Vietnam - World's Second Largest Coffee Producer
Among the world's many suppliers of coffee, Vietnam today ranks as the world's second-largest producer, with only Brazil growing more. This marks remarkable progress for the country's coffee growers, because coffee was only introduced to Vietnam in 1857 by the French colonialists. If Vietnam's current ranking appears somewhat surprising, this might well be because a majority of the beans exported from Vietnam's highlands will typically end up in anonymous instant coffee blends, rather than coming to prominence as a premium product based on their country of origin. While Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, or Guatemala may all be leading names in the global coffee market, it can be argued that it is Vietnam that really wakes the world up every morning.
Vietnamese coffee certainly wakes up Vietnam every morning, although it's often not in the form that Western visitors will find familiar. Iced coffee is very popular, and in the big Vietnamese cities such as Hanoi or Saigon, you'll see people stopping everywhere on the way to work for a strong yet sweet iced coffee made with condensed milk and lots of ice.
Vietnamese Coffee and Pavements
For authenticity in coffee shops, look no further than the pavements along the roadside, where you'll find vendors selling hot and cold coffee from carts, along with more permanent establishments set up with clusters of tiny stools outside the front, where customers sit right next to the passing traffic as they get their fix. If you prefer something more comfortable, then you will of course find a host of regular coffee shops with full-size furniture, air-conditioning, and more elaborate coffee menus.
What you'll find on those menus might be quite different, however, to what you'll find in a regular Starbucks. For example, you should think very carefully before ordering a black coffee. It's unusual for the Vietnamese to drink coffee without milk, because the home-grown product tends to be based predominantly on the Robusta beans, for which the climate is ideal, and the taste can be quite bitter. If you're used to the Arabica coffees of Africa or South America, you could be in for quite a shock.
Coffee and Condensed Milk
The local habit is to use heavily sweetened condensed milk, following a trend that started back when the French had no access to fresh milk for their coffee. The coffee is made using an individual filter chamber known as a phin through which a small single serving is slowly produced, drip by drip. While this serving style is standard practice, there are many much more adventurous possibilities on offer too.
Coffee and Eggs
In Vietnam, coffee is sometimes mixed with eggs. The trend for adding eggs reportedly began in Hanoi during a milk shortage, when an alternative had to be found -- remember Vietnamese coffee isn't ideal without milk. The technique today involves taking a single egg and first removing the white. The yolk is then whisked and added to some condensed milk along with a tablespoon of freshly brewed coffee. The result is a light and fluffy mixture that can then be introduced on top of a regular cup of coffee. While egg coffee started out in a handful of shops in Hanoi, it has since spread throughout the country, so you'll find it in most of the major cities -- and it reportedly tastes much better than you might imagine.
Even More Variants
Other common variants include fruit coffee, yoghurt coffee, and coffee made with coconut milk. Alternatively, coffee is sometimes added to fruit smoothies to create a sweeter, more refreshing beverage. Our suggestion would be that when you're in Vietnam, you should try to avoid the international coffee chains you might be familiar with, and instead make your way into the local cafes to try something different. There's plenty of variety to keep you occupied, and you might just discover a new favourite that keeps you coming back for more.