What is more popular in Vietnam – tea or coffee?

What is more popular in Vietnam – tea or coffee?

Vietnam is renowned for both its tea and coffee traditions. But which is truly more popular and ingrained in the culture? This in-depth exploration of tea vs. coffee in Vietnam will compare their histories, production, drinking habits, cultural roles, and economic impacts. Read on to determine if Vietnam is fundamentally more of a tea drinking nation or a coffee loving culture.

1. Brief Histories of Tea and Coffee in Vietnam

Tea likely first arrived in Vietnam in the 200s-300sCE through trade routes from nearby tea-producing regions in China. Tea slowly spread through Vietnamese society and was firmly established by the 1300-1400s.

Coffee came much later during French colonization in the late 1800s. The French promoted coffee agriculture in Vietnam for export demand, and it took off after independence in 1945.

So tea has a 1000+ year history in Vietnam, while coffee has been popular for around 150 years.

2. Tea Production in Vietnam

Vietnam produces many varieties of tea, but green teas and oolong teas are most widespread.

Major tea growing regions:

  • Northern provinces - Thai Nguyen, Phu Tho, Ha Giang
  • Northwestern highlands - Lai Chau , Son La, Dien Bien
  • Central highlands - Lam Dong, Quang Nam

Noted tea types:

  • Lotus green tea - aromatic, floral, grows in lotus field water
  • Shan Tuyet tea - aromatic, refreshing green tea
  • Tràm Giai oolong - smooth, rich oolong
  • Vietnamese black tea - malty, chocolatey, akin to black teas from India

Vietnam exports tea to over 50 countries and is one of the top tea producers globally.

3. Coffee Production in Vietnam

Vietnam grows both Robusta and Arabica, but Robusta dominates, making up 97% of production.

Major coffee growing regions:

  • Central highlands - Dak Lak, Gia Lai, Lam Dong
  • Northern midlands and mountainous north - Son La, Dien Bien, Cao Bang

Noted coffee types:

  • Robusta - higher yielding, more bitter
  • Arabica - smoother, sweeter
  • Weasel coffee - cherries eaten and excreted by weasels for unique flavor

Vietnam is the 2nd largest producer of coffee in the world after Brazil, and the top Robusta exporter.

4. Tea Drinking Habits in Vietnam

Tea is drunk throughout the day in Vietnam, with unique customs around tea preparation and enjoyment.

  • Green tea is widely consumed plain, hot or iced.
  • Oolong tea and lotus teas often brewed in intricate tea pots or served in delicate cups.
  • Strong black teas like Shan Tuyet sipped with a touch of sweetened condensed milk.
  • Herbal tisanes like chamomile, chrysanthemum, and lemongrass also popular.
  • Tea drinking integrated into social gatherings, business meetings, family meals, and romantic dates.
  • Tea houses provide a tranquil oasis to leisurely sip tea.
  • Acts like rinsing cups in hot water and smelling dry leaves prized in tea ritual.
  • Unique tea types and origins highly valued, like Yen Bai oolong.

Tea is savored for its taste, aromas, and the contemplative experience of preparing and drinking it.

5. Coffee Drinking Habits in Vietnam

Coffee is widely consumed in Vietnam as an everyday energizing beverage.

  • Strong locally grown dark roast coffee with sweetened condensed milk is the Vietnamese coffee trademark.
  • Iced coffee with milk also a favorite, enjoyed for breakfast or an afternoon refreshment.
  • Vietnam is the largest producer of robusta coffee, used locally and for instant coffee exports.
  • Coffee a social lubricant among friends at cafes, and a stimulating start to the day.
  • Vietnamese coffee culture more hurried - coffee drunk on the run.
  • Brewing methods include phin filter, French drip, café sua da (iced milk coffee).
  • Coffee breaks provide an afternoon work pick-me-up or social interlude.
  • Coffee shops popular for dates and informal business meetings.

Coffee is appreciated for its rich taste and caffeine boost. Brewing and drinking methods emphasize simplicity.

6. Cultural Role of Tea in Vietnam

Tea is deeply interwoven into Vietnamese culture:

  • Closely associated with Buddhism - offered to monks and in temples.
  • Intricate tea service ritual demonstrates hospitality and etiquette.
  • Tea houses played role in business and political meetings throughout history.
  • Regions take pride in local tea varieties - Yen Bai oolong, Thai Nguyen green.
  • Tea imported in ancient times from nearby China.
  • Tea production and trade historically important source of income.
  • Contemplative tea drinking complements Vietnamese mindfulness.
  • Tea breaks provide calm social interludes in a busy day.
  • Tea gift sets given for holidays like Tết (Lunar New Year).
  • Herbal tisanes used in traditional medicine recipes.

