When it comes to coffee, you’ll probably think of Brazil, Colombia or perhaps Ethiopia. However, Vietnam is currently the second-largest coffee exporter in the world, and coffee is considered to be an important aspect of Vietnamese cuisine and drinking culture alongside tea. Besides Pho, Nem, Bia Bia, Coffee is a new symbol of culture and tourism of Vietnam. With excellent quality ingredients and unique way of preparation, Vietnamese coffee will be something that our country will be proud of in the future. In this article, you will discover the short history of Vietnamese coffee, see why the Vietnamese economy is bursting with coffee beans, and discover the creamy, milky coffees and even egg coffees made exclusively in Vietnam. Finally, we’ll show you how to drink a coffee like a Vietnamese.
1. Vietnamese coffee: general information?
1.1. History of Vietnamese coffee
Introduced into Vietnam since 1857, coffee was planted by the French in the Central Highlands of Vietnam because of its suitable soil for economic gain rather than personal nutrition. The French also created a way to brew coffee with metal filters. Coffee is contained in a metal filter, submerged in hot water, and water extracted from the coffee slowly flows from the filter to the cup.
During the Vietnam War, while the North Vietnamese popularized state-owned cafes or family cafes, which were prepared and served by the owner and named themselves as coffee shops like Nhan cafe and Lam cafe. In the South of Vietnam, luxury cafes were formed to both evoke American culture and to contain the liberal spirit of the people in the South. In Buon Ma Thuot, where Vietnamese coffee was grown, was not affected by the war, people were deeply affected. The depopulation caused a significant stoppage in the production of Vietnamese coffee.
Even after the end of the war, coffee production was limited due to state restrictions that restricted private enterprise. It took until 1986 for private companies to be re-registered. In the beginning of the 21st century, Trung Nguyen coffee first appeared in Saigon in August 1998 – with Sologan “Originating creativity”, shortly afterwards Trung Nguyen became a phenomenon of Vietnam’s coffee industry. Since then, many other coffee brands run by Vietnamese people were born such as Vina Café and Highland Café.
In recent years, the young names emerged in the second decade of the century such as The Coffee House, Cong Café, Urban Coffee created a vibrant coffee consumption market in Vietnam.
Today Vietnam exports almost 1 million tons of coffee every year. Coffee is the second-largest agricultural product from Vietnam and rice is the first.
1.2 Where they grow Vietnamese coffee?
Buon Ma Thuot, a city near Dalat, is one of the first lands chosen by the French to grow and propagate coffee trees. They chose Buon Ma Thuot as the center and specialized in cultivating Robusta coffee within a 10km radius around Buon Ma Thuot. Since then, several famous farming area of coffee appeared such as Ea Kao, Cu Ebut and Tan Lap.
In addition to Buon Ma Thuot, some other cities: Cau Dat, Nui Min, Tram Hanh are also famous places for coffee. With an altitude of over 1500 meters above sea level, and many other favorable climatic conditions, these places become the ideal place to grow Arabica coffee varieties. Especially, the quality of coffee beans here is very good, it can be said to be one of the best in the world.
Another region is equally famous for its coffee, that is Khe Sanh in Quang Tri province, near Hue City. Although the quality of coffee here is not high, it also contributes to enriching coffee in the country.
1.3 Popular types of coffee in Vietnam
About 90% of Vietnamese coffee is Robusta. Robusta is a type of coffee that is most suitable for the climate and soil in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, especially basalt land in Gia Lai, Dak Lak province, which annually reaches 90-95% of the total output of Vietnamese coffee. Robusta coffee is bitter, not sour, contains high amount of caffeine, that’s why it’s suitable for Vietnamese taste, but not very loved by foreigners.Vietnam is the second-largest coffee exporter in the world, but the main bean is Robusta. In Vietnam, Robusta is the traditional bean and also one of the cheapest (for obvious reasons). Robusta is almost twice as strong as caffeine, which makes it a bit more bitter since caffeine itself is bitter. In addition, it contains 60% fewer lipids (fat) and sugar than Arabica, so the taste is spicy and less casual than with a regular cup of coffee. Unlike Arabica, which is mild and easy to drink, Robusta coffee is known to be low in acidity and extremely bitter and is often used for instant coffee and coffee blend fillers. While this may scare some Starbucks fans, for many Vietnamese Robusta’s strength is the only true way if you’re a die-hard coffee lover.
Arabica coffee has a sour, slightly bitter taste, its water is light brown, clear amber color. Arabica is low in caffeine and has a lot of fragrance. This is the main raw material of the most famous coffee companies in the world.
In many types of coffee in Vietnam, liberica coffee is the least grown one. Liberica coffee has light smell, yellow water, sour taste. Liberica is very suitable for women because of its luxurious style.
