Having a humid tropical climate and several highlands - the two most important factors to develop the coffee industry, Vietnam naturally becomes the world's second-largest exporter of coffee (after Brazil). Especially, this country owns a number of high-end coffee brands these days instead of focusing on raw coffee exports in the past.
I - Overview
1 - Vietnamese coffee history
Coffee was first introduced to Vietnam in 1857 during the French Colonization when a French missionary priest tried to plant some coffee beans in a Church in Northern Vietnam. Gradually, the coffee beans slowly made their way into central Vietnam where the climate was much more suitable for production.
After taking back independence from France, the Vietnamese government continues working on its coffee expansion. Over the period from 1937 to 1938, there was 13.000 ha cultivated land used for coffee production with the average productivity up to 1.500 tons.
2 - Vietnamese coffee export
The majority of Vietnam's coffee beans (around 97%) are the robusta variety which is well-known for their bold, earthy, bitter flavor and high caffeine content. With Vietnam’s Robusta varieties being some of the best in the world, the Vietnamese coffee production was reported to account for around 400 - 600 million dollars of total export turnover each year. Various kinds of coffee products from raw to high-end ones have been claiming their existence all around the world.
The EU imports 42% of Vietnam’s yearly coffee crops with Germany topping the peak as the single largest country importer with over 150,000-tonnes of some of the best Vietnamese coffee beans in 2017. On the other hand, the US is the second-largest importer of coffee beans. Obviously, this country has been improving its reputation on coffee products incredibly successfully.
3 - Famous Vietnamese coffee brands
In the past, there had been a lot of snobbery against robusta in the coffee industry due to its strong taste. It was given a bad reputation in the high-end, specialty coffee market. However, a new generation of coffee roasters and cafe entrepreneurs have been transforming the reputation of the unfairly maligned robusta beans by focusing on quality, discussing cultivation methods with farmers, and adopting best practices when it comes to processing techniques. In particular, there are some distinguishing coffee brands in Vietnam:
Established in 1996 in the Centre Highland of Vietnam, Trung Nguyen is widely known as the leading trademark with best coffee in Vietnam. This largest coffee brand within Vietnam is led by CEO Dang Le Nguyen Vu -Vietnam's Coffee King and has been exporting its products to more than 60 countries, including major markets such as G7 countries, United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Germany, China, Canada, Russia, Japan, Dubai, and ASEAN.
Address: number 82 - 84 Bui Thi Xuan Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
Nestlé Vietnam is a joint-venture company of Nestlé S.A - the largest food company in the world headquartered in Switzerland. It established the first representative office in 1912 in Ho Chi Minh City, however, it was not until 1995 that the first factory of Nestlé Vietnam was built in Vietnam.
Address: number 22, Lang Ha Street, Đống Đa District, Hanoi.
Vinacafé was officially founded in 1975, nevertheless its precursor - Coronel factory was built by Marcel Coronel in 1968. Up to now this brand has experienced more than 45 years of producing instant coffee which is high valued with its convenience. Nowadays, Vinacafé still stands at the top of the best Vietnamese instant coffee brands in a high-competitive coffee market.
Address: Industrial park number 1, An Binh street, Bien Hoa city, Dong Nai province
Mr Viet Coffee
Mr Viet coffee was founded on April 7th 2012 which is relatively late compared to others. Nevertheless, this brand has marked its own significant point by focusing on supplying fresh coffee products with no agents in between. It mainly collects coffee grown in the highlands of Lamdong province and spends less than 24 hours from the moment of roasting the coffee to packaging it.
Address: Floor 4 Viettel Building, No.9, Vo Thi Sau Street, Nha Trang City, Khanh Hoa, Vietnam.
II - Best Vietnamese coffee beans
Robusta coffee beans - Source: Swbeverage
1 - Robusta
Robusta is normally called ‘Cà Phê Vối’ in Vietnam. This kind of coffee is suitable to be grown in the area under 1000m height, and temperature ranging from 24 to 29oC. It can be harvested after only about 3 or 4 years of cultivating. Robusta is the most popular coffee bean in Vietnam.
According to a report in 2013, it accounted for 90% of cultivated land used for coffee in Vietnam. Although its productivity is considerably high, its taste which is bold, earthy, bitter flavor, and high caffeine content used to be underestimated by the bulk business.
Arabica coffee beans - Source: Dungcucaphe
2 - Arabica
Arabica or ‘Cà phê chè’ in Vietnamese is one of the highest valued kinds of coffee all over the world because it contains less caffeine, higher acidity, and a lighter, sweeter flavor. Normally, Arabica cost about twice as much as Robusta. Nonetheless, this high-valued kind of coffee is not common in areas of coffee plantation in Vietnam due to the unsuitable climate.
3 - Cherry
Cherry or Lyberica is widely known as ‘Cà phê mít’ in Vietnam. Although this kind of coffee is used to being harvested later than other kinds of coffee, its drought tolerance is quite impressive. Farmers normally make use of their big size by growing them around Robusta beans as a secure harness protecting Robusta from strong wind.
