Qualia launches reserve line with rare Yemen coffee

December 17, 2013

When I mentioned that the new Yemen Haraaz-Red Marqaha at Qualia Coffee tasted like hazelnuts and chocolate, owner Joel Finkelstein looked almost disappointed, which puzzled me. I loved the flavors captured in this cup.

Yemen coffee: A rare taste from one of the world's oldest coffee-producing countries. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Yemen Haraaz: A rare taste from one of the world's oldest coffee-producing countries. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

"I think you should taste it in a few days ... It's a little too fresh," countered the Qualia roaster this morning, noting the beans were about 12 hours off the roast. "I think the coffee is pretty good 24 hours after it's roasted, but it only gets better from there ... I think more of the fruit will come out."

Finkelstein has had his own tasting experiences with the rare Yemen coffee, and they don't include words like "hazelnut" and "chocolate." According to his blog post on the beans, Finkelstein and his tasters discovered far different flavors: "loads of tropical fruit and floral notes with high acidity."

Regardless of what characteristics you might detect, the Yemen beans are now on the coffee bar at Qualia, part of the specialty shop's new "reserved/limited edition" offerings. Finkelstein has only about two pounds of the beans, so if you want to sample the coffee, you better hurry. He expects to pull the beans by the end of the weekend.

"This one was super-limited," Finkelstein said. " I only had 10 pounds of this" one, most of which was sold in advance at $19.25 for half-pound bags.

Yemen coffees are among the oldest in the world, but they can have flaws. "Unfortunately, due to poor infrastructure and episodic political strife, that coffee is rarely processed in a way that fully highlights the rarity and complexity of Yemen’s coffee heritage," Finkelstein noted in the same blog post,

These beans from the Haraaz region in Yemen, however, were purchased as ripe cherries and processed by the Minneapolis-based Cafe Imports. It makes for a "much cleaner profile," Finkelstein told me.

Qualia is selling the coffee for $4.55 a cup, which essentially comes to $5 a pop with tax. "I really don't want to price it out of people's reach, although I feel like, to some extent, pricing it too low will make people think it's not as good."

Not this person. The cup I sampled, while not what Finkelstein wanted, was sweet, full-bodied and satisfying. As the coffee warmed, I detected fruit on the palate, but more blueberry than tropical.

Next up in Qualia's series? An Ecuadorian limited-production coffee, followed by a Colombian geisha in January, Finkelstein said. "I think these are really good coffees," he said. But the reserved series is "more about access," he added. "You don't have that much access to it."

If you want early access to the next reserve coffee, Finkelstein suggests signing up for Qualia's e-mail list. He gives his subscribers first crack at pre-orders.

Qualia Coffee, 3917 Georgia Ave. NW. 202-248-6423. 

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.
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