A smooth morning cup of coffee has become a staple, worldwide. The great demand for this little brown bean grew rapidly between 1860 and 1920 as a taste for coffee flourished in developed countries. South America was quick to supply the product and other countries joined the trade over the years. Indeed, Brazil still ranks as the highest exporter. However, the popularity of Vietnamese coffee sky-rocketed to the world's second-highest export in a short time. Read on for some Vietnamese Coffee 101. Get some insight into its culture, cultivation, and cafés.
Vietnam Coffee History
In 1950 the only coffee production in Vietnam was a plant processing instant coffee. Its largest consumer was the UK. Today, Vietnam is the world's second-largest exporter of coffee. Post-war 1970s found the country in severe poverty. As a result, in 1986, the Communist Party made some significant changes — including placing a very big bet on the success of coffee. And it worked. In only 30 years, its market share jumped from .1% to 20%.
Coffee farms stretch across Vietnam
Rocketing Coffee Production
Production grew exponentially every year in the 90s. It helped to bring those living in poverty from 60% of the population in 1994, down to 10% today. About 2.6 million people make a living in the industry, with half a million working individual plots of just 2-3 acres each. However, as is often the case with agriculture, environmental dangers abound. Production is putting a serious strain on forests and land is steadily being exhausted. Efforts are being made to educate people on proper farming techniques and the importance of protecting forests.
Coffee production had part in pulling a major portion of the population out of poverty
The Robusta Bean
What makes Vietnamese coffee so unique? The hardy robusta bean. Most higher-end coffee shops purchase its sister, the arabica beans. Arabica has a smoother, sweeter taste thanks to the longer time it takes to flower. It grows well at higher elevations and tropical climates like Brazil, its largest production location. Robusta beans have a strong bitter and distinctly earthy flavor and double the caffeine (2% instead of 1%). Originally discovered in the Congo, it can be found throughout Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Robusta beans are less susceptible to disease and offer a greater yield in less time. It now stands at 43% of global coffee production.
Robusta beans have risen quickly to popular demand
The Vietnamese still drink tea as was always a tradition, but coffee shops have quickly grown in number. The classic version of coffee is Phin drip coffee, while many other delicious and uniquely crafted combinations have caught on internationally.
Cộng Caphe is one of many popular spots in Ho Chi Minh City
Classic Vietnamese Drip
Brewed through a Phin filter set, this technique is a sure way to slow things down and appreciate the technique and resulting flavor. The Phin is placed atop the cup, hot water is poured into the top and the drip brew commences. A popular preference is to add sweet condensed milk to the cup beforehand. Five minutes later, stir and enjoy hot or add ice. Truly a classic, this can be found throughout the country, from street-side vendors to the classiest cafes and along certain cycle adventure routes (wink, wink).
Phin Drip is the most popular method for locals in Vietnam
Sitting near the top of popular experiences in Vietnam is Egg Coffee. Combining egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk, a sweet eggy foam floats atop the dark robusta brew. Our Vietnamese team leader, Thang, demonstrates how to make this silky delicious drink in the video below.
This coffee is a perfect balance between rich, creamy coconut and the robusta bean acidity. What a pair! The ingredients include coconut cream and sweetened condensed milk (yes, this sweet milk is quite popular in coffee!) is served hot, and also quite popular on ice.
Coconut coffee is a signature drink at Cộng Caphe
If you find yourself in Vietnam, there are some special places to seek out. Each has its own personality and adds a unique dimension to your tasty cup of brew. Check out our article on the 5 best coffee shops of Hoi An and don't miss the three treasures below in Ho Chi Minh City...
The Workshop Coffee (Ho Chi Minh)
As it sounds, The Workshop is a fantastic place to get some work done. The floor plan is wide open, surrounded by tall windows and full of natural light. The barista's own command station looks the part, centered in the room, surrounded with various brewing instruments ready for your order. This is also a very popular spot for delicious food at any time of day.
Cộng Caphe (Ho Chi Minh & throughout Vietnam)
A bustling shop in Saigon, Cong Ca Phe is well-known for its signature coconut coffee drinks. Successful throughout the country, the decor style is uniquely creative, reinventing old-school Vietnamese colors, patterns and materials. It carries forward bold colors and reused materials with the fresh energy of a new generation.
Talk Barista Saigon (Ho Chi Minh)
For a refreshing and personal experience of Vietnamese coffee, Talk Barista is excellent. It couples coffee education with a valuable perspective on happiness and living a positive life. Indeed its full name is Talk Barista Saigon, Specialty Coffee and Happy Training Lab. This cafe is often part of our Saigon itinerary and never fails to bring us away with some coffee knowledge and feel-good vibes.
Considering experiencing Vietnamese coffee first-hand? Take a look at our Vietnam cycling tours where experiencing the beauty of the land is just as important as the culture. You can be sure to enjoy the coffee and cuisine on every tour!