The Journey of Specialty Coffee in Vietnam – 3 Things You Might Not Know Yet!

The Journey of Specialty Coffee in Vietnam – 3 Things You Might Not Know Yet!

Vietnam has become one of the world’s leading coffee producers and exporters. But beyond the commercial coffee industry, a thriving specialty coffee scene has developed in Vietnam's major cities. This new wave of specialty coffee is transforming perceptions about quality, taste, and the overall coffee experience.

1. Why Vietnam Was Fertile Ground for Specialty Coffee

Vietnam has some inherent advantages that made it ripe for specialty coffee to take hold:

  • Ideal Growing Conditions: Vietnam's tropical highland climate is perfect for growing quality Arabica coffee.
  • Craftsmanship Tradition: Vietnam has a history of intricate crafts and artisanship that translates well to specialty coffee.
  • Youthful Population: Vietnam has a massive young population eager to embrace modern trends like specialty coffee.

So Vietnam was a springboard waiting to happen for the art and science of specialty coffee to take off.

1.1 Key Innovations that Defined Specialty Vietnamese Coffee

Specialty coffee entrepreneurs in Vietnam introduced innovative new coffee concepts:

  • Focus on Extraction: Meticulous use of tools like Hario V60 drippers to perfect extraction.
  • Lever Espresso Machines: Handcrafted levers allowed mastering espresso microfoam and crema.
  • Cold Brew Coffee: Inventive cold brew methods were engineered to cope with Vietnam's climate.
  • Coffee Laboratory Cafes: Science lab-like spaces to explore coffee's complex chemistry.

So Vietnamese specialty coffee pioneers tinkered with techniques both new and old to unlock coffee's flavors.

1.2 A Brief History of Coffee in Vietnam

Let's first look briefly at how coffee came to Vietnam and became so important:

  • Coffee was introduced by French colonists in 1857.
  • Coffee farming was promoted under French colonial rule in the late 1800s/early 1900s.
  • Dark, bitter Robusta coffee became the mainstream taste due to its high yield.
  • After independence, the Vietnamese government further expanded coffee cultivation.
  • Today, Vietnam is the world's 2nd largest coffee producer after Brazil.

So coffee has long been integral to Vietnam - but the specialty coffee movement added a new dimension.

1.3 Tradition of Vietnamese Coffee Culture

Before specialty coffee arrived, Vietnam had a distinctive coffee culture centered around the everyday consumption of bitter, potent Robusta coffee. Here were some defining aspects:

  • Very strong, bitter, highly caffeinated taste profile.
  • Robusta beans and coarse grind were standard.
  • Brewed using small metal drip filters called phin.
  • Often enjoyed with sweetened condensed milk.
  • Served at no-frills coffee shops on sidewalks and alleyways.
  • Coffee was drunk casually and constantly throughout the day.

So traditional Vietnamese coffee culture revolved around the utilitarian consumption of low-cost, strong coffee for a quick caffeine jolt.

1.4 The Launch of Vietnam's Specialty Coffee Scene

The specialty coffee trend was launched around 2010 by Vietnamese entrepreneurs who had experienced specialty coffee cultures abroad.

Coffee Specialists Return Home

  • Overseas-educated Vietnamese opened the first dedicated specialty cafes in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Introduced brew methods like pour over, cold brew, meticulous latte art.
  • More upscale cafes catering to Vietnam's rising middle class appeared.
  • Early players included La Viet Coffee, K'Ho Coffee, and The Workshop.

Building Blocks Fall into Place

  • International coffee chains like Starbucks and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf entered Vietnam.
  • Barista competitions were launched to showcase skills.
  • Coffee expos connected producers, roasters, cafes.
  • Coffee tourism promoted visits to coffee regions.
  • Specialty coffee magazines and blogs launched.

So within several years, a completely new specialty coffee ecosystem arose in Vietnam.

