From “bunn” to “qishr”: the Yemeni Origins of Coffee

Arabica from Yemen is one of the best in the world. Among the Yemeni people, who have known coffee since the 1500s, there is a widespread custom of tasting it (as an infusion of the grounds, called qishr), while chewing the leaves of the qat, a plant with stimulating properties, which is said to enhance its action. The qishr is the most widespread preparation method among the Yemeni people, while desert Bedouins prefer to consume coffee beans, often not roasted (qahwa arbi). Coffee arrived in Yemen about 500 years ago from Ethiopia. It was already the official beverage of the Islamic world, known as qahwa, the “wine of the prophet”. The great initial success prompted the Yemeni people to start their own cultivation. Soon, the strategic position of the country, crossroads of the caravan routes and with a port as privileged as Mocha, gave a strong push towards exports and, even today, almost all of the production is for foreign markets.

The recipes
Qahwa Sana’a ni
Coffee the Sana’a way
1 kg arabica
150 g dried ginger root
100 g cinnamon sticks

In a large frying pan, gently brown the Arabica beans (semi-roasting), let them cool briefly and then crush them in the mortar along with the spices. Then boil 4 cups of water in the classic Yemeni coffee maker (jamana) and add 4 heaped teaspoons of the mixture prepared as described. Stir well and continue cooking, leaving it to boil over low heat for about 15 minutes. Serve in glasses.


Turkish variant (qahwa turky): with a stronger roasting of the coffee beans, add cardamom to the other spices and prepare with the traditional Turkish coffee maker. Bedouin variant (qahwa arbi): only lightly browned arabica and green cardamom, mixed at a ratio of 2 to 1. The jamana, due to its unmistakable form, can be considered an evolution of the traditional Ethiopian coffee pot (jebena).

Coffee grounds decoction
1 kg dried coffee grounds
100 g cinnamon
100 g ginger

Boil 4 cups of water in a metal teapot, add 4 heaped teaspoons of the mixture prepared with the dried coffee grounds (qishr) and the coarsely cut spices. Stir well and continue cooking, leaving the decoction to boil on a low heat for about 15 minutes. Serve in glasses. The qishr is usually served after meals; it has digestive, stimulant and astringent properties. It accompanies the ritual chewing of the leaves of the qat in the afternoons. There is a particular version of this recipe made with dried coffee grounds, ginger, the leaves of the qat and red dates which, due to its tonic and stimulating properties, is offered to women shortly after giving birth.