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

Arabica coffee from Yemen is one of the best in the world. But the Yemenites, who discovered coffee in 1500, appreciate it more for its effect than for its quality. You can see this from the popularity of qishr, an infusion of coffee husks, which is drunk while chewing qàt leaves, a natural stimulant, to enhance the effect. Qishr is the most common way of preparing coffee in Yemen, while the Bedouin desert dwellers prefer consuming coffee in bean form, often unroasted (qahwa arbi). Coffee came to Yemen about 500 years ago, from Ethiopia. Even at that time, it was already the “official” drink of the Islamic world, and was known as qahwa, the “wine of the Prophet”. Its great success led the Yemenites to begin growing it themselves. Thanks to the strategic position of Yemen, which is a crossroads for the caravan routes and has a well-placed port, Mocca, a thriving export industry sprang up. Even now, almost all of the country's coffee production is destined 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 wide pan, lightly brown the Arabica beans (semi-roasted). Set them aside to cool briefly and then crush them in a mortar with the spices. Boil 4 cups of water in the classic Yemenite coffeepot (jamana), and add 4 heaping teaspoons of the blend. Stir well and continue to cook, allowing the brew to simmer for about 15 minutes. Serve in glasses.


Turkish version (qahwa turky): a longer roasting of the coffee beans, the use of cardamom in addition to the other spices and preparation in the traditional Turkish coffeepot. Bedouin version (qahwa arbi): only very lightly roasted Arabica and green cardamom, blended in a proportion of two to one. Given its unmistakable form, the metal coffeepot used in Yemen (jamana) can be considered an evolution of the traditional Ethiopian coffeepot (jebena).

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

Boil 4 cups of water in a metal teapot. Add 4 heaping teaspoons of the blend prepared with the dried coffee husks (qishr) and the coarsely ground spices. Stir well and continue to cook, allowing the brew to simmer for about 15 minutes. Serve in glasses. Qishr is generally served after meals, as it has digestive, stimulant and astringent properties. It is also served in the afternoon during the ritual chewing of khat leaves. There is a special version of this recipe made with dried coffee husks, ginger, khat leaves and red dates. Because of its tonic and stimulating properties, it is offered to women who have just given birth.