Why open a Bodega when people will pay $ 150 a pound for Yemeni coffee?


Most owners are between 20 and 30 years old and all of their businesses have opened in the last few years. “After the war began, many young Yemeni-American merchants felt the need to help shed light on Yemen,” said Debbie Almontaser, a prominent Yemeni activist and educator from Brooklyn. “The best and most informative medium is coffee, our contribution to civilization going back hundreds of years.”

The coffee tree, Coffea arabica, first flourished in the highlands of Ethiopia, but by the 15th century, according to early European and Arab sources, it had crossed the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb to Yemen, where the Sufi monks transmuted the red cherries from the plant. in the drink we know today. Traders spread the seeds, or “beans”, throughout the Ottoman Empire and beyond, bringing them to Istanbul and Cairo, then to Vienna, Venice and Paris.

These bitter seeds enriched Yemen, but by the 18th century Europeans had started smuggling them out of the country, transporting them to settlements like Martinique and Java, where workers were forced to cultivate them in plantations for a little. or no salary. Cheap coffee flooded the market and the Yemeni coffee trade withered. In 1800, Yemen accounted for only 6% of the world product.

What has not withered is the entrepreneurial spirit of Yemen. “One thing I love about my people is that they are determined,” said Ms. Almontaser, who helped establish a trade organization called the Yemeni American Merchants Association in 2017, a direct response to the crackdown on the government. President Donald J. Trump against Muslim immigrants. “They come to the United States, not speaking a word of English, and go into a bodega, and apprentice for minimum wage, learn the trade, save their money and start their own business.”

Like caffeine, she said, “entrepreneurship is in our blood.”

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