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Vietnamese Coffee: Beyond the Cat Poo

 

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Despite being the world’s second largest coffee-producing country, Vietnam has long been maligned for exporting nothing but low quality swill. French colonists covered the land with Robusta beans (an inferior variety typically used in pre-ground mixes) and local industry leaders then bolstered the product with everything from soy and caramel, to steroids and toxic chemicals. Farmers were getting the shaft, customers were getting screwed, and producers were earning a reputation as the shadiest cats in the biz.

Speaking of cats, Vietnam did make a brief, if not infamous, comeback on the high-end coffee scene a few years ago when it began to export and promote Kopi Luwak – specialty beans literally consumed, partially-digested, and expelled by the civet cat. This made for excellent headlines, but did nothing to win Vietnamese beans a place at the third wave table.

But, despite all these crappy beans and all this poo, Vietnamese coffee is about to be huge. I predict Saigon-style coffee shops in NYC, Da Lat specialty blends delivered to your door, and egg coffee on every brunch menu from Melbourne to Portland.

Why?

RengReng in Hanoi

Reng Reng in Hanoi

Because the Good Guys are Making a Move.

Vietnamese coffee lovers have had enough of tainted brew. After a series of scandals and health threats, a number of growers, distributors, and sellers are shifting towards transparency and education. Individuals like barista champion Will Frith are working to elevate standards of everything from agricultural practices to sustainable global sales, while Cafes like Reng Reng in Hanoi make responsible production and consumption their main mission. The movement is gaining momentum, with conscientious coffee shops cropping up throughout the country. As progress is made, Vietnam’s coffee reputation will have a chance at redemption.

Third wave vietnamese coffee

Cafe Po Co in Hanoi

Because Vietnamese Coffee Culture is Seriously Cool.

The Vietnamese love their coffee and they love to linger over it. They sit knee to knee in tiny shops on child-size plastic chairs with the doors and windows flung wide open. Everyone has a chat, does some people watching, and takes their sweet time to sip the bracing brew. Starbucks only opened its first store in Ho Chi Mihn in 2013, and even their to-go-cup-toting ways have not elicited enough excitement from the locals to change the laid-back culture. The coffee shops here have a solid, chilled-out vibe going, and it’s one I think we’ll soon see replicated in Western cities.

Third wave vietnamese coffee

Because Egg Coffee Brings More to the Brunch Table Than Avocado Toast.

You already know about Vietnamese coffee, right? It’s the gasoline-strength drip stuff that’s mellowed by a swirl of sweetened condensed milk. It’s been popular in Vietnam since colonial times and has made a strong showing in the West as well, but it’s about to be shown up by the mightiest nerve-jangler of them all: egg coffee. Take two egg yolks, add a splash of sweetened condensed milk, whisk until your arm goes numb and a luscious, pale yellow foam forms. Spoon this egg cream atop hot brew and stir. Voila: liquid tiramisu. For now, you can find this local fave at any coffee shop in Vietnam. In the future, you will find it on every brunch spread worth Instagraming.

 

 

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