is hand-harvested and dried naturally and exhibits full-bodied flavor with candied citrus and chocolate flavors finishing with the wild and earthy undertones you expect from a Yemeni coffee.  

Ethiopia

A quick hop across the Red Sea takes us to the continent of Africa for the next country on our list, Ethiopia. It is widely believed to be the birthplace of coffee, though how they originally consumed it was in berry or cherry form. Located in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is bordered by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Sudan. The history of Ethiopia, and of Africa in general, can be traced back to prehistoric days.  

Going back to the 8th century BC, Ethiopia saw kingdoms rise and fall. In the mid-1970s, a Soviet-backed coup established a military dictatorship ushering in a tumultuous time. This gave way to the Federal Democratic Republic in the 1990s. Today, the country is still a republic, and there is still a great deal of unrest and, unfortunately, human rights violations exist.  

Here are some interesting facts about Ethiopia. Besides being the birthplace of coffee, it is also the birthplace of the Rastafarian movement. Rastafarians believe their messiah to be Haile Selassie I, or Ras Tafari, the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1916-1974. Ethiopia is the only African country to successfully fight off European forces during the “Scramble for Africa” in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Ethiopia has its own calendar made up of 12 months of 30 days and a 13th month of 5 or 6 days (depending on whether it is a leap year).  

Ethiopia is the most populated landlocked country in the world. The people of Ethiopia are quite diverse with more than 80 ethnic groups calling it home. Of the 90 different languages spoken in Ethiopia, the most common is Oromo. English is the most widely spoken foreign language and is used for teaching in the secondary schools here.  

A visit to Ethiopia brings some surprising discoveries. Jagged mountains and blistering deserts hold natural attractions like the sulfurous hot springs, fascinating acid pools, salt flats, vineyards, and the Erta Ale volcanic crater which the locals call “the gateway to hell.” Other tourist spots include one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, the 16th-century fort Harar’s Jugal, and Negash, the first Muslim community in Ethiopia and possibly the home of the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.  

The geography of Ethiopia is made up of elevated plateaus, high mountain ranges, deep valleys, and a strip of lowland desert. The plateaus and mountains are crossed by rivers and dotted with lakes. There are two climate zones in Ethiopia. In the plateaus and mountains, you will find it to be temperate while it gets extremely hot on the lowlands. In the uplands, temperature range from highs in the upper 70s and lows in the upper 30s. It is typically sunny and dry, though there are two rainy seasons. The short rains last from February to April while the big rains happen from mid-June to mid-September. Annual rainfall averages around 47 inches. In the upper mountains, the weather is similar to that in the Alps.  

The coffees of Ethiopia are grown mostly in the mountains of Sidamo and Harrar. Depending on where the coffee comes from and how it is processed, you will see differing flavor profiles. Those coffees grown in Sidamo, like our Organic Ethiopia Sidamo Fair Trade and our Ethiopia Yirgacheffe tend to have floral and citrus notes. Those from the Harrar region, like our Ethiopia Longberry, are more jammy with a mild dark chocolate finish, much like a rich red wine.  

Kenya

For our next stop, we head south to Kenya. This African country straddles the equator. It is bordered by Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, and the Indian Ocean. Neolithic Kenya was inhabited by hunter-gatherer tribes which gave way to Swahili culture in the 1st century. This brought farming, fishing, metal production, and trade to the area. Near the end of the 19th century, during the “Scramble for Africa,” Kenya came under the rule of Britain in the form of the Imperial British East Africa Company. This brought railways to Kenya with the Kenya-Uganda railway being built across the country. Kenya won its independence from Britain in 1936.  

Tourism in Kenya is strong. Destinations like safaris, hiking, and water sports keep the adventurous busy. Museums, a Portuguese-built fort, ancient rock art, and wildlife conservancies provide experiences the entire family will enjoy. The diverse peoples of Kenya are made up of 47 different communities, each speaking its own language. British English is primarily used throughout the country with a local dialect, Kenyan English, also widely found.  

The geography of Kenya consists of the coastline along the Indian Ocean which encompasses swamps and mangroves. As you move inland, wide-reaching plains are punctuated with many hills. The Kenyan Rift Valley brings us to Central and Western Kenya with high mountain ranges that lead to Uganda. The highest point in Kenya is Mount Kenya reaching 17,050 feet. In Kenya, the climate varies by location. The tropical coastline is hot with temperatures ranging from 75F to 90F and rainfall around 40” annually. In the plains, arid conditions prevail with temperatures ranging from 70F to 81F and little rainfall. Finally, in the mountains, it gets much cooler especially as the altitude rises. Lower levels see temperatures from 50F to 79F, and upper levels from 49F-80F.  

Coffees grown in Kenya are typically bold, bright, and fruity. At CoffeeAM, we are happy to offer our Kenya AA coffee. This coffee is grown between 4,900 and 6,800 feet and is graded AA for its large size and incredible flavor. It has a complex sweetness with a floral aroma and berries and citrus notes on the palate. Choose this bestselling bean for a brilliant start to your day.  

Tanzania

Next, we head south to Tanzania. The entire country of Tanzania lies below the equator. It is bordered by Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and the Indian Ocean. Indigenous people roamed the Tanzanian area as hunter-gatherers with other African tribes migrating to the area for centuries. One of these tribes brought iron-making with them and, to this day, the people of Tanzania are known for their production or iron and steel. They even invented a high-heat furnace running at temperatures of 3,310F over 1,500 years ago.  

