We really enjoy Vietnam so far. It is a beautiful country with lovely and friendly people. And they have very unique coffee. Good coffee in Vietnam can be a great experience. It can taste of chocolate and leave a long lasting and smooth mouth feel.
There are a few reasons to the unique taste of Vietnamese coffee. First of all, while most of the world prefers the arabica coffee bean, Vietnamese coffee is almost always pure robusta (fun fact: Vietnam is one of the worlds biggest arabica exporters. Some claim the people just got used to the beans they couldn’t export and made the best out of it.)
Second, the roasting is very different. Vietnamese roast is a lot darker than most of the world, but it doesn’t burn the beans into charcoal. This long, slow roast releases a lot of pleasant aromas from the usually quite earthy robusta beans. In addition to that, the beans are sometimes more fried than roasted. A bit of oil or butter can be added (sometimes along with other seasonings) to the roasting pan. All of this can add up to a very flavorful and rich cup of strong coffee that evokes memories of dark chocolate, toffee or even good scotch.
We enjoyed great coffee like that a few times. But more often than not, we were left puzzled with the coffee culture in Vietnam. While the coffee culture in Indonesia was very close to what we are used to, the coffee culture in (southern?) Vietnam seems to be very different and frequently confusing to us.
The Vietnamese people seem to rely on a steady intake of sugar and ice cubes. Both are added to in pure abundance into every drink. While a cold, sweet coffee in the afternoon can be refreshing, it is not always what we are looking for. But it is often the only thing we managed to get – no matter what we ordered.
Especially in the morning, all we were desperate for was a cup with one of those Vietnamese tin drip filters on top smelling of strong, rich coffee. Seems like an easy thing: “Two Vietnamese co phe. Hot. Please.” These words, pronounced like we do (Vietnamese is a tonal language and pronunciation changes meaning), seem to translate to “fill a tall glass all the way with ice cubes, add two big spoons of sugar and top it off with a tiny drip of the coffee that sat in the corner for an hour” :-/
Great Vietnamese Coffee
We will work on our Vietnamese pronunciation until we manage to order just this:
Coffee with Tea
But the abundance of sweetness is not the only weird thing about the coffee culture in Vietnam. The next source of confusion to us is, they serve (usually cold,) unsweetened Tee along with the coffee. Why would anyone serve tee with coffee?!
One morning, we managed to get two half cups of warm (not hot) sugar-coffee-syrup (mixed about one-to-one) and next to that two glasses of nice, fresh, hot, unsweetened tea. We would have loved to swap the two things. Sure, go ahead and ruin the tea, but save my coffee, please!
But to be honest, the tea thing seems to be some kind of government mandate. Every place you sit down, even before getting the menu, they reliably serve you cold, unsweetened tea, which is actually a really great way to welcome you!
This post by no means is meant as a criticism of Vietnamese coffee culture. Go ahead and enjoy your coffee the way you prefer. Even if it leaves two westerners very confused…
But whenever we manage to get a great cup of flavorful black coffee, we also know it is worth all the struggle and confusion – cheers! (Also, the sugar to coffee ratio seems to get saner the further north we travel)
One more thing though
What in the name of fuck is this supposed to be?!