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JEDDAH: Ali Al-Diwani’s career in agriculture led him “accidentally” to become the Kingdom’s first licensed coffee appraiser.

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A native of Jazan, he began his career in coffee after following in his ancestors’ footsteps as a farmer and fruit trader who exported passion fruit from Hodeidah, Yemen, Saudi Arabia.
“In 2010, I was invited to a workshop on coffee beans in Sana’a, Yemen, presented by a group of Mexican coffee experts. Unfortunately, the translator encountered problems translating some agricultural terms. Based on my farming career, I have a great glossary of agricultural English and became their personal translator for the rest of their trip, ”he told Arab News.
It was the start of a life-changing journey from fruit grower to coffee investor, grower, appraiser, vendor, supplier and artisan roaster.
Two months later, Al-Diwani was put in charge of managing a coffee project in Yemen for three years by the same Mexican coffee expert for whom he had translated.
“There were a lot of inspiring details about coffee that intrigued me to reorient my career. So I decided to specialize in growing coffee.
Soon after, Al-Diwani became one of the leaders in the specialty coffee industry in Saudi Arabia and one of the founders of Caffeine Lab, a pioneering specialty coffee company in the Kingdom.
“My work in agriculture immersed me in great knowledge and gave me the power to start in this world and take quick action,” he said.
Al-Diwani started investing in Yemen’s Burra region – which has more than 5 million coffee trees – where he founded the first coffee growing association and was joined by 500 farmers. “You have to walk for hours or days to reach the forest which contains coffee trees, and this is one of the places I call coffee paradise – where the mountain turns to a white carpet after flowering, and then red after fruiting.

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Specialty coffee science
The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) defines specialty coffee in its green stage as “coffee free of primary defects, free of Quakers, properly sized and dried, comes in the cup free of defects or smears, and has distinctive attributes.” “
Al-Diwani, along with his friend Abdullah Bajabaa, established a specialty coffee business called “Kal Coffee” – the first Saudi company to supply green coffee beans and local specialty coffee specifically from Al-Dayer Bani Malik to Jazan.

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Ali Al-Diwani

Three years later he started his own coffee lab, “Origins”, for green coffee beans, with roasters and a training space in Jeddah.
Al-Diwani gained extensive experience in specialty coffee through exploration across the world and became one of the Saudi pioneers of “coffee bean science” as he calls it.

QUICKFACTS

• 80 million kg of coffee beans arrive in Saudi Arabia each year.

• Coffee beans must meet a certain standard to be counted as specialty coffee and must be free from defects.

• During transport, fungal damage can affect the bean and ruin the entire crop.

• Proper storage is essential to maintain the value of the crop.

“In 2016, I became a Certified Coffee Evaluator for the Specialty Coffee Association of America,” he said.
Al-Diwani’s passion for coffee has redefined the meaning of coffee beans for many young Saudi entrepreneurs by offering them an internationally certified course at Origins. It consisted of training courses in a number of specialties in the coffee industry, including barista skills, brewing, green coffee, sensory skills and roasting.
He trained over 50 Saudi Certified Coffee Specialists between 2017 and 2020. “There is absolutely incredible growth and performance is improving more and more,” he said.
He is also a coffee assessor at the Coffee Quality Institute of America.

Roasting – from the farm to the cup of coffee
According to Al-Diwani, it takes a homemade roaster to be able to brew beans for the perfect cup of coffee. “During training, I always tell the roasters to observe how the beans are roasted in the machine; it takes five minutes to burn an entire year’s crop or to make an exceptional, great coffee.
There are several stages coffee cherries go through before they reach a cup of coffee, he said. A single coffee tree can provide more than six different types of coffee notes and characters, so at each stage there are sensitive stages in expense and risk before the product reaches the consumer.

Yemeni children holding coffee cherries in the Burra region of Yemen. (Provided)

“One of the most difficult steps in planting coffee is harvesting the right coffee beans for specialty coffee. If the coffee cherries have been harvested at a ripe stage, they are made into commercial coffee, ”he said. “The harvest must be dried on the same day so that it does not ferment and mold.”
The quality of the coffee depends on several factors, including the harvest of the crimson red coffee bean, proper drying, storage method, roasting and presentation. Consistency in coffee is a “mark of excellence,” he said.

Specialty coffee business in Saudi Arabia
Al-Diwani said many young Saudis share the same obsession with exploring the world of specialty coffee, as the country is one of the few where such a diversity of processors and types of coffee can be found.
“The future of the coffee industry in Saudi Arabia is very promising at the production level, and in the market it is considered one of the fastest growing markets,” he said. .
As for those who are considering starting a coffee business, Al-Diwani said entrepreneurs who are passionate about coffee should have a full understanding.
of how Arabica coffee is rated and graded.
The strong demand for coffee in Saudi Arabia has awakened coffee companies around the world to the idea that Saudi Arabia is a huge market for specialty and commercial coffee. “Eighty million kilograms of coffee beans enter Saudi Arabia every year, and the demand is increasing because people here will not accept low-quality coffee,” he said.
“We are dealing with a large number of international green bean companies and most of them have started to open branches in Saudi Arabia, so this is an indicator that the coffee market in the Kingdom is large and expanding. considerable.”
According to Al-Diwani, a specialty coffee business needs to consider three main aspects in order to stand out from other coffee startups in the Kingdom. “The first is the location, the second is the consumer experience and the high quality of the coffee, the third is to have a well-trained barista and a professional roaster.”
Al-Diwani is currently developing a roasting line called DQ Diwani Quality.
In 2014, he won an Italian Photography Award for an image taken in Burra, Yemen, which showcases the variety of colors of coffee cherries spread out on rooftops to dry.

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