Tea's cultural presence reflects Vietnam's identity shaped by nearby China and Buddhism.

7. Cultural Role of Coffee in Vietnam

As a newer import, coffee does not run quite as deep in Vietnamese culture:

  • Coffee historically dominated by French colonizers, not locals.
  • Coffee exploded as an economic export after independence from colonizers.
  • Coffee's social role is more as an everyday beverage than spiritual experience.
  • Younger generations embrace coffee shops as social venues.
  • Coffee breaks provide quick work pauses rather than contemplative tea rituals.
  • Coffee production and trade seen more as agriculture business than cultural practice.
  • Strong dark roast coffee preferences reveal French colonial influence.
  • Coffee less woven into spiritual traditions and rituals compared to tea.
  • Coffee gift sets less prominent than tea for holidays.

Coffee has become culturally significant, but does not have the legacy of tea.

Economic Impact of Tea in Vietnam

Tea makes a small but meaningful contribution to Vietnam's economy:

  • Tea is not a major agricultural export, though exports have doubled since 2000.
  • 700,000 tons of tea produced in 2020 on 82,000 hectares of land.
  • Tea production value was estimated at $350 million USD in 2020.
  • Provides income to tea farming communities in mountainous rural areas.
  • Some unique Vietnamese teas like Shan Tuyet and Tràm Giai oolong can fetch high prices by Asian standards.
  • Tea shops, exports, and tourism contribute to local economies.
  • Vietnam exports tea to Taiwan, Pakistan, Russia, and China.

Tea is not a huge GDP driver nationally, but very important for uplifting rural areas.

Economic Impact of Coffee in Vietnam

Coffee is a major contributor to Vietnam's agricultural exports and economy:

  • Vietnam is 2nd largest producer and top Robusta exporter globally.
  • In 2020: 29.2 million 60kg bags of coffee exported, earning $2.6 billion USD.
  • Coffee accounts for around 15% of Vietnam's annual agricultural export value.
  • Coffee farms cover around 660,000 hectares with robusta yields nearly double arabica.
  • Employs around 2.6 million people directly and indirectly.
  • Instant coffee and coffee packaging factories process beans.
  • Domestic coffee shops and chains thriving, competing with foreign chains.

Coffee is hugely important for export income and provides rural jobs.

8. Is Vietnam More of a Tea or Coffee Country?

Based on this extensive comparison, coffee appears to now be more popular and influential in Vietnam than tea:

  • Coffee production far exceeds tea production given Vietnam's #2 ranking globally.
  • Coffee exports and economic impact are far higher than that of tea.
  • Domestic coffee consumption seems widespread as an everyday drink across economic classes.
  • Coffee shops flourish while traditional tea houses decline.
  • Vietnamese coffee has a strong national identity, while local tea identities are less pronounced.
  • Coffee breaks fit modern fast-paced lifestyles better than tranquil tea rituals.
  • Tea still maintains spiritual roles and historic legacies that coffee does not.

But both tea and coffee retain importance in Vietnam's agricultural economy, culture, and daily lifestyle. Sipping tea or coffee provides insight into Vietnam's complex history and resilient future.

In Summary

  • Tea has a much longer history in Vietnam dating back 1000+ years.
  • Green teas and oolong teas are the most widely produced.
  • Vietnam is one of the world's top tea producers.
  • Coffee was introduced in the 1800s during French colonization.
  • Vietnam grows mostly Robusta along with some Arabica.
  • Vietnam is the 2nd largest coffee producer globally.
  • Tea is prepared and drunk slowly as a contemplative experience.
  • Coffee is widely drunk for everyday energy and socialization.
  • Tea holds deep spiritual and cultural roles in Vietnam.
  • Coffee has become culturally significant but does not have tea's legacy.
  • Tea provides important income for rural areas but is smaller than coffee.
  • Coffee offers major export value, jobs, and economic impacts.
  • Coffee edges out tea for production, economy, and daily consumption.
  • Both beverages hold cultural importance and remain popular drinks.

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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!