Coffee In Vietnam
If there is one thing Vietnam is known for almost internationally, it's its coffee. Coffee in Vietnam is strongly ingrained within the culture, especially in particular regions. Coffee production is one of strongest contributors to economic growth in Vietnam. In the late 90's, Vietnam was the worlds no.2 coffee producer, second only to Brazil. Although seeing a slight decrease in production due to varying factors, Vietnam was still estimated to produce between 17-29 million 60 kilogram bags to be consumed globally. In 2012, it was estimated that just one-quarter of annual exports of Vietnamese coffee equated to $1.2 billion USD in revenue.
A history of Coffee in Vietnam
Coffee was introduced to Vietnam in 1857 which slowly began the production process of coffee in Asia. The true height of coffee production peaked in the early 20th century when small scale operations shifted to large scale plantations. The 20th century also saw also saw Vietnam's first "instant coffee" production, with the Coronal Coffee Plant in the Bien Hoa, Dong Nai Province being established in 1969 (the same year as the moon landing - a great year all round!). Production capacity was just 80 tonnes per year at that time, which indicates the vast improvements in production and also demand supply of this unique style of coffee. Unfortunately, the Vietnam War caused a major halt in coffee production and exportation. Furthermore, after a North Vietnam victory, the majority of Coffee production (and most other agriculture) was collectivized - which limited private enterprises thus resulting in a decrease in production. Luckily in 1986, private production was permitted again and instantly boosted the growth of production. Originally, the coffee was seen as slightly inferior due to the production of Robusta coffee as opposed to the more popular Arabica Coffee. Robusta has a slightly more bitter flavor than Arabica, however, since then Vietnam has shifted its focus to both Arabica coffee and various coffee "blends".
So what is Vietnamese Coffee and how is it different?
Vietnamese coffee comes in many different styles. The most traditional and arguably the most well-known overseas is the Vietnamese iced coffee which comes with condensed milk in the bottom of the glass and then the coffee is slowly dripped into the glass. The ice is then added separately. Interestingly in Saigon, the coffee is served in a longer cup with more liquid. In other regions of Vietnam, they will call this "Ca phe sua sai Saigon". Uniquely, the coffee comes inside a single cup filter known as a "fin" where hot water is added. The main reason for the use of condensed milk is due to the availability in comparison to fresh milk, where as the high sugar content also allows it to stay fresh for much longer in the tropical climate of Vietnam. The Vietnamese people don't mind a sweet thing or two, either! It is also common to have a glass of tea served with your coffee (seldom in the north). For foreigners, the taste description can often vary but is generally said that Vietnamese coffee is a lot smoother and additionally far stronger in caffeine than coffee found in their home country. There are also some "special" Vietnamese coffees available such as an Egg Coffee (Ca phe trung) and Coconut Coffee (Ca phe dua), although these are generally harder to find.
How much will I pay for a coffee in Vietnam?
This is an added bonus of drinking the delicious coffee Vietnam has to offer. In a local cafe, you will pay anywhere between 5-10,000VND (25c-50c USD) however in more touristic areas you can pay anywhere up to 40,000VND. We advise however to shop around and find the coffee you like, as most cafes use different blends and brew differently. One last thing - don't underestimate the strength of the coffee in Vietnam... it has been compared to rocket fuel for those with lower caffeine tolerance! Enjoy!