2. How Vietnamese Specialty Beans Earned Respect

At first, Vietnamese beans were not considered specialty grade. But Vietnamese growers and roasters have changed perceptions:

  • New Growing Regions: Exploring promising highland regions like Da Lat for specialty beans.
  • Experimenting with Varietals: Trying heirloom varietals like Bourbon, Typica alongside Robusta.
  • Sustainable Farming: Implementing practices like shade-grown farming to boost bean quality.
  • Skillful Roasting: Using advanced equipment and know-how to craft specialty roast profiles.

So through effort and ingenuity, Vietnamese producers have put locally grown beans on the specialty coffee map.

2.1 Defining Features of Vietnam's Specialty Coffee Culture

Compared to the everyday coffee drinking that preceded it, this new specialty coffee movement had some defining qualities:

Focus on Quality Beans
  • Emphasis on sourcing high quality Arabica beans, often single origin.
  • Building relationships with farmers to ensure bean quality.
  • Removing Robusta beans from many specialty coffee blends.
Artisan Production Values
  • Meticulous focus on roasting, grinding, extraction parameters.
  • Using specialized equipment like Hario V60 drippers, AeroPress.
  • Implementing cupping protocols and sensory training.
Cafe Experience
  • Intricate latte art as signature of craftsmanship.
  • Beautiful, design-focused cafe spaces.
  • Positioning coffee as part of aspirational lifestyle.
  • Providing coffee education to customers.
  • Fostering coffee appreciation as a skill.
  • Promoting formal barista training and certification.

So specialty coffee in Vietnam became focused on promoting quality, expertise, and customer experience rather than simply delivering caffeine.

2.2 Who Drinks Specialty Coffee in Vietnam?

While traditional coffee consumption cuts across Vietnamese demographics, the rising specialty coffee scene has a more defined consumer base with these characteristics:

  • Younger Vietnamese adults aged 20-35.
  • Middle and upper income urban residents.
  • Well-educated, often with exposure to living abroad.
  • Regard specialty coffee as part of cosmopolitan lifestyle.
  • Active on social media and aspire to modern tastes.

So specialty coffee appeals to young, upwardly mobile urban Vietnamese who see it as part of a sophisticated lifestyle.

2.3 Shifting Attitudes Towards Coffee

This new specialty coffee culture has brought about some shifts in perspectives about coffee:

  • Greater appreciation for subtleties of taste, acidity, finish.
  • Recognition of high quality coffee as an artisanal product.
  • Willingness to pay higher prices for premium coffee experiences.
  • Embracing lighter roasts and single origin beans rather than dark Robusta blends.
  • Viewing hand-crafted drinks like pour over as a performance.
  • Regarding baristas as experienced craft professionals.

So the status of coffee is evolving from quotidian beverage to artisanal experience worthy of connoisseurship.

2.4 New Innovations Expanding Specialty Coffee Culture

Vietnam's specialty coffee scene continues to grow through new ideas:

  • Mixed Beverages: Coffee cocktails, coffee-infused craft beers.
  • Food Pairings: Elaborate coffee and food pairing menus.
  • Roasting Classes: Classes teaching customers hands-on roasting skills.
  • Coffee Tourism: Promoting visits to farms and roasteries.
  • Coffee Technology: Apps providing brewing guides; IoT-enabled equipment.

So specialty coffee is extending beyond cafes into new fused experiences and technologies.

2.5 Challenges Facing Specialty Vietnamese Coffee

Vietnam's specialty coffee culture still faces some obstacles:

  • High costs of quality equipment, ingredients, and rent remain barriers.
  • Sourcing and importing specialty grade beans in small batches is tricky.
  • Educating consumers about specialty coffee beyond major cities.
  • Training enough skilled baristas to meet demand.
  • Maintaining coffee freshness and quality across the supply chain.

But Vietnamese specialty coffee leaders are working to tackle these challenges.

