Coffee Culture in Vietnam

The best in Vietnam – Coffee Culture

Think of coffee and you will probably think of Brazil, Colombia, or maybe Ethiopia. But the world’s second-largest exporter today is Vietnam. The industry now employs about 2.6 million people, with beans grown on half a million smallholdings of two to three acres each.

But let’s start from the beginning, When the Vietnam war ended in 1975, collectivizing agriculture proved to be a disaster, and economic policies (at that time copied from the Soviet Union) did nothing to help. In 1986 the Communist Party carried out a U-turn – placing a big bet, on coffee. Coffee production then grew by 20%-30% every year in the 1990s. Since then the market share jumped from 0.01% to 20% in just 30 years.

How has this rapid change affected the country?

High-end coffee shops mainly buy Arabica coffee beans, which contain between 1% to 1.5% caffeine, whereas Vietnam grows the hardier Robusta bean which has between 1.6% to 2.7% caffeine, making it taste more bitter. There is a lot more to coffee, though than caffeine. 

“Caffeine is such a small percentage of total content, especially compared to other alkaloids, that it has a very minute effect on flavor.”

Coffee Culture in Vietnam

Some companies, like Nestle, have processing plants in Vietnam, which roast the beans and pack it. Thomas Copple from the International Coffee Organization says that most is exported as green bean

However, that is not everything, the expansion of coffee has also had downsides. Agricultural activity is dangerous, because of the huge numbers of unexploded ordnance remaining in the ground after the Vietnam War. In one province, Quang Tri, 83% of fields are thought to contain bombs. Environmentalists also warn that catastrophe is looming, much of the land used for coffee cultivation is steadily being exhausted.

There’s this traditional belief that you need to do that and nobody has really been trained on how to produce coffee. Vietnam is a country that absolutely adores its coffee. It’s not just a drink, but a social aspect of life, particularly in the capital city, Hanoi. Morning, noon and night, Vietnamese people meet with friends, family, partners to sit, chat and sip cups of coffee, the streets lined with quirky independent coffee shops, some fancy, others basic, the pavements outside filled with tiny plastic stools that are stacked and un-stacked as people come and go. It’s a pretty amazing sight, and a pretty amazing atmosphere, coffee is for people of all ages and all classes, in this country it brings people together.

It’s no surprise, being the world’s second largest coffee producer that Vietnam has come up with a few variations of serving coffee. Cappuccinos, lattes and espressos aren’t available at every corner unless you visit a coffee chain like Starbucks.

Coffee Culture in Vietnam

Traditional Vietnamese coffee isn’t served how many of us would expect, most commonly in Vietnam coffee is brewed in individual portions per person using a phin. A phin is a small cup, a small filter chamber and a lid placed on top. The coffee is brewed in the chamber, and very, very slowly drips down into the cup. During the 19th century, when French introduced coffee to Vietnam, they struggled to get a fresh milk like they were used to it, hence the use of condensed milk which didn’t go bad and was easily acquired. A popular one with both locals and tourists alike, is Robusta coffee with iced coconut milk, which on a hot summers day, is just perfect.

It is also one of few coffee’s that is served without condensed milk. Coffee with yogurt, called “Ca phe sua chua” is also a popular coffee in Vietnam. Again, the yogurt is mixed with a slight amount of condensed milk and drizzled in to the coffee. It can be served hot or cold, and you can even have it served with fruit if you fancy a healthy twist.

The best at the end, Ca phe trung, coffee that cannot be missed, it is roughly translated to egg coffee. A popular coffee with locals and definitely one to be tried by tourists, consists of egg yolks beaten and mixed with condensed milk and sugar and poured over the top of Robusta coffee shot. The history of this coffee style goes back to 1940’s when milk was a rarity and eggs were readily available so they were used as a replacement, seems the drink became popular and the recipe has become a traditional drink. Egg coffee looks very much like a cappuccino, with the egg and milk mixture whipped into a light and creamy froth, it certainly does look appetizing. Many cafes also offer the egg coffee with additional butter and cheese – if you think you can handle it.

In a country so busy and bustling like Vietnam, it’s strange how long they are willing to wait for such a small cup of coffee, but it goes to show that when it comes to their love for this hot beverage, they are willing to wait.

Coffee Culture in Vietnam

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