Vietnamese coffee

Did you know Vietnam is one of the world's top exporters of coffee? Second only behind leader Brazil in volume of beans exported, Vietnamese coffee is built around the Robusta variety.

But what is Vietnamese coffee, how is it made and how does it taste? Our guide has all the info.

What is Vietnamese coffee - and why is it different?

Vietnamese coffee's history dates back to the mid-19th century. French missionaries are believed to have introduced coffee to Vietnam, but it took about 30 years for the first coffee plantations to be created in the country. Initially, they primarily produced the Arabica variety.

Coffee production zones were created in the 1920s and the first instant coffee plant was founded in 1969, but production was hit hard by the Vietnam war - it came to a standstill.

Modern times have seen the Vietnamese coffee production boom once more - the country now ships around 25 million bags of beans every year - though growth of the sector remains volatile.

Nowadays, around 97% of coffee from Vietnam is Robusta beans. Most plantations are in Da Lat, sometimes referred to as the 'Europe of Vietnam' due to its hills and lower temperatures. Vietnamese coffee producers will often blend beans of different varieties together. This results in a complex flavor known for its bold taste, though it also helps to keep the costs down as well.

Western coffee chains have also become popular in Vietnam in the past decade - Starbucks first arrived in Vietnam in 2013. Local chains in Vietnam include The Coffee House and Phuc Long.

In Vietnam, a one-cup filter known as a phin is often used to prepare coffee in a single serving. Coffee is typically served table-side while brewing and sweetened condensed milk is often used, not fresh milk. Coffee in Vietnam is typically accompanied by a cup of tea, served hot or cold.

Vietnamese coffee uses coarsely ground, dark roast coffee and it is also often served with ice.

Top types of Vietnamese coffee to try

  • Cà phê sữa đá - iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk (nâu đá in Vietnam's north)
  • Cà phê đen - black coffee, served hot or cold - đá means ice
  • Bạc xỉu (Saigon style) - white coffee with lots of milk, similar to a macchiato
  • Cà phê lá dứa - coffee made with Pandan paste and honey
  • Cà phê dừa - coffee made with coconut milk and condensed milk
  • Cà phê trứng - coffee from Hanoi with egg yolk and condensed milk, similar to eggnog
  • Cà phê kem mặn - a salted cream coffee popular in Huế
  • Cà phê bơ - coffee with avocado, condensed milk and vanilla powder

What does Vietnamese coffee taste like?

Vietnamese coffee is known for its intense flavor, as well as being sweet. The sweetness of a Vietnamese coffee comes from the use of condensed milk, balancing out the coffee's strength.

For those who are used to mellow Arabica coffee, a Vietnamese coffee might taste a bit acidic, especially as in the country it is also common to over-roast the beans. But using sweetened condensed milk will add a creamy sweetness to the final cup of joe.

As Vietnamese coffee is a drip coffee, it is also quite thick compared to other types of coffees.

Drink Vietnamese coffee like a local

Fresh milk is still quite unusual in Vietnamese coffee shops. Condensed milk is much more widespread. It is fine to request fresh milk, but visitors should expect it will not be available.

As Vietnamese coffee is known for its intensity, it might be too strong for some – with peaberry beans being the strongest in the whole world! Those who prefer a weaker brew should ask for ca phe bac xiu, coffee served with lots of extra milk. Coffee in Vietnam is normally quite sweet already so most people will not need to add any extra sugar. Asking for it duong (less sugar) gets a less sweet drink. Decaf coffee is very rare in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, a cup of coffee is to be savored rather than downed. While some drink it on the go primarily for a shot of caffeine, for many drinking coffee is a more social occasion. It is common to see people lingering over a cup of coffee at one of the many street cafes for hours.

Some Vietnamese coffee shops do serve food, but many do not. Locals normally eat elsewhere then move on to have a coffee later.