Moka coffee is one of the best coffee bean. In Vietnam, moke is a rare coffee, always priced higher than other types. The moka seed is much bigger and more beautiful than the other varieties. Its aroma is very special, very luxurious, ecstatic, elegant, specially for gourmet.
Excelsa was considered an individual coffee type until 2006 when it was re-classified as a type of Liberica by Aaron P. Davis, a British botanist. It has a mix of light and dark roast aroma and makes up 7% of the global coffee production.
Coulis coffee fruits have only one bean. They have a bitter taste, passionate aroma, high caffeine content, and black water.
1.4. Coffee plantation and vendor in Vietnam
Most coffee plantations in Vietnam are comparatively small. Only 5% of the plantations are over 500 hectares and are state-owned. The most famous coffee plantations and coffee makers today are:
Trung Nguyen Coffee is a leading coffee group in Vietnam led by Mr. Dang Le Nguyen Vu. The Dak Lak-based company is one of the most popular coffee brands in Vietnam and one of the main exporters. Trung Nguyen is also known for making the controversial Kopi Luwak (ferret coffee), which is considered the most expensive coffee in the world. Trung Nguyen is famous for its strong flavor of coffee selected from the delicious coffee beans and careful roasting process. Foreigners love the taste of this cafe and so far G7 instant coffee products are being exported in large quantities and are available at the top supermarkets in the world. Trung Nguyen deserves to be the pride of Vietnamese cuisine.
The first coffee company in Vietnam that was not founded by a local. David Thai, an American with Vietnamese roots, created Highlands Coffee after the Starbucks boom in the US. Today, thanks to its quality and affordable prices, it is one of the most popular coffee shop chains in Vietnam.
A subsidiary of the Vietnam National Coffee Corporation in Hanoi – a state-owned company. Vinacafe was created after the Confiscation of the coffee plantation by the French at the end of the Vietnam War and was known for the production of instant coffee, which was sold mainly to the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries. Later, 49 more small coffee plantations were added to Vinacafe. Today, the state coffee association determines more than 50% of the coffee market in Vietnam.
Recently, Phuc Long tea and coffee company presents in most major shopping centers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Phuc Long has a strong and aromatic tea and coffee flavor, especially attracting young people. Phuc Long also sells roasted coffee ready for those who wish to make coffee at home.
2. How to drink coffee in Vietnam?
Coffee has a comparatively short history in Vietnam, but it has shaped the country. If you walk through the streets of Hanoi, Saigon or any other Vietnamese city today, you will notice that every street has many small and larger cafes. From the large, air-conditioned, Starbucks-like chains with sonorous names like Highlands Coffe or Trung Nguyen – the largest and most famous café chain in Vietnam – to small street stalls with colorful plastic stools – everything is on display.
2.1. Brown Coffee and Milk Coffee
The same as dark coffee above, but with a simple twist “milk”. Milk makes it easier to drink dark coffee because it gives a mild sweetness to the bitter but addictive drink. In northern Vietnam, this mixture is called Ca Phe Nau (brown coffee), in the south Ca Phe Sua (milk coffee).
2.2. Vietnamese black ice coffee
The process of making dark coffee is the most exciting thing in the world because it has a certain style. First, place coffee beans in a French coffee filter (Phin) that stands on top of the cup. The beans are weighted with a thin lid and hot water is added to the filter. Then the water drips slowly into the cup, resulting in dark, strong coffee. Keep in mind that dark coffee is hard to drink for many people. However, if you are a real coffee drinker, this amazing drink should not be a problem. Dark coffee can be drunk cold or warm. The most popular choice in Vietnamese coffee culture would be “den da khong duong”, which means “dark iced coffee without sugar”.
Racket coffee or coffee warehouse, socks coffee is considered heritage and the most typical cultural feature of Saigon since the 1950s. Racket coffee has this interesting name because it is prepared with a cotton filter racket. Because of its special way of preparing coffee, the racket cafe has a stronger and more unforgettable taste. A small cup of tennis racket is enough for you to sip all morning already. Today, racket coffee has a more modern way of mixing, while still retaining the traditional, rich and delicious flavor.
2.4. Eggs coffee
Egg yolk with condensed milk in lush foam, which is then combined with dark Vietnam coffee. Imagine it was a Vietnamese version of Tiramisu. Egg coffee appeared in the 1940s when milk became scarce and egg yolk was a suitable substitute. The combination may sound awful on paper, but in practice, egg coffee tastes not only fantastic but also very nutritious.
