Coffee-Growing in Vietnam: Part 1

An arm holds a tin mug on top of a green mountain in Vietnam. It is a clear sky day.

We explore how coffee came to Vietnam and learn more from Vietnamese-owned cafés in this two-part feature.

BY SPENCER AUBREY
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Cover photo by Chang Duong for Unsplash

Vietnam has always been one of the world’s biggest resources for coffee, and lately we’ve watched it continue to climb in specialty markets. In this two-part article, we will explore Vietnamese coffee: a brief history, the current landscape, and some insight from roasters across the United States that source, roast, and advocate heavily for the growth of Vietnamese coffee. We hope this is informative and inspiring as we learn more about Vietnamese coffee and its impact here in the U.S. and other countries. 

How did coffee make its way from Ethiopia to Vietnam? 

It is widely recognized, though still argued at times, that the birthplace of coffee is in Ethiopia. So how did the coffee plant travel a distance of over 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers) to get to Vietnam. French colonialism and religion were two major factors instrumental in this eastward expansion. During the middle part of the 19th century, the French were determined to spread Catholicism throughout the world. They plotted a course to Vietnam, as well as to Korea and many other countries in Asia, seeking to convert non-Catholics in these areas. Thus, a French-Catholic missionary was sent to Vietnam in 1857 to evangelize, and with him he carried a single Robusta coffee plant. This coffee plant, as well as the influence of French coffee culture on the Vietnamese, began in this region of Southeast Asia. 

Over the next 140 years, the growth of coffee expanded from a single plant to entire regions of the country, from the fertile Central Highlands to its more remote parts, with all residents engaging in coffee production and distribution. Beginning in the 1970s, coffee production dramatically increased due to government incentives and subsidies, which helped to elevate the Vietnamese coffee industry to its current position as the second-largest producer of coffee in the world.

Robusta seems to be the most prominent species of coffee in Vietnam—are there others? 

Robusta was the first species in Vietnam and is the central export of coffee producers in the country, accounting for about 97% of the country’s coffee output. The Central Highlands region also supports Arabica, Liberica, and Excelsa, but in dramatically less quantities than Robusta. 

A closeup of a cafe phin Vietnamese coffee dripper brewing into a short glass mug. A bag of Vietnamese coffee from Lang Thang roasters sits next to it.
Vietnam has the second-largest production of coffee in the world. Photo provided by Lang Thang Coffee.

What is the current state of coffee production and distribution in Vietnam? 

This can be a loaded question. For those of you who really vibe with metrics and how they demonstrate the impact coffee has on the consumer market, we found some interesting research by The Western (Central) Highlands Agriculture & Forestry Science Institute (WASI) in this article based on information found in the Country Coffee Profile Vietnam from 2019. The article explores recent economic impacts of Vietnamese coffee, and unpacks the depth of the relationship that Vietnamese coffee has with the rest of the coffee-producing world.

Each of these findings, from the brief history to the current economic impact of coffee in Vietnam, is important in understanding where Vietnamese coffee takes its seat in the coffee world. In part two of this article, we will explore more about the culture of Vietnamese coffee from the perspective of a few Vietnamese roasters themselves. Stay tuned, and we look forward to diving deeper with you into the world of Vietnamese coffee.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Spencer Aubrey (he/him) is a Black coffee professional currently working for Sayso Coffee in Winston-Salem, N.C. Spencer is a published poet, musician, tutor, and aspiring entrepreneur who enjoys the complexities and nuances within the coffee community. Spencer is originally from Scottsdale, Ariz., but is enjoying his time in the South as he looks for opportunities to connect with folks during the pandemic.

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