In the early 16th century, Portugal controlled most of Southeast Africa, including Tanzania. The Omani Arabs took over the capital city of Tanzania, Zanzibar, in the early 17th century, and made it the center of the Arab slave trade. In the late 19th century, Germany conquered Tanzania with the exception of Zanzibar. Tanzania changed hands again after WWI and was back under Portuguese control. In 1961, Tanzania finally gained its independence.  

The diversity of the people of African countries continues with 125 ethnic groups calling Tanzania home. Though there are small numbers of Asians, Europeans, and Arabs, 99% of Tanzanians are African. There are over 100 languages spoken in Tanzania with Swahili being the most widely used and taught, though there is no official language. Most people are trilingual, speaking a local language, Swahili, and English. Music in Tanzania is traditional African, taarab, and regional versions of hip hop and dance music. Fun fact: Freddy Mercury of Queen fame was born in Tanzania.  

Tanzanian literature is largely oral with mainly folk tales, poems, and proverbs being shared from generation to generation. Art is mostly of local tradition with two styles earning international recognition. Tingatinga is made with bright enamel paints on canvas with subjects being people, animals, and daily life. Makonde is a type of sculpture with “Trees of Life” being the most well-known subject. There is no shortage of things to do in Tanzania as a tourist. Take a hot-air balloon or a camel safari, spend time diving and snorkeling, or head to the mountains for climbing or biking. If museums are more your style, they have you covered. Beach holidays are always an option for those looking for a relaxing visit.  

The geography of Tanzania is varied. Both the highest, Mount Kilimanjaro, and lowest, Lake Tanganyika, points of Africa can be found in Tanzania. In the northeast, you will find mountains and dense forests. Here is where Kilimanjaro looms at an impressive 19,341 feet. Three of the African Great Lakes lie partially in Tanzania with the largest lake, Lake Victoria, and the deepest lake, Lake Tanganyika, within its borders. In the central part of the country, you will find a large plateau with plains and agricultural lands. The coastal plain is hot and humid, and just offshore is the Zanzibar Archipelago. For impressive views of waterfalls, head to the southwest region to see the Kalambo.  

Weather within Tanzania is as varied as the geography. In the mountainous region, temperatures range from 50F to 68F while the rest of the country rarely cooler than 68F. November through February is the hottest season with temperatures reaching 88F. The coolest months are May through August. Of course, it is much cooler in the mountains. Northern areas of Tanzania experience a bimodal rain pattern with a rainy season in both October through December and March through May. The southern areas have a unimodal pattern with a rainy season October through April.  

Tanzanian coffee is grown in the high mountain areas of the country. It is typically clean and bright with an aggressive flavor. Popular in the US is the peaberry, which is smaller than the typical coffee bean and tends to be less acidic with richer and livelier flavor. Our Tanzania Peaberry is grown on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and is smooth with overtones of milk chocolate and hints of lemon.  

Burundi

Burundi is a tiny landlocked country in eastern Africa. It is bordered by Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda. Until the end of the 19th century, Burundi was independent until Germany colonized the region. Burundi was ceded to Belgium after Germany’s defeat in WWI. In 1962, Burundi regained its independence as a monarchy. After general instability, a republic was established but has yet to sustain peace.  

The population of Burundi is mainly made up of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. The official language is Kirundi, though French is spoken for administration, education, and public life. Burundian culture is based on tradition with no established or recognized art forms. Crafts are important and are a tourist draw with woven baskets, masks, and pottery making up most of the gifts purchased from the area. Drumming is a well-known musical form and is primarily noted for its traditional instruments and rhythms. Like Tanzania, the literature is in the oral tradition.   There really is not much to do in Burundi, as tourism is underdeveloped. Ecotourism is the main attraction with the natural wildlife habitats of Kibira National park, Rurubu River, and Lake Tanganyika being the top destinations. The Burundian Drummers are quite popular and tourists visit to watch the ritual Burundian drum dance.  

The geography in Burundi is mountainous with a high eastern plateau leading to the southern and eastern plains which have been designated as part of the woodlands region. The climate is tropical highland with temperatures mostly affected by altitude. The average temperature in the plateau area is a cool 68F. Temperatures in the lower regions climb to an average of 74F and in the upper regions drop to an average of 60F. Rainfall in Burundi is irregular at best. There are four seasons, however, based on precipitation. These seasons are the long dry season, June through August; the short wet season, September through November; the short dry season, December through January; and the long wet season, February through May. Annual rainfall for most of the country is around 57” while the northeast is drier, receiving an average of 35”.  

The coffee of Burundi is intense and sweet. Our Burundi AA Kirimiro is no different. Heavy and sweet, you will detect the essence of black tea and lemon with highlights of clove and a sweet nutty finish.  

Wrap Up

Thank you for traveling with us to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. We hope you had fun while learning about the areas and the coffees. If trying to choose just one to take home with you is too daunting a task, try our African Coffee Sampler with 1/2 pound each of four of our African coffees. And don’t miss next week when we jet off to India to learn more about the land, people, and cultures, and of course the coffee!
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