Vietnam might not be the country that first comes to mind when you think of major global coffee producers. Countries like Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Ethiopia are what most coffee lovers will recognise as global leaders.
I mean, when was the last time you saw a Vietnamese single-origin bean on offer at your local coffee shop?
You may be surprised to learn that Vietnam is the second-largest global producer of coffee after Brazil.
So the question is, where does all that Vietnamese coffee go?
To understand why Vietnamese coffee beans aren’t well known worldwide, we need to get deep into Vietnamese coffee’s characteristics and tradition.
This isn’t just a story of forgotten fields of coffee. It is also a story of growth and evolution, with modern speciality coffee producers looking to change the coffee game in Vietnam.
Characteristics of Vietnamese Coffee Beans
These two varieties vary depending on the microclimate in the region they are grown. Still, they share some general characteristics that can make them more or less appealing to coffee drinkers.
When it comes to making espresso and pour-over drinks, Arabica beans have long been the go-to. They tend to have a sweet, soft taste with strong acidity and fruity tones.
Arabica Premium Natural Rich Aroma
In contrast, Robusta has a stronger taste with a grainy overtone and a richer, peanutty aftertaste.
A lot of this comes down to the hardiness of the two varieties. Arabica grows at higher elevations than Robusta. The growth of Arabica coffee is slower, but this introduces a more nuanced flavor.
The speedy growth of Robusta contributes to the beans higher caffeine content. Caffeine has a naturally bitter taste, and with double the caffeine of Arabica, coffee made with Robusta beans tends to have a more pronounced bitter taste to it.
Robusta Premium Natural Sweet Taste
Vietnam primarily produces Robusta coffee. In fact, 95% of all the coffee made in Vietnam is Robusta with just 5% being Arabica.
This strong flavour of Robusta has advantages in specific applications, such as instant coffee. The lower market price of Robusta beans also plays a role in its popularity in industrial coffee applications.
Another major consumer of Vietnamese Robusta beans is caffeine producers. These companies buy Robusta beans because of their high caffeine content and extract the caffeine to use in supplements or other beverages.
This may lead you to believe that these applications are all the Robusta beans are suitable for, but when treated with care and roasted correctly, even Robusta beans can produce a great cup of coffee.
The problem is that because the vast majority of Vietnamese Robusta is destined for heavy processing, very few farmers take the care needed to grow a high-quality bean.
There are new producers of quality coffee in Vietnam, like Belvico fighting back. We are working hard to reinvent Vietnamese coffee and introduce it to the world as a high-quality bean suitable for your morning cup.
Where Does Coffee Grow in Vietnam?
The coffee-growing areas of Vietnam are easily comparable to the premier locations known for coffee production globally.
Most of Vietnam’s coffee is grown in the Central Highlands. This region has a milder climate than the lowlands and has rich red volcanic soil that is amazingly fertile, providing the perfect conditions for growing coffee.
Among the highland regions, the most well known is Lam Dong, and its primary city Da Lat.
It is here among the remnants of colonial architecture that all the Arabica grown in Vietnam is produced. The soil in this region is particularly fertile, and the climate perfect for Arabica coffee.
It was here in the highlands that the coffee tradition of Vietnam was born.
The Tradition of Coffee in Vietnam
Coffee was introduced to Vietnam in colonial times and has since become one of its most important cash crops. It has also become an integral part of Vietnamese culture.
On just about every street corner, you will find a vendor selling a variety of filter coffee that is uniquely Vietnamese.
Vietnamese filter coffee, called cà phê đá, is made in a single-serve using a small metal filter called a phin. The phin has a cup, a filter chamber and a lid.
The phin is placed on top of a small glass cup that contains a layer of sweetened condensed milk. The cup of the filter is then filled with coarsely ground Robusta and boiling water.
While waiting for your coffee to filter through slowly, you get a chance to sit and relax and take in your surroundings from the vantage point of your small plastic stool set out on the footpath.
When complete, you remove the lid and then place the filter cup on top of it, so any final drops are caught safely. The last step is to stir in the layer of condensed milk and enjoy.
Vietnamese people of all walks of life drink coffee constantly and at all times of the day. They are also fiercely loyal to their unique style of drinking coffee. International chains like Starbucks have failed to make a significant impact in the Vietnamese market.
The hustle and bustle of Vietnamese cities makes a lot more sense when you realise that everyone is constantly drinking highly caffeinated Robusta beans!
Modern High-Quality Coffee Production
Despite Vietnamese coffee’s deep traditions, modern producers like Belvico are looking to make a change while maintaining a healthy respect for what has come before. Vietnamese coffee beans have a lot to offer and our mission is to get high quality Vietnamese coffee into coffee lovers’ cups all over the world.
Located in Lam Dong, Belvico works directly with local farmers to produce Arabica and Robusta beans of the highest quality.
Changing attitudes and practices in the production of coffee has been no easy feat for Belvico. For their premium coffee, they only accept 30-50% of beans they examine.
The rewards for the producers they work with are well worth it, though. The challenges of growing coffee without harsh pesticides and handpicking the ripe cherries are offset by the higher price per kilogram these beans fetch.
Belvico maintains full control of the processing of green beans as well as the roasting process.
The end result is high quality, single-origin Vietnamese speciality coffee of both Arabica and Robusta varieties.
Belvico is trying to put Vietnam on the map for Arabica, while also rehabilitating Robusta in coffee lovers’ eyes.
Belvico is on a mission to raise the profile of high-quality coffee in Vietnam and abroad, so if you get the chance, try a specialty Vietnamese coffee. Trust me; you won’t regret it!