Bags of coffee beans on display at the Workshop in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Evolution Of Coffee In Vietnam

smiling-coffee-snob Travel

Last updated on October 12th, 2020

Just like Thailand, most people don’t know much about coffee in Vietnam. However, Vietnam is actually the second largest coffee grower in the world after Brazil. But, while Vietnam grows a lot of coffee, they don’t grow much high-quality coffee.

Instead, they mostly grow low-grade Robusta beans that are exported to large coffee producers who use it for instant coffee. But, a new generation is changing this and creating a specialty coffee industry in Vietnam.

While there’s still a long way to go, it’s exciting to watch the Vietnamese coffee industry evolve into something new. It also makes it a perfect travel destination for coffee lovers. You can not only try new cafes, but try beans you’ve likely never had before, and even visit coffee farms.

Background on coffee in Vietnam

Vietnam’s huge production of coffee is even more surprising, considering how small it is (especially when compared to Brazil). This growth is heavily tied to their focus on Robusta beans.

Robusta is easier to grow and more disease-resistant than Arabica. It also tolerates hotter weather and can produce more coffee per bush. Vietnam takes this to an extreme, not only growing more Robusta, but producing more per acre than anywhere else.

Starting in the 1990’s Vietnam heavily invested in growing coffee and has expanded into a huge exporter of coffee beans. In fact, the majority of their coffee exported, rather than consumed locally.

Coffee as commodity

Until recently, coffee was just a jolt of caffeine to wake you up in the morning so most large producers just added cheap Robusta beans to lower their costs. Robusta is also very popular for espresso blends in Italy. Putting a little Robusta into the mix added bitterness and gave the espresso better crema.

But, now that so many people appreciate good—or at least decent—coffee, this doesn’t work so well. Robusta has become a dirty word in the specialty coffee world and it’s even looked down upon by the average person.

There’s a growing movement toward high-quality Robusta beans, but the stigma against it is still pretty strong in much of the world. There’s still plenty of demand for instant coffee throughout the world, but whether a large market for specialty Robusta will develop is hard to tell…

Not everyone hates Robusta

coffee in vietnam
This is an example of Vietnamese iced coffee. A very strong cup of coffee, mixed with condensed milk poured over ice. The result is a beautiful blend of sweet and bitter which loved by many Vietnamese people (and others…)

While most of the world is obsessed with Arabica, not everyone is. In fact, some people love the classic bitterness of Robusta beans. Vietnamese coffee—plus the coffee of many neighboring countries—is a perfect match for it.

Traditional Vietnamese coffee is a small, highly concentrated brew that’s strong and bitter. While most people consider it too intense by itself, adding a little sugar and condensed milk balances out the bitterness. Many Vietnamese people drink this style of coffee daily, not to mention Thailand and other neighboring countries which make similar drinks.

Moving toward specialty coffee

With all that being said, Vietnam’s specialty coffee scene is growing. There are some growers that are improving their Robusta quality and the number of Arabica farmers is slowly increasing.

In Ho Chi Minh City, there’s a growing specialty coffee scene, with plenty of fantastic coffee shops to try. Most offer both imported beans and local beans.

Beyond that, there’s a growing awareness of coffee quality in general. Even the chain coffee shops offer a variety of coffee blends with different roasts and taste profiles.

How to try top notch Vietnamese coffee beans

Right now, it’s pretty hard to try good Vietnamese coffee beans outside of Vietnam. The small number of specialty coffee shops in the country have great options to try and buy in their shops, but I haven’t found much available outside of that.

If Southeast-Asia a bit too far to travel, I’ll keep my eyes open for quality Vietnam beans available and update once I find some.

Hopefully, this article makes you want to travel to Vietnam, or at least makes you more aware of the coffee scene. Next, I’ll introduce you to the coffee culture of Ho Chi Minh City.