A young man on Brooklyn’s fourth avenue makes coffee the old-fashioned way. In fact, the installment of the Yafa Café, which costs $7.00, is perhaps the oldest way.
One of the generally recognized birthplaces of coffee is the poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen, and Hakim Sulaimani is trying to spark a Yemeni renaissance at his Sunset Park cafe.
According to British historians, the story goes that a long time ago a shepherd noticed that his goats showed simply limitless energy and restlessness after eating a particular red berry. The shepherd also found that his consumption allowed him to pray all night without ever feeling tired.
Fast forward to modern times, and very little good news of any kind comes out of Yemen. The Saudi war in the country has been the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in half a decade. Beyond that, Yemen is such an unknown part of the world to so many people that even Hakim, the son of a Yemeni immigrant from the Yafa tribal highlands in the south, was unaware of his country’s long history with coffee.
It wasn’t until he watched PBS at the age of 7 that he learned that Yemeni society was the world’s first coffee culture, and it sparked a sense of pride.
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“I remember being a kid and being very excited because I had never heard of Yemen in any other context before, in the mainstream,” he told Food and Wine. .
He dreamed that a career in coffee connecting Yemeni coffee farmers to the global market would be a viable business model.
“I want to do for Yemeni coffee what Starbucks did for the Indonesian coffee economy,” said Sulaimani, who along with some family members opened a cafe showcasing the cultural roots of their Yemeni homeland.
Born in Yemen, raised in Brooklyn
In 1995, his father left the torrid highlands of southern Yemen, then in the midst of a civil unification war. Bringing an “inherent understanding of commerce and hustle and bustle,” Sulaimani opened “Yafa Deli,” a bustling bodega that has been serving Sunset Park residents for 25 years.
In 2019, Hakim opened his cafe to honor his roots, combining Yemeni coffee beans with the most typical recipes for breakfasts and light snacks.
“Born in Yemen, roasted in Brooklyn,” reads Sulaimani’s website, where several single-origin beans are out of stock. “For over 300 years, the ancient farmers of this region have cultivated a deep understanding of the culture they hold so dear, and even through Yemen’s difficult times, Yafa is proud to be able to share this coffee with you.”
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As a good entrepreneur, he is acutely aware of the market forces that drive Yemeni coffee to the highest prices in the industry. The cradle of the bean can sometimes demand $16 a cup, no doubt inflated by the difficulties of negotiating the US-Saudi blockade of the country.
Sulaimani works with an 11th generation coffee farmer to source beans for his coffee, as well as other companies trying to ethically source beans from the country and support farmers there.
Food and Wine reports the business is booming, although Hakim’s father, who runs the Yafa Deli just down the street where coffee costs $1.00, isn’t convinced he can pull it off. .
But his son hopes to transform his brand from a line of coffees into a full Yemeni wholesaler.
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