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The most detailed Vietnamese coffee guide

25.08.2020
Кофе со льдом в высоком стакане
© Anna_Pustynnikova / Shutterstock
One of the most popular tourist countries in Southeast Asia delights guests with exotic food, breathtaking tropical landscapes, and unique cultural traditions. By the way, its most important component is Vietnamese coffee. The majority of experts appreciate local coffee due to its unique taste and noble aroma. In fact, the grains grown on numerous plantations in Vietnam provide the drink with a wide variety of flavor notes — chocolate, citrus, caramel, and nuts. Moreover, its aroma is often described as the most balanced in the world. As a result, a huge number of cultivated varieties offer the opportunity to create complex and unique blends that can surprise and delight the most passionate connoisseurs.

History of the drink

For the first time, coffee was brought to Vietnam by French missionary priests in the second half of the 19th century. Initially, they planted Arabica bushes in the northern province of Hanam. In turn, the French colonial government had big plans for the export of this "elixir of vigor," which is why plantations appeared in the southern and central regions of the country soon. However, it turned out that Arabica varieties of coffee are difficult to take root in local climatic conditions. Additionally, they are very susceptible to pests and diseases; therefore, they give low yields. 

That is why, since 1908, a new species of this plant has appeared in the country — it was called robusta. This variety of coffee quickly demonstrated its viability in the local weather conditions. In 1910-1911, considerable development of land for coffee took place. Central Highlands (Dak Lak province) has become the most important geographical center for the cultivation of this plant in the country. 

The development of the industry was significantly hampered by the events of World War II, the struggle against the French colonial administration, as well as the Vietnam War that had lasted from 1957 to 1975. 

A new era of ​​the country's coffee industry began in the 80s of the last century. The Doi Moi reform adopted in 1986 ensured the openness of the national economy and its integration into the world one. Subsequently, coffee has become the second-largest food product sold in foreign markets after rice. When it comes to the export of robusta, the country occupies a leading position in the world at the moment. Simultaneously, the country is systematically increasing the rate of production growth from year to year.

Vietnam woman wearing Ao Dai culture traditional drinking coffee
Womans drinking coffee © Natnan Srisuwan / Shutterstock

Types and varieties

Robusta occupies about 90% of the plantations in the country. This variety of coffee is widely known due to a rich, pungent taste with considerable bitterness and aroma, which attracts true connoisseurs of this drink. Robusta beans contain an increased amount of caffeine (up to 2.5%), so they are added to most blends. Numerous experts regard local robusta as one of the best coffee types in the world when it comes to quality. Its taste is milder than African robusta, and its bitterness and acidity are smoothed out by nutty and spicy notes. One of the most popular varieties of coffee — Blue Dragon — impresses people with unusual accents (toasted bread, cocoa, and pistachios). At the same time, the Sang Tao variety is prized for its unusual taste, natural sweetness, and chocolate aroma.

Less than 10% of the territory of all plantations is allocated to Arabica. These areas are popular for rare varieties that are grown there. You should definitely taste them in order to get to know what is Vietnamese coffee. In Lam Dong province, Typica is cultivated, which is considered the progenitor of all other varieties. Drinks that are based on these grains are usually characterized by the absence of excessive bitterness or acidity, as well as an unusual citrus aftertaste. The province is also famous for its Bourbon varieties and its Mokka dwarf mutation. The first one is expected to give connoisseurs of coffee a refined wine aroma and a sweet aftertaste, whereas the second one is known as a gourmand cocktail with notes of dark bitter chocolate and hazelnuts.

The Liberica species and its Excelsa variety, also called Cherry or Jackfruit, are considered the rarest in the world. These plants produce irregular fruit and are difficult to grow on an industrial scale. Most frequently, the grains are used in the production of premium blends, as they give the prepared drink a luxurious aroma with fruity accents and a dense, strong taste.

Kopi Luwak, which is often called Chon in this country, can be surely called the most exotic and expensive variety in the world due to the way it is produced. Arabica and robusta berries are eaten by small animals, such as the Asian palm civets, that select the best ones unmistakably. The grains are fermented in the animal's gastrointestinal tract and released naturally. They are collected, thoroughly washed, dried, and fried in a unique way. Coffee made from Kopi Luwak gives a rich, soft taste with chocolate notes.

CuLi is a combination of hand-selected Arabica and Robusta grains of the best quality. It is produced in very limited quantities in the city of Buon Ma Thuot, the capital of Dak Lak province. This variety is appreciated for its rich intense aroma, as well as dense taste and long aftertaste. Among energy drinks, CuLi is considered the leader due to its invigorating effect.