2.6 Opportunities to Unlock Specialty Coffee's Potential

Vietnam's specialty coffee scene has ample room for growth in the future:

  • Bringing specialty coffee to other cities beyond Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Building a robust domestic specialty coffee supply chain from crop to cup.
  • Growing the number of formally trained Vietnamese baristas.
  • Creating a Vietnamese specialty coffee brand with global renown.
  • Making specialty coffee more accessible and affordable for average Vietnamese.

So spreading specialty coffee across the country remains the next horizon.

3. Specialty Coffee Emerges in Vietnam, Driven by Passionate Local Champions

While Vietnam's coffee industry mainly focused on commodity grade robusta for many years, there is an emerging specialty coffee culture centered around high quality arabica. This is driven by passionate Vietnamese coffee farmers, producers, and baristas dedicated to distinguishing Vietnamese specialty coffee.

One coffee hero who played a pivotal role was Dang Le Nguyen Vu, founder of Trung Nguyen Coffee. In 1996, Vu cultivated the gourmet Legendee coffee brand, the first Vietnamese specialty coffee exported to overseas markets like the USA and Europe. This demonstrated that Vietnamese coffee could compete at the high end.

Cafes serving specialty coffee emerged in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in the 2000s, pioneered by Vietnamese entrepreneurs who studied coffee professionally abroad. For instance, Tom Nguyen of The Workshop Coffee and Giang Tran of K'Ho Coffee both gained coffee expertise in Australia before returning to open their specialty cafes.

Local barista communities like the Specialty Coffee Association of Vietnam also started organizing events like coffee festivals and competitions to promote education and elevate specialty coffee standards.

On the farming side, Vietnamese coffee producers have been improving cultivation and processing for qualities like single origin flavor distinction. One example is Cau Dat Farm in Lam Dong province, which collaborates closely with roasters to produce selections like their award-winning Red Catimor coffee.

Passionate individuals like Vu and younger generations of Vietnamese coffee professionals have been integral to the rise of specialty coffee in Vietnam. They usher in an exciting new era for Vietnamese coffee beyond commodity grade production.

The Future of Coffee in Vietnam

What does the future likely hold for coffee culture in Vietnam as specialty coffee grows?

  • Robusta coffee will remain vital for mass market coffee consumption.
  • Traditional coffee drinking habits will persist, especially outside major cities.
  • Specialty coffee will become the dominant coffee culture among young urban Vietnamese.
  • More Vietnamese specialty beans will gain international recognition.
  • Coffee will continue to be integral to Vietnamese lifestyle and economy.
  • Vietnam will emerge as a leading specialty coffee producer in Asia.

So while traditions persist, specialty coffee is the undeniable future.


To recap, here are some key things to know:

  • Coffee originally came to Vietnam under 19th century French colonial rule, when large plantations were established for commodity grade coffee export.
  • Coffee production declined during the Vietnam War era, but revived in the 1980s-90s as Vietnam shifted to a market economy and promoted coffee exports.
  • A new wave of passionate Vietnamese coffee champions has recently driven the emergence of a specialty coffee culture focused on high quality.

The journey of Vietnamese coffee has seen many twists and turns, influenced by French colonialism, war, economic reforms, and now passionate individuals dedicated to specialty coffee. With its excellent natural environment for growing coffee plus increasing expertise, Vietnam is rising as an important player in the global specialty coffee landscape. Exciting things lie ahead in the future as Vietnamese specialty coffee gains more recognition worldwide.

The new wave of specialty coffee in Vietnam is transforming perceptions of what coffee can be and introducing innovative techniques. But it is also opening new avenues to appreciate coffee's nuances and reinforcing coffee's deep importance in Vietnamese society. For a country with such innate coffee passion, specialty coffee is helping this beloved plant reach its full potential. Exciting times are ahead for Vietnamese coffee!

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Viet Specialty Coffee

We grew up around coffee, for over two generations. You could say we’re steeped in it! Gia Lai province, our home, is one of the most important coffee growing regions in Vietnam and making Gia Lai a little more famous would be a great joy. The best way we can do that is to consistently produce the best specialty coffee in Vietnam. And maybe, who knows, the world!