Sweet, very strong and served in endless variations, coffee in Vietnam is a different breed from its Western European counterparts. Alex Jones of Keurig UK takes a look at the brew's special place in Vietnam.
Think of coffee, and Brazil and Colombia instantly come to mind. Think of Vietnam and you'll most likely conjure up thoughts of gap years, pristine beaches and exotic rice paddies in a country with breathtaking beauty. But it's a little known fact that the world’s third largest exporter of coffee today is actually Vietnam. In the past 30 years, Vietnam’s coffee market share has jumped from 0.1% to an astonishing 20%, affecting the country in many ways.
Vietnam's coffee affair all began in the late 19th century when the French introduced it to their then colony in French Indochina. The colonists may have been responsible for the introduction, but the Vietnamese really made the relationship work and soon cultivated a coffee production and culture that was very much their own. Vietnamese coffee today has a truly unique style, with a plethora of variations on how it's served, including with yoghurt, eggs and even fruit.
Alex Jones from Keurig, one of America's leading single-cup brand and purveyors of quality beverage brewing systems for workplace and commercial use, explores coffee's special place in Vietnam with a handy guide for visitors.
Vietnam is now known for being one of the world’s number one producers and exporters of Robusta coffee. Robusta beans are mainly used for instant coffee and Vietnam is second only to Brazil in terms of the volume of Robusta beans that it produces. Robusta beans are easier to care for and have a greater crop yield than Arabica beans so they are cheaper to produce. High-end coffee shops will mainly buy Arabica coffee beans, whereas hearty Vietnamese Robusta beans generally attract large coffee roasters due to their availability and reasonable value.
Robusta beans produce a strong, full-bodied coffee with a distinctive earthy flavour, but usually with higher caffeine levels, higher acidity and more bitterness. The Vietnamese like strong and flavourful coffee and tourists usually rave about it. Consumed morning, noon and night, coffee shops are a vibrant part of everyday life.
How To Drink It
While Vietnamese coffee is mainly grown as an export crop, it's become popular amongst the Vietnamese who traditionally drank tea. The coffee preparation process is unique and along with the blend of beans, Vietnamese style coffee is coarsely ground into a French drip filter called a Phin which sits on top of a cup or mug. The coarse beans are weighed down with a thin lid and hot water is added to allow the coffee to slowly trickle down into the cup.
The result is a dark, strong brew that's most usually served in true Vietnamese style sweetened with condensed milk - a practice that came about because the French colonists had trouble getting their hands on fresh milk.
Where To Drink It
If you're interested in coffee tourism, you'll want to head to Hanoi, the undisputed hub of Vietnamese coffee culture. Trieu Viet Vuong, a stretch of Hanoi’s historic Hai Ba Trung District, is known as the ‘Coffee Street’ and is jam-packed with a happy mixture of contemporary coffee shops and traditional, family-run street-side cafes. Elsewhere in the city, we recommend Cafe Giang on 39 Nguyen Huu Huan at the edge of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, which was one of the very first establishments to begin serving Vietnam's distinctive egg-yolk coffee.
Ho Chi Minh City is another coffee hotspot, and you'll notice that it's slightly cheaper than in Hanoi and served in tall glasses. Try out the local variation at the modern and airy The Workshop at 27 Ngo Duc Ke Street. An important piece of advice before you do though: unlike cafes elsewhere, cafes in Vietnam don’t usually serve food so grab a bite somewhere before hand.
If you want to delve a little deeper, head to the beautiful central highlands of Da Lat where most of the country's coffee is produced and take a tour that includes a trip to a coffee farm.
What to Order
Ca phe trung - egg coffee: egg yolk is lightly whipped with condensed milk into a froth that nicely compliments the dark coffee in this rich concoction.
Sua chua ca phe - yogurt coffee: a local culinary tradition where coffee is drizzled over rich yogurt to give a creamier texture.
Ca phe sua nong - coffee with condensed milk: a sweeter alternative that reduces the bitterness of the coffee significantly and turns it in to something that approaches a dessert.
Ca phe da - coffee served on a bed of ice: very similar to ca phe sua nong, but poured over ice.
Sinh to ca phe - coffee smoothie: a relatively new offering sees a touch of Vietnamese coffee added to blends of fresh fruit.
Ca phe chon - civet-cat coffee: a gourmet variation made by harvesting beans from the faeces of civet cats who sniff out and eat the best and fleshiest beans, fermenting them with special digestive enzymes to produce a rich, smooth and slightly smoky taste with hints of chocolate.
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