You may not know it, but Vietnam is the world’s second largest exporter of coffee! In the Land of the Dragon, you’ll find many varieties of bean, including Arabica and Robusta, of which the country is the world’s leading producer. However, don’t be surprised if Coffee in Vietnam tastes different from your everyday coffee, as the different types of coffee beans and brewing methods vary from country to country.
But Vietnamese coffee hasn’t always been widely available, and with good reason – there was a time when the country didn’t even have plantations. Do you know its history?
The history of coffee in Vietnam
It was the French who first introduced coffee to Vietnam during their period of colonisation. It was one of the culinary products that remained firmly rooted in the population’s habits after the colonists left, along with bread, pâté and crème caramel (reminiscent of crème brûlée), renamed “kem caramen”. The favourable climate of the Southern Highlands allowed coffee plants to develop in Vietnam. Today, the Land of the Dragon is the world’s second largest exporter of coffee, after Brazil.
The coffee sector accounts for 3% of the country’s GDP and provides a livelihood for nearly 2.6 million people, including around 600,000 farmers and many ethnic minority groups. What’s more, the Rainforest Alliance (an American NGO whose aim is to preserve biodiversity and sustainability) works with four ethnic groups in Vietnam: the Dao, Hoa, De and M’nong. So when communities earn a premium for their Rainforest Alliance Certified beans, the return is invested in social programmes (education, energy and pollution reduction).
A little anecdote
Coffee production in the Southern Highlands
In the early days of Vietnamese coffee, plants were first concentrated in the north of the country, then coffee cultivation gradually spread to the centre and more particularly to the Southern Highlands, in the region of Dalat and Buon Me Thuot, known as the coffee capital. Here, perched at an altitude of 536m, you’ll have the chance to taste the best coffee in Vietnam! Buon Me Thuot’s favourable climate and fertile soils have earned it the title of Vietnamese coffee capital.
During a Buon Me Thuot city tour, you’ll have the opportunity to discover the plantations and their production processes. Don’t hesitate to wander around the town, where you’ll find some friendly cafés that will carry out all the processing and preparation stages in front of you, to give you a unique, gourmet and memorable experience! If you like ground coffee, head for Pleiku, where ground coffee has been produced since 1988. Vietnam is the world’s biggest consumer of ground coffee, and the town of Pleiku produces almost 100,000 tonnes a year.
Vietnam coffee: preparation and traditional tasting
After harvesting, Vietnamese coffee beans are usually roasted until they darken and blacken. They are then roasted slowly over a low heat for a long period. This roasting technique and the way the coffee is brewed produce the subtle, refined, full-bodied flavour for which Vietnamese coffee is renowned.
One of the most popular and traditional ways of preparing a cup of coffee in Vietnam is to use an aluminium drip filter system called “cà phê phin”. This device consists of a metal cup with tiny holes in the bottom.
How does it work? A small iron pot is placed on top of your cup, with holes that allow hot water to flow over the ground coffee. You then wait patiently for the liquid to gradually form a small coffee base. The slower the flow, the stronger the flavour at the end. When you order a cup of Vietnam coffee, you will most likely be served in this way. It’s a very authentic way to enjoy one of Vietnam’s best coffees! That’s for sure! Don’t be surprised if you don’t find your usual espresso, here it’s the filter coffee that takes centre stage.
The traditional method of preparation using the stainless steel filter, called phin, offers a unique tasting experience that can’t be found anywhere else. The ground coffee is slowly infused into the hot water, offering a complex, richly flavoured taste. The manual technique also allows you to control the speed at which the water flows, so you can adjust the concentration of the beverage to suit your individual preferences. It’s no wonder, then, that handmade Vietnamese coffee is becoming increasingly popular around the world, offering an unforgettable tasting experience for the most discerning coffee lovers.
The different types of coffee
Going to the café is an integral part of Vietnamese culture. In the past, going to the café was one of the few forms of entertainment that the Vietnamese could afford. It was a chance to get together with friends, lovers or colleagues over a cup of coffee, sometimes to escape the daily grind or relieve boredom by enjoying the conviviality and exchanging the latest news. A true art of living, the Vietnamese drink it at any time of day, from morning to night, hot or iced, black or with condensed milk…
In Vietnam, you’ll have the opportunity to taste different types of coffee, some of them unusual and surprising!
