The legacy of Saudi coffee is passed down through the generations
Jizan (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) – For Farah al-Malki, growing coffee plants in the Jizan region of southwestern Saudi Arabia is more than just a job. It is a family tradition passed down from generation to generation.
The 90-year-old patriarch 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.
“My father inherited it from his grandfathers, and I took over and passed it on to my sons, then to my grandchildren,” Malki told AFP, as he watched her male relatives prune trees.
Jizan is known for its red Khawlani coffee beans, often blended with cardamom and saffron to give the coffee a yellowish tinge – known locally as ghawa – and a distinctly different taste from the bitter black liquid drunk elsewhere in the Middle East. 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 royal homes and palaces across the kingdom, breaking down the barriers of social hierarchy, ghawa is seen as a symbol of hospitality and generosity.
Dressed in traditional coffee farmer attire, a dark “shirt” and ankle-length skirt known as a “wizrah”, as well as a sash holding a dagger, Malki still tends to the fields. despite his age.
“The biggest issues we had were the lack of water and support,” Malki said.
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 launched a promotional campaign of his coffee.
He asked all restaurants and cafes to use the term “Saudi coffee” instead of Arabic coffee.
Saudi Aramco, the largely state-owned oil company, has announced plans to establish a coffee center in Jizan using “advanced irrigation techniques to improve agricultural capacity”.
Dream of UNESCO
At the end of 2021, the kingdom had 400,000 coffee trees in 600 farms across the country, producing around 800 tonnes of coffee per year. This is a fraction of what Ethiopia produces but, according to national reports, Saudi Arabia plans to plant 1.2 million Khawlani trees by 2025.
Malki has nine sons, all of whom are involved in the coffee industry, ranging from farming and packaging to transportation and marketing.
Every day in the field there is his 42-year-old son, Ahmed, who, like his father, wears traditional farmer’s clothes, with a headdress made of flowers.
He said he had intimate knowledge of Khawlani coffee beans, explaining, “All farms are organic and chemical-free.”
They produce around 2.5 tons of coffee beans a year, selling for between $27 and $40 per kilogram ($12 and $18 per pound).
Historian Yahya al-Malki, who is not related to the peasant family, told AFP that the “secret” of Khawlani beans lies in their cultivation in the Jizan region, where it is hot, humid and rainy.
Saudi Arabia has sought to inscribe its Khawlani coffee culture on the list of “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” maintained by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO.
This, Ahmed said, would be a dream come true.
“This will help support farmers and preserve coffee trees as well as attract foreign investors to the region,” he told AFP.
“I hope to pass this on to my sons and their sons, and pray that it will be a source of income for them.”
© 2022 AFP