VIETNAM: THE COUNTRY’S SPECIALTY COFFEE MOVEMENT IS TAKING OFF
Vietnam is not known for specialty coffee. Well, not yet. During our visit to the second largest coffee producing country in the world, we discovered an emerging specialty coffee movement. There is a growing close-knit, highly entrepreneurial natured community that is keen to spread their passion for high-grade and carefully crafted coffee beans and bring Vietnamese coffee culture to the next level. They want to introduce Vietnamese people to something very exciting: the various rainbows of flavours one may discover in different coffee beans. It is their mission to contribute to the international specialty coffee culture by inviting the world to explore the unique flavours of high-quality Vietnamese coffee beans.
TRADITIONAL VIETNAMESE COFFEE CULTURE
The coffee-drinking culture in Vietnam is vibrant and strong. Coffee shops are popular gathering places and there is an abundance of coffee shops on the side-walks in Vietnam. Each coffee shop has a unique style and design to make them special to their guests. Vietnamese people – we were explicitly told – do not hang out in bars. Rather, they meet their friends in coffee shops. They sit close together on small wooden or plastic stools and tables while chatting and sipping their coffee.
Traditionally, locals pour a highly concentrated shot of dark roasted coffee over sweetened condensed milk using a special single-serving metal filter cup and press. Grounded coffee is placed in the filter and tamped down with the press before the boiling water is poured through the metal cup. It is served hot or iced. Vietnamese coffee is famous for its sweetened condensed milk. Locals would think that you are crazy for drinking the coffee neat!
VIETNAMESE CULTURE, LIKE ALL OTHER CULTURES, IS VARIED AND DYNAMIC.
An exciting wave of specialty coffee culture is taking place across Vietnam. La Viet, a local roaster and coffee shop located in the mountain town of Da Lat, deserves special attention. Less than a year ago, Quang Tran and his wife converted an old warehouse space into a coffee-factory, which successfully combines a roaster, tasting lab and coffee shop.
The beans are roasted in small batches to highlight the unique varietal flavours, and then freshly shipped. It is their common goal to improve the coffee quality in Vietnam. La Viet aims to encourage Vietnamese people to think differently about coffee and introduce them to a completely new experience. They want to promote specialty coffee culture and highlight the unique flavours of Vietnamese high-quality coffee beans.
Light and transparency are some of the main features of La Viet. The high and open space of the innovative coffee shop is surrounded by glass walls, allowing passers-by to see what’s going on inside. Glass walls also surround the roaster and workshop inside the building. Pipelines are visible across the walls; they remind the guests that they are drinking their coffee in a place, which is also a factory.
Guests mingle around a long wooden table around the coffee bar and enjoy watching the baristas, how they mindfully prepare and serve freshly roasted single origin espresso or filter coffees using various pour-over methods or the AeroPress. Customers may choose between local Bourbon or Typica Arabica varietals, which are displayed in glass jars right next to them on the bar table.
They cooperate closely with farmers who own small coffee plantations in the outskirts of Da Lat. It is their aim to create a support framework to empower farmers so that they are fully equipped with the vital skills required to cultivate and process high-quality Arabica coffee beans. Passion goes a long way.
THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS AROUND DA LAT: A COFFEE PARADISE
The central highlands of Vietnam offer ideal conditions for the cultivation of high-grade Arabica coffee beans. French colonialists introduced Arabica coffee beans to Vietnam in the 1800s. In the 1990s, when the country’s agricultural land was controlled by the Vietnamese government, the establishment Robusta coffee plantations was promoted in the Central Highlands. Arabica trees were cut down and replaced with high-yield and more resistant Robusta trees. As a result, the country is the largest producer of Robusta coffee today. Vietnamese Robusta beans are most often used in blends and as instant coffee.
Less than 5% of Vietnam’s crop are Arabica beans. Nowadays it is unlikely to find Vietnamese Arabica beans in specialty coffee shops around the world. Quang Tran and his team are aware of this. They are passionate about their local Arabica beans and make it their priority to promote specialty coffee culture in Vietnam and beyond. “The best coffee in Vietnam can be found in the mountain paradise around Da Lat”, says Quang Tran.
Local specialty coffee still has to find approval in Vietnam. Up until now, not many Vietnamese coffee-lovers came to La Viet. Most of their guests, as Quang Tran points out, are either foreigners or locals who really love coffee. Quang Tran and his crew believe that Vietnamese people are not ready yet for specialty coffee. The La Viet team has the ambitious goal to change the way Vietnamese people think about coffee. They not only organise tours to coffee plantations, but they also hold open tasting events of recent harvests in their roasting lab.
The La Viet crew is ready to share their passion in cultivating, processing, roasting, preparing and enjoying specialty coffee. They want to introduce their guests to flavours that are like nothing they had ever tasted in coffee before. Baristas are ready to educate their guests about all the different factors that makes coffee taste the way it does. The owners want to teach people that each bean from each growing region releases its own unique flavours.