Vietnamese Coffee Culture: History & Coffee Types
Did you know that Vietnam is the second-largest coffee producer and exporter in the world? That information was a huge yet positive shock for us before arriving in Vietnam, but after a few days, you realize that everyone enjoys their cup of strong Vietnamese coffee!
The relaxing morning walks around bustling cities were very memorable for us since you can see people sitting and chilling on small chairs literally on the street while enjoying the sips of the coffee. In small streets, you can even smell the taste of the coffee.
Coffee is a huge part of Vietnamese culture, and everyone enjoys their coffee breaks in the morning, afternoon, and in between. When we first arrived in Vietnam, as coffee lovers, we couldn’t help ourselves not to do the same – sitting tiny chairs, observing the constant moving life while enjoying the sips of very delicious and strong coffee.
In this article, we want to share all the experiences, observations, and knowledge we’ve got during our time in Vietnam when we’re talking about Vietnamese coffee culture.
Brew yourself a coffee and find a cozy and comfortable place for this read (it’s a long one!).
Vietnamese Coffee Culture – A Brief History of Vietnamese Coffee
The history of Vietnamese coffee dated from the middle of the 19th century when French colonialists introduced aromatic black beans to Vietnam. The industry started with mass-production because colonialists wanted to pump the profits out of the country as fast as possible. It was working like a charm during the colonial era, but after the 1950s, coffee production started to decline drastically.
The majority of coffee fields were situated in Central Highlands, the bordering area with Laos and Cambodia, which was the place of the bloodiest battles during the war. The war lasted for more than 20 years, and it left the Vietnamese economy on the knees.
The coffee fields, potent plants, and equipment were partly destroyed, the people left the area, and unexploded bombs still remain. It was very risky and costly to start with coffee production all over again.
However, the ruling Communist Party at that period decided to invest in coffee production as they saw it as an opportunity for economic recovery.
For instance, the coffee production jumped from 0.1% during the war to a whopping 30% some 40 years later. Nowadays, Vietnam is the second-largest producer and exporter of Robusta coffee beans in the world. The production process of Robusta beans is way cheaper, and beans consist of more caffeine levels, which is ideal for western and fast-paced markets. On the other hand, Arabica beans grow on a higher elevation, so you can find massive fields and farms around beautiful Da Lat and Buon Ma Thuot.
The coffee industry employs more than 3 million locals and drives a steady growth. Almost every country in the world imports Vietnamese coffee since it’s affordable without lacking quality.
After learning about the coffee culture and its history, it’s not a strange thing to smell coffee aroma on every step in Vietnam.
Why is Vietnamese Coffee So Strong, Creamy, and Tasty?
There are two main types of coffee beans – Arabica and Robusta. Arabica requires much more effort to grow since it’s only growing on high places, and its maintenance requires loads of resources. Also, Arabica has up to 2% of the caffeine in the beans which translates into a mild and pleasant cup of coffee.
Robusta, on the other hand, features a bitter taste and, overall, a potent coffee. Central Highlands serves as the ideal ground for growing Robusta beans that feature around 3% of caffeine levels.
Vietnamese people usually add broken ice and condensed milk to their coffee. Ice dilutes the strength and bitterness while condensed milk creates a sweet taste and creamy texture.
As you know, Vietnamese coffee is everywhere, but still, it’s not so popular around the world. What is the reason behind it?
Well, Vietnam exports coffee beans to huge corporations that repack and make a cheap instant coffee ready for resale. Basically, Vietnam sells a tremendous amount of coffee beans at a low price to companies like Starbucks or Nestle, that later pack the same coffee in their brands and enjoy massive profits.
What’s the Process of Making Vietnamese Coffee?
Whenever you want to prepare a strong and delicious coffee, you have to use ‘phin’ – an aluminum filter filled with coffee beans that go on the top of the cup. Once you prepare everything and spill hot water over the coffee, the long preparation process starts. Enjoy watching a drop falling after a drop until your drink is ready.
Vietnamese people don’t use filter paper while preparing the coffee, which preserves all the essential oils from the beans. That process results in a specific aroma and ultra potency that will kickstart even the worst days. 😀
Don’t be surprised when you take your first sip by the sweetness and creamy texture. People add condensed milk to their coffee, but you can also order one without milk if it’s too sweet for you (we will talk about different coffee types). The French colonialists enjoyed coffee with milk so much, but the lack of supply made them bringing the milk to Vietnam.
Since I was living with locals in Nghe An Province (volunteering as an English teacher), coffee drinking was a ritual for us. I’ve learned to prepare my own coffee using different methods. Here’s the process of preparing a traditional Vietnamese drip coffee, so you can make one by yourself!
Now when you’re familiar with the process of making a coffee and its fascinating history, it’s time to learn more. Check out the most popular coffee types around the country, where to drink it and how much it costs.
#1- Cà Phê Sữa (Milk Coffee)
Okay, so cà phê sữa (coffee with condensed milk) is everywhere around the country, even in the remote mountainous areas. I had a pretty heart-warming experience while traveling around Kontum. I took a short break from a long drive and found a small cover that looked like a local store. I’ve ordered a coffee with milk (coffee is a universal world and no matter your language, people will understand), but people didn’t have it on the stock. The friendly middle-aged women just smiled and screamed in a warm tone. The next thing I know, a neighbor is coming with a cup of hot milk coffee and bringing it to my table. I love Vietnamese people! 🙂
Cà phê sữa is a sweet combination of coffee, condensed milk and usually a handful of broken ice. When you order this type of coffee, you will most likely get a cup with a ‘phin’ on top while coffee is still brewing. It takes a few minutes to start drinking, but the whole preparation process is what makes Vietnamese coffee culture so unique. You can relax and watch the busy world around you while enjoying a pleasant coffee aroma and waiting for the black magic.
Once the brewing process is over, just remove the filter and stir the coffee so the condensed milk will mix with coffee and create a sweet and creamy brown drink.
It’s a robust and sweet coffee, so sometimes, you’ll need to add plenty of ice to dilute the bitterness.
For real coffee lovers who want to experience the coffee taste without the mixture of condensed, cà phê đen (black coffee) is a way to go. I personally don’t like it since I prefer a creamy texture and sweetness that comes with condensed milk.
Where to Drink Milk Coffee
I would say there is no specific place for drinking traditional cà phê sữa, as you can find local places on every step. Just walk around and look for tiny chairs and tables on the street, load locals playing cards and video games – that’s the place you’re looking for.
The taste differs, depending on the beans and quantity of coffee used, but for first-timers, you will be totally blown away! Antonio is an expat in Da Nang, so he knows explicitly a few places where he drinks his coffee! People swear in the quality of Trung Nguyen beans that you get in the big coffee shops and franchises. In some places, especially Da Lat or Buon Ma Thuot, you should support locals and taste the coffee made from organic coffee farms. Plus, this area is known for Arabica coffee, which is rare in Vietnam.
#2- Cà phê trứng (Egg Coffee)
Egg coffee is a popular beverage in the northern part of Vietnam, especially in Hanoi. But don’t worry as you can find it everywhere around the country (a bit harder though).
The story of egg coffee shows the ability of Vietnamese people to adapt to ANY situation. During the French war and colonial era, Vietnam lacked many resources since the colonialists were extracting the resources mainly for selling and making the profit for their own benefit. In 1946, there was a shortage of milk, so people couldn’t enjoy their milk coffee so they needed to think about the ways to enjoy their favorite drink.
In every tough situation, there is a huge possibility that a great idea will see the light of a day. A guy named Tri Hoa Nguyen invented an egg coffee where he used an egg blend instead of milk. Egg coffee wasn’t famous until the 80s when Vietnam started to invest heavily in the coffee industry. During the 80s, the egg coffee popularity went through the roof, and Vietnam, once again, was recognized as an innovative country.
When it comes to taste, some people love it, some people hate it. It really depends on your taste, so we’re going to leave it for you to judge.
The egg coffee is made with a fresh and raw egg yolk mixed with condensed milk. It is more of a dessert than a drink, and people enjoy it either hot or cold. We definitely prefer it hot since it gives you a fantastic experience when it comes to taste and smell.
Where to Drink Egg Coffee
Since egg coffee originates from the north, you can find your fix in many local places around Hanoi. Arguably, the most popular place for traditional egg coffee is Cafe Giang, as this delicious drink originates from there. We didn’t have a chance to drink a lot of egg coffee (milk coffee addicts here), but we know for sure that you can find your fix in a popular Cong Cafe around the country.
#3- Bạc xỉu
Bạc xỉu is a trendy drink around Vietnam that uses the same ingredients as regular milk coffee, but proportions differ. Bạc xỉu is a sugar bomb with a lot of condensed milk mixed with just a bit of coffee and ice.
If you’re a coffee-lover, then you will probably skip this drink since it doesn’t give you a coffee experience, and it’s very sweet, but again, it really depends on your taste.
Kids or teenagers usually enjoy bạc xỉu who’re at cafe shops with their family or people who can’t stand a bitterness of traditional Vietnamese coffee.
During the colonial era, milk was scarce and expensive, but the people around the country still enjoyed it. Higher status people were able to drink condensed milk, but since it was expensive, they needed to mix it with something. They started to mix milk with the water, but the flavor wasn’t pleasant, so people began to add a bit of coffee, and they liked it. It’s how bạc xỉu was born!
Where to Drink Bac Xiu
The same goes as for milk coffee – you can find Bac Xiu on every step! Wherever you see a place that sells regular milk coffee, it means you can order Bac Xiu too! If they don’t have it on the menu, don’t forget to ask for the price in front since people sometimes charge more for the things they don’t have on the menu (completely understandable).
The prices in the street shops range between 10k – 20k VND, while in the fine cafes, you can expect to pay up to 50k VND.
#4- Cà phê dừa (Coconut Coffee)
A coconut coffee is a real deal when it comes to coffee and flavor. This type of coffee is very sweet, and it leaves a pleasant coconut taste in your mouth. Vietnamese people usually mix coconut ice cream, a bit of condensed milk, and the potent brew of Vietnamese dark coffee.
Once you mix it, you get a flawless combination that is called a coconut coffee. It’s not a very usual coffee choice among locals, but travelers in general love this type of coffee.
Basically, you’re scoping the coconut ice cream with a bit of coffee taste while drinking a strong Vietnamese coffee. How to beat that?
Where to Drink Coconut Coffee
Like we already mentioned, coconut coffee isn’t a favorite drink among locals, so you may face a tough time finding it. Although many fancy (read foreigner-friendly) cafes list coconut coffee on their menus! You will have a hard mission if you’re planning to find that drink in the street shops. We didn’t specifically look for coconut coffee around the streets, but we’ve never seen anyone drinking it on the street.
This type of coffee is a bit more expensive than the other types, but still, you can enjoy this tasty drink for 25k – 50k VND in cozy cafes.
#5- Cà phê sữa chua (Yogurt Coffee)
Cà phê sữa chua is another coffee specialty, especially during the hot months. Vietnamese people are very adjustable by nature, and that’s how they invented a yogurt coffee.
Yogurt serves as a balanced source of nutrients and helps in maintaining healthy body functions like promoting the immune system, healthy heart, improve digestion, and much more. So they figured out they can mix it with their coffee and make a fantastic drink, because why not!
Its taste reminds of traditional milk coffee, but they add a bit of coconut milk and yogurt in the blend. Also, during the hot months, people add a ton of ice, which makes it crazy addictive and refreshing!
Where to Drink Yogurt Coffee
It’s hard to find this type of coffee around the streets, but many cafes have it on the menu. Also, during the hot months, you can enjoy this drink on the beach while chilling on the summer breeze.
The price usually starts from 25k in cafes and around 40k on the beach.
Have you had a chance to explore a diverse Vietnamese coffee culture yet? What’s your favorite Vietnamese coffee? Share your thoughts with us.