Stateside Podcast: A taste of Yemeni coffee in Michigan
Despite being the co-founder of Qamaria Yemeni Coffee Co., Hatem Al-Eidaroos is decidedly not a coffee person.
He describes himself as “more of a tea guy.”
However, he does have a deep appreciation for coffee, and, as one can imagine, owning a coffee company puts you in close contact with coffee on a regular basis.
Prior to Qamaria’s opening, Al-Eidaroos was in the wholesale coffee business. Once COVID hit, and his colleagues at partnering roasteries were no longer ordering enough beans to keep his business running, Al-Eidaroos realized he needed another avenue to get his coffee beans in the market. And he didn’t do it alone.
“My brother used to work at a pharmacy. I told him, ‘Let's open a shop. What's going to hurt us? … We're the main supplier, so we won't have a bill over our heads where we have to pay for inventory,’” Al-Eidaroos said.
Together with his brother, Munif Maweri, Al-Eidaroos opened Qamaria’s first location in Commerce. Al-Eidaroos and Maweri wanted their space to be light and simple, a place where people “feel like they're going somewhere to socialize.”
Highlighting Yemen’s roots
In choosing a name for their business, they wanted to highlight coffee’s deep roots in Yemen.
“We have the history — we’re the ones that cultivated it, that exported it, that made it. How come nobody knows about us? And it's a marketing thing; we fell way behind on that,” Al-Eidaroos said.
Al-Eidaroos and Maweri decided on the name Qamaria, which is a type of window used in houses in Yemen. As power turns off in Yemen around 6 or 7 p.m., these multicolored stained glass windows make use of the light from the moon and cast colored shadows into homes.
“We wanted to bring light back into the history of coffee of Yemen,” Al-Eidaroos said.
Many people have speculated and tried to pinpoint what makes Yemeni coffee particularly good. Al-Eidaroos doesn’t know exactly what it is, but he suspects that the high altitude in Yemen has something to do with the quality of Yemeni coffee beans. In thinking about how Yemini coffee is distinct from other kinds of coffee, Al-Eidaroos pointed to Yemini coffee’s cocoa flavor and smoothness.
Al-Eidaroos’ beans come directly from Yemen, and with the civil war in Yemen, he has noticed an increase in shipping and transportation costs for his beans, as his drivers have had to buy diesel for their trucks from the black market. However, Al-Eidaroos noted that the Port of Aden, which is a key port for international shipping, has remained open throughout the war.
Brining Yemeni coffee to Michigan
With their first location in Commerce, many customers were not familiar with Yemini coffee. He described how customers would often come in not knowing how to pronounce their store name or the names of many of their drinks, and would return with more confidence the next time.
“It was just so cool because we were teaching our customers not just about coffee, but it was like a new language,” Al-Eidaroos said.
It took time for Al-Eidaroos to capture the flavors that his family enjoys. He wanted to replicate the coffee his mother had been making for years. However, to replicate his mother’s craft, he needed the special touch. His mother made coffee with intuition — not measurements.
“Every Yemen mom, I know for a fact, does almost the same thing,” Al-Eidaroos said.
It also took time for Al-Eidaroos and Qamaria to win customers over with more natural flavorings.
“When they come in here, we're going to try to switch them over. So if somebody wants a latte with a pump of vanilla and a pump of caramel mixed to it, we have a Qamaria latte, which has cardamom and cinnamon. So if you're looking for the flavor, you might as well have a nice organic spice instead of the sugary ones,” Al-Eidaroos said.
Right now, Qamaria’s top-selling drink is their pistachio latte, which is made with natural pistachio paste. He said that its popularity shows that when you make things natural “people will love it.”
Expanding the business
All of Qamaria’s locations are franchises. Everyone that franchises with Qamaria is a family member or friend of Al-Eidaroos’. Even when franchising was new to Al-Eidaroos, he was confident that the quality of his coffee would speak for itself.
“I always tell our franchisees. ‘50% of the work is done by the coffee bean. All you gotta do is make your place look pretty and clean and have great customer service,” Al-Eidaroos said.
In addition to offering delicious coffee, Qamaria is also opening up new social spaces to the public. Al-Eidaroos noted how sitting down for an hour and enjoying a coffee is not something the American market has opened up to as much as European and Asian markets have.
“It's always been a thing for us where people drink coffee and they socialize. That's the whole point of sitting down and drinking a coffee,” Al-Eidaroos said. He mentioned how, in the U.S., it’s much more common to get a coffee as quick as possible — a quick stop through a drive through and that’s it.
Al-Eidaroos wanted Qamaria to be a new place for people, specifically Yemini-Americans and other Arab-Americans, to sit and enjoy each other's company as another extension of the home environment.
“We're always trying to mimic what we do at home into a business,” Al-Eidaroos said.