2.5. Yogurt coffee
Like coffee, yogurt was originally brought to Vietnam by the French and adopted into the local culinary tradition. Rich and creamy, it is served with a variety of toppings, from fresh mango to fermented rice to coffee. That sounds like a strange combination, but the rich yogurt goes well with a dash of black coffee – just stir and sip.
2.6. Coffee mixed with salt
If you’ve ever heard of people playing pranks by adding salt to coffee, you will have to think again when drinking this cup of coffee. Unlike egg coffee, salt coffee is less known, but this is the famous coffee of Hue City. Salt coffee is served with some salt and fermented milk and traditional coffee. The amount of salt mixed in the coffee neutralizes the bitter and sweet taste, leaving a good aftertaste and aroma.
2.7. Saigon style coffee
In Saigon, you have to try a cup of coffee with lots of ice and milk named “bac siu”. “Bac xiu” comes from the phrase “bac tay xiu phe” in Chinese (bac is white, tay is a cup, xiu is a little, phe is coffee), meaning coffee with a little more milk. Bac xiu is also a creative drink of the working class people, and it is strange that it also originated from lack of fresh milk in the past. Because fresh milk is a luxury item, condense milk is replaced. The hot condensed milk has not very good taste, so that people add a little coffee flavor to drown out this bad smell. Then, bac xiu were born. The Saigonese consider coffee cup is fast-beverage, so that Saigon coffee is usually very sweet, almost drenched the bitterness of the coffee and is given a lot of ice. Coffee is usually served in tall cups and very diluted.
2.8. Coconut coffee
Hai Phong Coconut Coffee is a kind of coffee originating from Mrs Hanh Coconut Essence Coffee at No. 102 Lam Son, Le Chan District, Hai Phong City. With a unique way of mixing coffee with coconut milk and dried coconut, it creates a unique smell of cofffee. Similar to the traditional way of drinking coffee, coconut milk can be served hot or iced with ice, however most customers prefer to drink with ice because it will reduce the fat.
3. Drink like a local
3.1. Milk or not
If you prefer your coffee mild, do it like the Vietnamese and order “ca phe bac xiu”, coffee with lots of extra condensed milk.
3.2. Sweet spot
Since condensed milk is sweetened, there is no coffee without sugar. Real coffee connoisseurs should opt for “Ca Phe Den” (black Vietnam coffee). A touch of sugar brings out the complex aromas, as does dark chocolate. However, if you want to make sure that your drink is not too sweet, ask for less sugar.
3.3. Avoid hunger
No food is usually served in Vietnamese coffee shops. Some newer cafés offer quick meals, but you are better off eating first and then going to a café to relax. In case of emergency, you can always nibble on fried sunflower seeds. If you are already planning a trip to Vietnam, then take a look at these highly recommended offers from Asiatica Travel.
4. Old style café in Vietnam
4.1 Dinh Café, 13 Dinh Tien Hoang
Among the famous ancient cafes in Hanoi, we can not miss the 30 years old – Dinh Cafe. The shop’s cupboard is egg coffee, still brewed in the traditional way. Egg Coffee is a specialty food of Hanoi that the world press has praised. Come to Dinh, enjoy a cup of fragrant egg coffee!
4.2 Thai Coffee, 27 Trieu Viet Vuong
Thai coffee has existed for 80 years. Their coffee bean is selected from three Vietnamese soil regions: Dien Bien, Phu Quy, and Buon Ho, and roasted according to traditional secrets. Therefore, if you drink a cup of coffee in Thai, you will feel the aroma of the Northwest mountains, the deep taste like the land and the people of Nghe An, the intoxicating yeast of the Central Highlands.
4.3. Racket Coffee, alley 330 Phan Dinh Phung
With “age” turning to more than 60, the racket cafe of Mrs. Pham Ngoc Tuyet and Mr. Dang Tran Con on the side of the roadside of 330 Phan Dinh Phung alley (Phu Nhuan, Saigon) has become a typical Saigonese cafe. The specialty of the restaurant is not only in the age but also in the way of making coffee with a racket instead of the regular filter. The coffee seller uses boiling water to clean the racquets and then put them in a certain amount of pureed coffee. Then, immerse the racket in the boiling water, stir well with the spoon a few times and then cover the lid, leave it for about 5 to 10 minutes for the coffee to gradually absorb and create delicious coffee batches with 60 years old flavor.
4.4 Racket Coffee, alley 313, district 11
Another popular racket cafe in Saigon is the café of Mr. Luu Nhan Thanh located in Alley 313 (Tan Phuoc, Ward 6, District 11, Saigon). More than half a century of operation with a simple and old restaurant has attracted many people. His secret to making coffee is never wash racquet with soap because it can easily lose the aroma of the coffee. At the same time, he used ceramic kettle to make coffee.