Culi coffee beans - Source: Phuxuan
4 - Culi
Culi or Peaberry in other name is a significant strong kind of coffee which contains even more caffeine content than Robusta. Actually, Culi is a mutation of Robusta which only has one bean in each fruitage instead of two beans as Robusta. Besides, its robust taste and noticeable fragrance has attracted a number of coffee gourmets.
5 - Moka
Moka is a small genus of Arabica bean that was introduced to Vietnam by the French about 30 years ago. Instead of having dark brown color and bitter taste like other kinds of coffee, Moke has a delicate and natural sour taste and light yellow color. This is one of the best coffee in Vietnam with a special aroma of ecstatic, slightly sour, for the connoisseur.
Weasel Coffee - Source: Caphechonhoatrang
6 - Kopi Luwak (weasel coffee)
Kopi Luwak of ‘cà phê chồn’ in Vietnamese widely noted as the most expensive coffee in the world due to its complicated production process. Firstly, the beans of coffee berries after being eaten by the Asian Palm Civet or other related civets will pass through its digestive tract. Afterward, those beans will be gathered, thoroughly washed, sun-dried, light roasted, and brewed.
Throughout this process, synthetic enzymes of civet's gastric acid will produce effects on coffee beans which yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness. Normally it cost about 3.000 USD for one kilogram of Kopi Luwak coffee.
III - Vietnamese coffee recipes
Vietnam coffee is not only unique in its strong taste but also the way it is served. For decades, resourceful café owners have dreamt up new ways to temper the potent Robusta bean and enhance the country’s favorite drink with several variations that make use of yogurt, eggs, and even fruit. Viet coffee has developed its own style which is used to be divided into two types of recipes namely traditional one and others.
Source: Phuc Long
1 - Traditional Vietnamese coffee recipes
Traditional recipes are extremely popular all along Vietnam due to its simplicity as well as original taste.
Drip-filter coffee (Ca phe phin)
Drip-filter coffee is usually believed to be the most flavourful coffee in Vietnam. The beans used to make this beverage are usually roasted in a traditional way with rice wine, a pinch of salt, and butter which actually makes for its special intense taste. Afterward, Coarsely ground beans go into a drip-filter (called a phin) on top of the cup, and hot water is added to the phin.
Coffee will slowly trickle through into the cup and the moments spent waiting for your coffee to brew are part of the pleasure of this style of coffee. Due to its bitterness, drip-filter coffee is an acquired taste.
Coffee with condensed milk (ca phe nau or ca phe sua)
If 'Ca phe phin' is too strong for you to try, coffee with milk may be a better choice. This kind of beverage is also usually prepared with a “phin” or filter which drips the ground coffee into your cup at a leisurely pace. However, sweetened condensed milk is used to ease the bitterness of coffee. Although it is mostly served cold with ice, you can also try it hot which is more suitable in the winter.
2 - Other popular recipes
Besides traditional ways of enjoying Vietnamese coffee with simple preparation, Vietnamese also have several creative and complicated recipes with unique tastes that can satisfy even the pickiest coffee lover:
Capuchino is an espresso-based coffee drink that originated in ItalyCoffee will be mixed with cream or non-dairy milk instead of milk, and flavored with cinnamon or chocolate powder. The top third of the drink is used to consist of milk foam which can be decorated with artistic drawings made with the same milk.
Nowadays, Capuchino is common all around the world and in Vietnam. The reason is that it contains relatively low caffeine content and has a pleasant taste which is quite sweet compared to other kinds of coffee.
Smoothie coffee is one of the most favorite kinds of coffee in Vietnam due to its harmony combining coffee, fresh milk, condensed milk, cocoa and shaved ice. While enjoying this kind of beverage, you can feel several flavors mixed smoothly on your tip of the tongue.
Egg coffee - Source: Thespruceeats
Egg coffee is a unique specialty of Hanoi. It is created mainly from egg and coffee which sound irrelevant and uncombinable. However, egg coffee taste is incredibly attractive in its own way. Gradually, it becomes one of the must-try items of Hanoi cuisine for every traveler who comes to Vietnam.
The recipe is similar to traditional drip coffee, only varying in that you also add coconut milk, fresh milk, and coconut cream to the final product. You can also add coconut meat which gives the drink a fun tropical twist too if you’d like to eat your coffee too.
Bac Xiu - Source: Soyagarden
Its ingredients are essentially the same as the holy trinity of a Coffee with milk which includes coffee, condensed milk, and crushed ice. The difference lies all in the proportions of these flavors. There is normally more milk and less coffee going into a Bac Xiu. The drink is suitable for one who is still learning to appreciate the bitterness of Robusta coffee.
Yoghurt coffee (sua chua ca phe)
This is a drink blending Vietnamese drip coffee with yogurt, condensed milk, ice and served with various toppings, from fresh mango to fermented rice. This rich and creamy combination might sound weird, but the sourness from the yogurt pairs amazingly well with bitterness from the coffee beans, and sweetness from the condensed milk.
IV - How Vietnamese coffee is enjoyed?