Hot milk coffee dripping in Vietnam style
Vietnamese coffee with milk © Max D Photography / Shutterstock
Vietnamese milk coffee
Traditional Vietnamese coffee © Max D Photography / Shutterstock

Cà phê phin, or why is Vietnamese coffee so strong

The invigorating drink has long become an integral part of the culture for local residents. For instance, numerous cafes are significantly overcrowded not only in the mornings but also during the day. There is no culture of fast coffee consumption. It is customary to sip it slowly, while reading the newspaper, pondering, or talking with friends and acquaintances.

It is essential to note that the emergence of these rituals is strongly associated with the traditional method of preparing coffee using Cà phê phin, a special press filter through which Vietnamese coffee drip seeps. It is distinguished by its bright aroma, strong, rich taste, and a high content of fat that is very unusual for tourists. It can be explained by the fact that coconut oil is added the beans are roasted. Tremendously sweet condensed milk is another component of the drink that is often included in the recipe.

It is not easy to find espresso, latte, or cappuccino, which are loved by many tourists. You can only taste them at Starbucks. Besides, these drinks can be found in local chain cafes that offer traditional drinks and takeaway drinks. Phuc Long, Trung Nguyen, Highlands Coffee, and The Coffee House are considered the most popular coffee places in the country.

Vietnamese coffee in glass cups
Traditional metal coffee maker phin © Irina Burakova / Shutterstock

Features of serving and drinking coffee:

  • Locals prefer drinks with high caffeine content and considerable bitterness. In order to soften the taste, they add condensed milk.
  • The majority of cafes do not offer desserts, since traditional recipes are very hearty and high in calories.
  • Most frequently, Vietnamese drinks are sweet in local cafes. Tourists who prefer black coffee should discuss this wish with a barista or waiter in advance.
The best place for the first tasting of coffee is a small family establishment that serves a Phin press filter and all the ingredients for making a drink. Also, visitors are served green tea (hot or iced), which is customary here to wash down traditional Vietnamese coffee.

Best places to taste delicious coffee in Vietnam

For the inhabitants of the country, coffee is not just a product, but rather a national idea. Therefore, any tourist city can surprise visitors with a large number of establishments serving this aromatic drink.

Pancakes and coffee on wooden table with rice terraces
Coffee in nature © Olga Kashubin / Shutterstock

Hanoi

Trieu Viet Vuong is the best place to find out what is different about Vietnamese coffee among the world's best-selling energy drinks. It is here that tourists can find dozens of specialized establishments — from small family coffee houses with a long history to modern chains. The most famous establishment of the first group is the atmospheric café Tho, opened by five brothers over three decades ago. It is always very crowded here, especially on weekends. You can have a cup of coffee while admiring the views of Hoan Kiem Lake at Cafe Pho Co. In one of the old quarters of Hanoi, at 3B Hang Tre In The Alley, there is another interesting place called Hidden Gem. In addition to delicious drinks, visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the furniture and decor that are made from recycled materials.

Original colorful cafe
Original coffee shop © d13jio720g7qcs.cloudfront.net

Buon Ma Thuot

The main city of Dak Lak province is often described as the coffee capital of the country. Its streets are filled with hundreds of cafeterias, although Trung Nguyen Coffee Village is considered to be one of the most iconic places in the city. Here you can enjoy a cup of aromatic drink amid unique interiors or in the garden under the shade of coffee trees. Moreover, visitors have the opportunity to visit the exhibition area, where more than 500 objects are collected, demonstrating the peculiarities of the coffee culture of different countries.
Stone with an inscription in front of the entrance to the coffee shop
Trung Nguyen Coffee Village © media.christinas.vn

Da Lat

This city is the main production center of Lam Dong province. It is widely known due to its charming cafes with stylish and quirky interiors. Tourist favorites include InnoKafe Dalat, Windmills, Delycious By Cent, and BicycleUp Coffee. In turn, a visit to the unique institution called La Viet Coffee is expected to give people a lot of pleasant impressions. It is a symbiosis of an industrial-style coffee shop and a small factory, where beans are manually sorted, roasted, and blended. There are excursions for guests, which you can join.

