The World Atlas of Coffee highlights the following: ‘Very little high-quality coffee is available in Vietnam, and so most tastes flat, woody and lacks sweetness or much character.’
So what does our own Head of Everything Coffee, Nick make of this? Well he went to Vietnam and can tell you!
‘The Vietnam coffee industry is by any standards, massive. Producing around 1.4 million tons in 2012/13. however only around 4% is arabica. The vast amount is robusta coffee used as a bulk commodity which, in the main, falls below the radar of the speciality coffee industry due to its lack of perceived quality.
And so, armed with my back-up travel kit of House of Coffee Continental Blend and V60 with filters, I ventured into north Vietnam. My two children and my daughter’s boyfriend to be my travel companions. Principle locations visited were Hanoi, the remote Bac Ha region to the north east and stunning Cat Ba/Halon Bay.
This was a vacation and not a quest to source Vietnam’s finest coffees and so this blog may be of interest to the tourist who doesn’t like being too far away from a decent coffee-based beverage without having to hack through vast swathes of jungle in search of the pristine coffea arabica (correct spelling of coffea)……..
In all the places that we visited, to ask for a coffee, is to receive one of two drinks. One is the well known instant brand which comes black or with pre mixed milky foamy powder for a cappucino instant. The second is by way of a small dripper which is seated on top of the cup. The metal dripper is a nice looking and simple piece of kit. (about $1 in the local shops) and it produces around 3 fl.oz. of the black beverage.
The taste of the coffee however, without additives, is sufficiently undelightful as to involuntarily activate those facial muscles that create a wincing expression. It’s not great. There is a get out however. At the bottom of the coffee is a white liquid layer some 2-3mm deep. Condensed milk. Stir this in and maybe a sachet of sugar and its ‘coffee, Jim,but not as we know it’ …. worth a try.
I did find several coffee shops selling dry roasted coffee. A brand called ‘Weasel’ coffee was widely available but sadly I have to report that I personally got cramp in my wincing muscles.
I have to stress that my experience is just based on the coffee put before me on my roaming, mid priced, excursion. Good coffees exist for sure but I just didn’t come across one.
By day three the travel kit was open. Banana omelette and my bigger, but less attractive, dripper for a Continental blend coffee to set the day up. This was greeted with interest by the waiter, who discreetly wafted his nostrils more than once in the direction of my pure arabica blend; roasted not too dark, not too light.
Coffee aside, I have to say that I left Vietnam with the fondest memories and respect for all the people the we met. From the colourful, polite and happy Hmung people of hilly north-west Vietnam to the humorous, busy, courteous people of Hanoi. I simply loved the country and the experience and I will go back one day. BUT I WILL TAKE MY COFFEE WITH ME WHEN I GO.
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