This Michigan Entrepreneur Aims to Change Coffee History with Family-Grown Yemeni Beans

Drawing on centuries of family heritage, Michigan entrepreneur Ibrahim Alhasbani has brought Yemeni coffee culture to the Midwest.

Qawah House owner Alhasbani poses for photo
Photo: Courtesy of Qawah House

The surest way into Ibrahim Alhasbani's heart is to try his coffee black. He's not a purist; he just wants you to taste what he's pouring before adding cream. In 2017, Alhasbani opened his first Qahwah House coffee shop in Dearborn, Michigan, a city known as the Arab Capital of North America. Today he has 10 stores, all brewing beans from Yemen—where coffee-drinking itself is said to have originated hundreds of years ago.

The world is awash in coffee shops. What sets yours apart?

When you buy a cup or beans from us, it's our farms. It's me and my brothers, my cousins, my uncle. I think I'm the eighth generation of coffee farmer, and I was born in Yemen, where we grow all our beans. After moving to the United States, I opened my shop to introduce people to the highest quality of organic coffee, from the farm to the cup.

Why do you call it Qahwah House?

Qahwah was the original word used for coffee in Yemen. House is what we want the customer to encounter, rather than a drive-through or a social media experience. We're trying to bring the coffee experience back to the table again. I want people to come to this place and talk to each other, know each other and learn new things. You're going to find someone from India, from Pakistan, from China or Japan, and you might sit at a table and learn from them, as well as the menu.

Coffee pour with pastry in background
Courtesy of Qawah House

What about the things they find in their cup?

People are drinking something different here. We add spices to some of the coffees. If people say they don't like the taste of coffee, I tell them to try the Jubani blend, and they change their mind. This is more tea-like and has no aftertaste, roasted with coffee husks and some ginger, cinnamon and cardamom. It actually tastes like chocolate when you drink it black.

And you serve food too?

Yes, snacks. The sabaya is the most traditional thing. It's a flaky, layered, bread cake drizzled with honey. The most popular are honeycomb buns, called khaliat al nahl. They're filled with cream cheese, plus honey on top. In Yemen, people make it at home daily.

What's your first coffee memory?

My mom, making coffee. I just remember my mom roasting the beans and grinding the coffee and the whole house smelled of coffee. I don't even remember when I started drinking it. Probably 3 or 4 years old, and it was always black.

So coffee has been there since the beginning for you. What's next?

We've grown from multiple shops in Michigan to Illinois, Texas, New Jersey and New York, plus online ordering. We're planning for more than a dozen locations by the end of 2023. The long vision is to have 100 locations within the next five years. It's catching on quickly because we were the first coffee shop of this kind, serving traditional Yemeni-style coffee, overseeing it from farm to cup and expanding like a chain. I really believe we're changing coffee history.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles