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 in Vietnam is a huge part of the 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.
They left for Croatia and I was planning my next trip around Vietnam, of course sitting in one of the tiny coffee shops somewhere in Ho Chi Minh city. I've figured out that I'd love to explore Central Highlands and learn more about the coffee, so I've planned a route from HCMC to Da Lat, Buon Ma Thuot, Pleiku, and Kontum. It's definitely a route for every coffee lover!
The mountainous region features windy roads, mountains touching the clouds and coffee fields surrounding you. It was a blast to drive around the region. Once, when I was leaving Buon Ma Thuot to Kontum, there was a local who was driving extremely fast with me (no traffic around there). We as fast a Chinese backpackers' bike can go for a good 30 minutes until we reached a traffic light in the middle of nowhere.
He said something on Vietnamese and showed a thumbs up, and I returned the same. We didn't know how to talk, but he asked universally understandable word - Ca Phe?
I agreed with a wide smile!
This local is a LEGEND!
What is Special About Vietnamese Coffee
There are two main types of coffee beans - Arabica and Robusta. Arabica requires much more effort to grow since it's only growing in 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 sweetened 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.
How to Prepare Vietnamese Coffee At Home
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. :D Don't be surprised when you take your first sip by the sweetness and creamy texture.
People add sweetened condensed milk to their coffee, but you can also order one without if you don't prefer so much sugar in your coffee (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.
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 ADD LINK, where to drink it, and how much it costs.
If you're a coffee-lover, like me, believe me, you'll spend much time exploring cozy coffee shops around Vietnam. There is something special about the coffee culture and you'll get it from the first sight.
Locals love their coffee and if you ask a local for a coffee break, there is hardly any chance you'll get turned down.
What's your favorite coffee type in Vietnam? Share your experiences below! :)
Antonio is a long-term traveler with a deep passion in exploring off-the-beaten-paths around the world. Currently, he’s living in Da Nang city and when he’s not busy pushing the new content, he enjoys taking his motorbike around Vietnam or Laos. Some of the most remarkable experiences were teaching English in a remote village located in central Laos countryside, Nakai town. Or, living in a rural Nghe An Province while helping a local community with their English. Or, driving with the worst ‘Honda’ Win around the country experiencing daily breakdowns. Or, just read a few stories on our blog to get more information about our journey and adventures.