Hospitable coffee shop with industrial design
La Viet Coffee © melscoffeetravels.com

Ho Chi Minh City

La Tamia cafe is a famous tourist attraction, whose interior immerses guests in the atmosphere of the 70s of the XX century when the city was named Saigon. For those who prefer a harmonious symbiosis of European and Vietnamese recipes, L'Usine is a perfect choice. By the way, Little HaNoi Egg Coffee can help you to plunge into the atmosphere of comfort and coziness. The quiet and relaxing atmosphere of Shalom Just Coffee is perfect for those who aim to escape the city noise and enjoy a cup of their favorite drink. Talk Barista Saigon employs real coffee lovers who have a high level of awareness of coffee varieties and use alternative brewing methods.

Сoffee, spoon and coffee beans
Сoffee in glass © vengerof / Shutterstock

Nha Trang

The beach capital of the country pleases with a huge variety of cafes and restaurants, but it is coffee houses and tea houses that are very popular here. You should definitely drop by An Dao Tea & Coffee that serves excellent invigorating drinks from its own roasted beans. The list of best places in Nha Trang also includes the Cong Caphe restaurants with unusual military-style interiors. By the way, they are also open in other large cities. At the same time, GURU Natural Specialty Coffee promotes a new look at coffee. This is the first establishment in the city where coffee is made from green beans. In addition to the traditional phin, the cafe uses Japanese and Belgian siphons and even cezves, which is incredibly exotic for Vietnam.
People drinking coffee on the street near the coffee shop
Cong Caphe Coffee Shop © vibrantlyvietnam.com

Best varieties of coffee to taste

Whether you head to a small or big Vietnamese cafe, the description of the types of coffee and drinks can take several pages of the menu. However, there are 4 traditional recipes that you should definitely try while traveling around the country.

Two refreshing iced coffees in a garden cafe
Iced coffee © christinarosepix / Shutterstock

With ice and milk (Cà phê sữa đá)

Most often, this coffee is made from robusta, the bitterness and sourness of which is perfectly balanced by sweet condensed milk. In the north of the country, this drink is called "Cà phê nâu" on the menu. In addition to the classic serving with ice, it is also served as a hot drink.

Ice coffee in a tall glass with cream poured
Cold summer coffee drink © VasiliyBudarin / Shutterstock

With eggs (Cà phê trứng)

Initially, it was prepared in the 40s of the last century in the Hanoi Cafe Giang. The institution works to this day, serving the functions of a kind of pilgrimage place for both tourists and locals. A cup of aromatic coffee with foam from egg yolk whipped with condensed milk resembles tiramisu dessert in terms of taste and calorie content.

Egg cream coffee cup
Egg coffee © ngoc tran / Shutterstock

With coconut (Cà phê dừa)

Strong black coffee is mixed with coconut and condensed milk. Ice is not an obligatory ingredient, but locals prefer to include it in the drink. Some cafes use coconut ice cream during preparation, which gives the coffee an unusual consistency.
Vietnamese coffee with coconut milk Ca Phe Sua
Ca Phe Sua Coffee © flocu / Shutterstock

With yoghurt (Cà phê sữa chua)

This drink is always served cold. Most frequently, it also includes condensed milk. The amount of the main ingredients and ice can be freely varied, thereby obtaining a new balance of flavors. Yogurt coffee is great for refreshing in the heat and helps to satisfy hunger.

Iced coffee with heavy cream in a glass
Iced coffee in a glass © Aleksei Isachenko / Shutterstock
Residents of the country love coffee so much that they even add it to fruit cocktails. Its bitterness perfectly coexists with avocado, mango, banana, and sapodilla that has a pleasant custard flavor.

Brands of the best Vietnamese coffee

  • Trung Nguyen Coffee Company Ltd. is the largest manufacturer in the country. It exports the products to more than 60 countries around the world. The business group owns several subsidiary brands, including Passiona, Legendee, and G7.
  • Highlands Coffee is a manufacturer and distributor that also owns a wide network of cafes across the country. It has been existing on the market since 1998.
  • Vinacafe Bien Hoa is a subsidiary of Vietnam National Coffee Corporation. The brand has existed since 1983. It is known worldwide for its high-quality instant coffee.
  • Me Trang is a joint-stock company founded in 2000. It has 50 distributors in the domestic market and exports goods to Russia, South Korea, USA, Japan, ASEAN countries, and Europe.
Coffee bean on coffee tree in cafe Plantation
Сoffee tree © milestone / Shutterstock.com
Beans, which are roasted using traditional Vietnamese technology with the addition of cocoa beans and butter, are not suitable for home coffee machines. In turn, the Phin press filter is based on coarse grinding.