Coffee was introduced to Vietnam in the 19th century and has gradually become an irreplaceable part of Vietnamese cuisine. These days, it’s not just a beverage anymore but an aspect of Vietnamese culture.
Pavement coffee in Ho Chi Minh City - Source: KBS
1 - Vietnamese coffee culture
Coffee culture in Vietnam is very unique. In western countries, coffee is usually served in luxury stores or workplace area, however, thing goes so differently when it comes to Vietnam:
Some cups of coffee along with a dish of dried sunflower or pumpkin seeds set on a small table beside a pair of smaller chairs is such a familiar scene that you can find in almost every corner in big cities of Vietnam. The customers of these cafes vary from intellectual classes to students, working classes, or travelers.
You can easily get a flavorful cup of authentic Vietnamese coffee with an incredibly reasonable price ranging from only 10.000đ (~0,43$) on a small seat while watching the busy life of Vietnamese hustling on the street.
Coffee and breakfast
No one can tell exactly the moment that Vietnamese start to enjoy coffee with Banh Mi (Vietnamese bread), nevertheless, they have already become a common couple for breakfast in this country especially in Ho Chi Minh City. You can easily find one breakfast set including Banh Mi and a cup coffee with irresistible discounts there.
Coffee and small chit chat
If Westerners are used to thinking about coffee as an effective tool to wake them up from stressful working hours, Vietnamese often have coffee while hanging out with friends and families in free time. They love chilling with coffee while having small talks about how their lives are going on, what they want to do, where they want to go, and so on. With most Vietnamese, coffee means relaxing and having fun.
2 - Famous Vietnamese coffee shops
It might be a big mistake if we do not talk about famous cafes chains all along Vietnam while mentioning about Vietnamese coffee:
The Coffee House
The Coffee House was established in 2014 in number 86 - 88 Cao Thanh Street, Ho Chi MInh City. Within just one year, this brand opens 60 stores more in Ho Chi Minh City and 14 stores in Hanoi. Up to 2015, The Coffee House had expanded for more than 100 stores located in several big cities of Vietnam. The price there varies from 32.000 to 59.000 VND (~1,37 - 2,54$) for a cup of coffee or light snack.
The first Cong cafe was built in 2007 at Trieu Viet Vuong Street. This chain impressed customers with green atmosphere and retro interior decoration which has the vibe of the 80s and 90s period of time in Vietnam. Nowadays, Cong cafe has a dozen stores in Vietnam, 5 in Korea, 1 in Gyeonggi, and 1 in Kuala Lumpur. The price for a cup of coffee of this chain ranges from 30.000 VND to 60.000 VND (~1,29 - 2,58$).
This popular cafe chain started approaching the Vietnam market in 2013 from Ho Chi Minh City. Not only coffee but also varied light meals and snacks are served in these stores. However. Starbucks has not really acquired Vietnamese favor due to quite light taste and expensive price compared to other local brands. To have a cup of coffee there, you might spend about 45.000 VND to 70.000 VND (~1,72 - 3$).
Highlands Coffee was founded in 1999 with the hope of bringing Vietnamese coffee closer to customers all around the world. Highlands coffee impressed customers with the luxury atmosphere inside stores, good service, professional staff anh strong "Việt '' flavor coffee. The price is from 35.000 VND to 75.000 VND for a cup of coffee (~1,5 - 3,23$).
Trung Nguyen Coffee - Source: Trung Nguyen Legend
Trung Nguyen Coffee
The first Trung Nguyen cafe was opened in Ho Chi Minh City in 1988. With more than 20-year experience, Trung Nguyen Coffee which can be called Trung Nguyên E-Coffee nowadays have acquired a sustainable place in the heart of coffee lovers in Vietnam. To get a cup of coffee from there stores, you need to pay about from 32.000 VND to 41.000 VND (~1,37 - 1,74$)
Phuc Long Coffee & Tea
First stores of Phuc Long Coffee & Tea were established in the 80s at Le Van Sy street, Mac Thi Buoi street, and Tran Hung Dao Street in Ho Chi Minh City. Until now, there are more than 40 stores all along Vietnam that belong to this brand. The price there varies from 35.000 VND to 55.000 VND (~1,5 - 2,37$).
3 - Tips you need to know before enjoying Vietnamese coffee
How to drink
In order to take the best taste and avoid unnecessary impacts on health, you should not drink coffee that was left for too long. Do not drink it before or after having wine because Viet coffee is quite strong.
When to drink
The best time to have a cup of coffee is from 9 am to 10 am or 2 pm to 3 pm that your health and brain can make use of optimistic energy from caffeine. You should not drink coffee too late or too early because the high caffeine content of Vietnamese Robusta can affect your sleep schedule and digestive system badly.
Recently, Vietnam coffee is becoming more and more popular with coffee lovers all around the world. If you have a chance to visit this beautiful S-shaped country, don't forget to take a cup of coffee and enjoy the hustle and bustle pace of life there. Moreover, Vietnamese coffee might be the perfect souvenirs for your loved one!