By Esra’ AlNajjar
Coffee shops started to appear in Yemen around 9 years ago. However, they have expanded dramatically in recent times. The idea of coffee shops wasn’t embraced by Yemeni society at that time. Back then, almost all coffee shop customers were foreigners. This is mainly because, for girls, coffee shops were considered a taboo. They were thought to be places were only ill-reputed girls gathered, and so most families didn’t allow their daughters to visit such places. As for boys, they were too involved chewing Qat and couldn’t interpret the idea of coffee shops.
Now coffee shops are becoming very popular. “Yemenis are now welcoming coffee shops with a great attitude. It is a new and fresh idea for them, something to replace the old places they used to visit,” says Mosa Al-Salafi
Yemenis of all ages have started visiting coffee shops, and you can see children with their parents, teens with their friends, and adults with their laptops. It is very natural to visit a coffee shop and be forced to try another one simply because you can’t find a place to sit.
This new attitude towards coffee shops was created by the new rules and restrictions that coffee shops adopted. For instance, many coffee shops started inhibiting the use of Shisha, which usually affects the reputation of a place. Moreover, people who can cause chaos are now prohibited from entering coffee shops or are promptly dismissed once they do. These regulations have boosted the numbers of customers, which have contributed to the growth of coffee shops.
Yemenis visit coffee shops for many reasons. You can find people there studying or working on a project. Parents sometimes consider coffee shops an escape from domestic stress and a place where they can enjoy and forget about their daily commitments. Another reason is that coffee shops usually offer fancy desserts and beverages, ones that will take time and effort if prepared at home.
The popularity of coffee shops goes back to the many privileges they offer. They are considered an outlet for family and friends, where they do not have to worry about dressing or preparing a household for a gathering. Since they provide refreshments and internet for their customers and a peaceful atmosphere, coffee shops make a comfortable zone for working and studying. You often see teachers who check their students’ work or exams while drinking a cup of coffee. Teenagers are now starting to gather in coffee shops with their friends as well. It’s in these places where they can chat and enjoy a pleasant outing. This had kept them busy and prevented them from chewing Qat or developing other bad habits. For genuine readers, most coffee shops provide a book collection that customers can use for free. This collection enables a person to read by providing both the material and the suitable environment. One of the most attractive privileges of a coffee shop in Yemen is that it offers a women’s section. In a society like Yemen this is highly appreciated. Such a privilege has enabled veiled women who prefer isolation to enjoy the luxury offered by those coffee shops. As for those women who aren’t veiled or simply prefer to sit in more open places, these sections provide them with the privacy needed for praying or refreshing.
In contrast to the many advantages that coffee shops have, there are still some disadvantages. Coffee shops can be very costly. Although the atmosphere offered by a coffee shop is very tempting, average Yemenis cannot go there regularly for fear of affecting their budget.
Secondly, it has become easier now to meet outdoors rather than having a homely gathering. Most people think it’s easier as well as safer for the budget since every individual gets to pay for their own order. This eventually results in giving up the intimacy that a household can offer and a coffee shop can never achieve.
The notion of separating women coffee shops for men’s is still debatable. However, the majority of people think that having mixed coffee shops is acceptable as long as restrictions are taken in consideration. Youth who gather to work on projects, such as students and activists, are usually of both genders and separating them will limit their chances of meeting and so limit their productivity.
“It is noticeable that youth are meeting in coffee shops where they work on projects like students and activists. Since it is not appropriate to gather at each other’s houses they are taking the advantage of coffee shops being public places. This is especially true when groups are made up of both genders,” says Ibtihal Muharram. Also, most families like to hang out with their husbands, fathers or cousins and separation would certainly deprive them this pleasure and have a bad influence on coffee shops.
Yemenis are now more open to the idea of coffee shops. They are becoming more and more popular and customers are increasing rapidly. As long as those levels of service and surveillance are maintained, coffee shops in Yemen will continue to flourish throughout the years.