Saudi coffee legacy percolates through the generations

February 10, 2022 / 4:27 PM
Sharjah24 – AFP: For Farah al-Malki, growing coffee plants in Saudi Arabia's southwestern region of Jizan is more than just a profession. It is a family tradition passed down from generation to generation.
The 90-year-old has a long history with coffee, which spread from Ethiopia to Yemen and then to the rest of the Middle East around the 15th century.

Jizan is known for its red Khawlani coffee beans, often blended with cardamom and saffron to give a yellowish hue of coffee -- locally known as ghawa -- and a taste markedly different from the bitter black liquid drunk elsewhere in the Middle East and in the West.

It remains an integral part of Saudi culture, so much so that the government has designated 2022 as "The Year of Saudi Coffee".

Served with dates in homes and royal palaces across the kingdom, breaking barriers of societal hierarchy, ghawa is considered a symbol of hospitality and generosity.

Donning the traditional dress of coffee farmers, a dark "chemise" shirt and ankle-length skirt known as a "wizrah", along with a belt holding a dagger, Malki is still tending to the fields despite his age.

But with the kingdom's desire to diversify its economy away from oil, alongside a social shift to transform the country's ultra-conservative image and open up to visitors and investors, the government last month began a campaign to promote its coffee.

It instructed all restaurants and cafes to use the term "Saudi coffee" instead of Arabic coffee.

Saudi Aramco, the largely state-owned oil company, announced plans to establish a coffee centre in Jizan using "advanced irrigation techniques to improve agricultural capacity".

By the end of 2021, the kingdom had 400,000 coffee trees in 600 farms across the country, producing about 800 tonnes of coffee a year. That is a fraction of what Ethiopia produces but, according to domestic reports, Saudi Arabia plans to plant 1.2 million Khawlani trees by 2025.

They produce about 2.5 tonnes of coffee beans a year, selling for between $27-$40 a kilogram ($12-$18 a pound).

Saudi Arabia has sought to include its cultivation of Khawlani coffee on the list of "intangible cultural heritage of humanity" maintained by the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO.
February 10, 2022 / 4:27 PM

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