One of the most popular drinks is called “Ca Phe Sua Da”, and consists of black coffee mixed with a dose of sweetened condensed milk and served on ice cubes. The result is a delicious iced latte with subtle chocolate notes that will delight your palate. There is also a variant called ‘Ca Phe Sua Nong’, which uses the same recipe with condensed milk, but is served hot. For those who prefer a coffee as black as night, you’ll need to order a “Ca Phe Den Nong”, the authentic Vietnamese hot black coffee, with no sugar or additives.
If you’re staying in Hanoi, be sure not to miss the egg coffee, a real institution in the capital and certainly one of the best coffees in Vietnam! Egg coffee in Vietnamese “Ca Phe Trung” was created by Nguyen Van Giang, then barista at the Sofitel Métropole hotel in the 1930s, when the war and the milk shortage were raging. The drink is a mixture of raw egg yolk whipped with sugar to make an ersatz cappuccino. The mixture may seem surprising at first, but once you’ve tasted it, you won’t be able to live without it!
If you’re in Ho Chi Minh City, don’t hesitate to try “cà phê sữa chua”, or yoghurt coffee! While at first glance the idea of drinking a mixture of coffee and yoghurt may seem surprising, the gentle acidity and creaminess of the latter actually blends very well with the fuller-bodied aroma of the coffee.
You may have already sipped the juice of a fresh coconut, but have you ever thought that you could use coconut milk to make your own coffee? In Vietnam, you’ll find coconut coffee all over the country, and you can even customise it easily by ordering it hot, cold or with cream… If you try it, you’ll love it!
The little anecdote
The best coffee in Vietnam from north to south
Vietnam has many charming cafés that will delight your taste buds. Here is a selection of the best cafés in Vietnam to make your mouth water:
- Address: 39 Nguyen Huu Huan, Ly Thai To, Hoan Kiem district/106B Yen Phu, Nguyen Trung Truc, Ba Dinh district
If you would like to try the capital’s speciality, its famous egg coffee, don’t hesitate to visit Café Giang, a flagship establishment with an unshakeable reputation!
- Address: 13 Dinh Tien Hoang, Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem
This emblematic Hanoi café is run by Madame Bich, a worthy heir to her father Giang’s savoir-faire. She has set up her own café in the old quarter, not far from Hoan Kiem lake, which can be seen from the terrace. You can find it on the 1st floor of an old colonial-era house on rue Dinh Tien Hoang.
- Address: 116 Cau Go, Hang Đao, Hoan Kiem
This is a small chain of coffeeshops that can be found all over the country. Their speciality is coconut coffee. Hanoi’s Cong Caphe has a great location, in the Hoan Kiem district near the central square. What’s more, the establishment even has a mini balcony from which you can sip your coffee while quietly watching the whirlwind of the city!
Sapa – Café in the Clouds
- Address: 60 Fansipan, Sa Pa, Lao Cai province
No, you’re not dreaming! In Sapa, you can enjoy your coffee with your head literally in the clouds! Café in the Clouds boasts a breathtaking view of the majestic mountains bordered by rice terraces, a must-see not to be missed!
Hue – Salted Coffee
- Address: available everywhere in Hue
If you want to try the speciality of the central region, stop off at any café that is sure to serve you an explosive beverage, a mixture of coffee, condensed milk and sea salt that gives the final drink a salted caramel taste.
Hoi An – Mia Coffee
- Address: 20 Phan Boi Chau, Hoi An
This charming establishment is run by a Vietnamese coffee lover who roasts his own beans. Very popular with expatriates, this quiet place also sells bulk coffee, so you can treat yourself or someone else back home!
Dalat – La Viet Coffee
- Address: 200 Nguyen Cong Tru, Da Lat city
Here you’ll find a modern, industrial-style establishment with plenty of character. But what makes La Viet Coffee so famous is the fact that the beans used are hand-picked according to international agricultural standards, by a local team specially trained by Mr. Quang, who runs the establishment.
Ho Chi Minh City – Cafe Trứng 3T
- Address: 1A Ton Đuc Thang, district 1
Cafe trứng 3T is a must-visit for coffee lovers and the curious in search of new taste experiences. Here, you can not only enjoy a creamy and delicious coffee egg, but also enjoy the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the café, decorated in a vintage style.
Coffee lovers, you now know that Vietnam is for you!