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Coffee Culture in Vietnam

Travelers coming to Vietnam are always craving for the strong taste of the famous Vietnamese coffee, like visiting Japan to experience tea culture. In Vietnam, coffee is more than a beverage; it’s a way of life. The people here know how to drink, to appreciate, and take the coffee culture as an integral part of their daily life. Here in Asia, we do not see many countries like that.

Coffee production in Vietnam

Since the start of the 20th century, coffee production has contributed to a significant amount of income for the economy. By the late 1990s, Vietnam had ranked second in coffee production, surpassed only by Brazil. However, production was mainly concentrated on Robusta beans with rather poor quality. In recent years, more focus has been putting on improving the quality of coffee with the widespread planting of Arabica beans, and especially, the infamous “weasel coffee” (Ca Phe Chon in Vietnamese). This specialty refers to the seeds of coffee berries when they’ve been eaten and defecated by Asia palm civet! That being said, weasel coffee has a distinctive fragrant flavor that is favored by many Vietnamese as well as coffee lovers worldwide.

In Vietnam, the heartbeat of coffee production is found in the vast Central Highland. There are numerous large producers here, most notably is Trung Nguyen -  a local product. Besides, several players including Nestle, who has been involving in the industry following economic liberalization in the 1990s.

How Vietnamese drinks coffee

The way that coffee is roasted, brewed, and enjoyed in Vietnam is different from the rest of the world. Here, coffee is slowly roasted for 15 minutes with low heat while around the world, coffee machine is often used for this process. While machines are also commonly used to make a cup of coffee worldwide, in Vietnam, they load coffee into a filter. It is then left to drip for a much more intense flavor than an electric brewer. This is also how traditional “Ca Phe Phin” is made.

Traditional Ca Phe Phin in Vietnam with a metallic filter placing on a cup (Image by Nghia Nguyen from Pixabay)

Two kinds of coffee that Vietnamese people often take are Ca Phe Nau (coffee with condensed milk) or Ca Phe Den (black coffee). In Northern Vietnam, people often order Ca Phe Nau Nong or Ca Phe Den Nong (Nong means hot) in winter to warm them up. But overall, Ca Phe Den Da (iced black coffee) and especially Ca Phe Nau Da (iced coffee with condensed milk) are more regular. Condensed milk plays an important role in coffee culture in this country. When the French first introduced coffee into Vietnam in the late 19th century, there was a lack of fresh milk. Therefore, the French and the Vietnamese people began to use sweetened condensed milk instead to add flavor and sweetness to their coffee. Gradually, this becomes a habit for coffee drinking in Vietnam.  

 
 
A cup of Ca Phe Nau Da - iced coffee with condensed milk (Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash)

How to experience Vietnamese coffee

If you’ve never tried Vietnamese coffee before, your first time will be surely memorable due to the strong, liquor-like flavor. Only the brave should try Ca Phe Den (black coffee), the other should stick with Ca Phe Nau (coffee with condensed milk) for a smooth and fragrant taste. There’re also some quite different ways to enjoy coffee in Vietnam such as egg yolk coffee or yogurt coffee, which I assure you taste better than they may sound. Be sure to try some of them in your next Vietnam tours. With the arrival of several international coffee powerhouses, including Starbucks, some people are afraid that Vietnamese young generations will put their national coffee into oblivious. Let’s hope that will never happen and traditional Vietnamese coffee remains an important part of the cultural experience in any Vietnam culinary tours.

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