For those that may not know me, I have a real love for travel. I caught the travel bug when I went backpacking for nearly three years. I am revisiting Vietnam for a second time and the part of the trip I was looking forward to the most, was visiting the coffee plantations.
I am now in Dalat; a beautiful town filled with French Colonial villas, set in the mountains in South Central highlands of Vietnam. Here the air is cooler but the days are still sunny and hot so it has a spring-like feel all year around; the perfect conditions and altitude for growing coffee. The region is also famous for it's flower farms and the majority of flowers in Vietnam is grown here.
I took an Easy Rider motorbike tour to explore the area, which involves being driven around to various places by a local Vietnamese tour guide. We stopped to see many things throughout the day but the two that I enjoyed the best, was most definitely coffee related.
Some of you might not realise that Vietnam grows and exports a lot of coffee. Often we see countries of origin on our coffee bags such as Costa Rica, Guatamala, Columbia, Brazil and so on. However, Vietnam produces some great coffee and is actually the second largest exporter of coffee beans in the world! I was surprised too! In 2017, Vietnam accounted for 10.7% of total coffee exports, worth $3.5 billion with Brazil sitting on top with $4.6 billion and 14.1% of total coffee exports.*1
The majority of the coffee beans here is Robusta, which tends to have a higher caffeine content and more of a bitter taste. Some people say this is a lower quality bean than the Arabica bean but personally, I think it depends on how you drink your coffee and is each to everyone’s taste.
Due to this stronger flavour, Vietnamese coffee beans are largely used for instant coffee and so in actual fact, millions of us are drinking it on a daily basis. In 2017, 74% of us were still drinking instant coffee at home in the UK, compared to freshly ground coffee.*2 Perhaps this isn’t the case for us coffee snobs reading this right now but for the large majority it is.
The Vietnamese people love to drink their coffee using a slow drip method and pretty much everywhere you go, you will see the locals sitting in cafes enjoying a strong, slow drip Robusta coffee. Many use condensed milk with their coffee, which takes the sharp edge off the bitter flavour and adds an incredibly sweet finish.
We are big fans of drip coffee here at Maverick Coffee Co and before I came away I would always look forward to the weekend, when I have more time to sit down and brew myself a V60 or a Chemex drip filter. For the Vietnamese, coffee isn’t just about having a quick caffeine fix on the go like it is for many of us here in the UK. It’s about sitting down, relaxing and socialising whilst enjoying the longer slow drip process. It’s about sipping slowly on their coffee and appreciating the flavours from every single sip.
Vietnam Coffee Plantation
My Easy Rider driver took me to Me Linh Coffee Farm, which is quite a large and also very touristy. Despite the crowds though, it is beautiful and it has the most gorgeous backdrop of coffee trees for miles, throughout the mountains.
I let my curiosity and excitement lead me down into the plantation and walked deeper into the plantation, down some of the narrow pathways between the coffee trees. My guide followed and called me over to point out a tree featuring bright white flowers, which smelt so beautiful. He gently picked some of the white flowers off which left very small buds underneath. “This” he said, “is the start of the coffee bean.” The beans take five months to grow and develop on the tree until they are ready to be picked.
Robusta Vs Arabica
There are different trees with different beans; the trees with the large leaves grow mocha beans and trees with the smaller leaves grow Arabica beans. Each type has a different complex flavour. When you think of Mocha, most people think of a chocolate coffee milk-based drink that you can buy from your local café. However, this drink was originated because of the distinct ‘chocolatey’ flavours associated with the Mocha coffee bean. It’s still part of the Arabica family but this bean produces more berries on its trees and they tend to be much larger as they develop into the bean.
After my exploration in the coffee trees, I walked up to the coffee farm entrance. Feeling like an excited eight-year old on Christmas Eve, I was eager to try a freshly roasted Vietnamese coffee.
I walked up the steps and past the coffee roasters (which assured me the beans were in fact freshly roasted). I ordered my coffee and walked out onto the most impressive wooden balcony/viewing platform, looking out over the large coffee farm.
I chose my place to perch and sipped on my slow drip Vietnamese coffee. The coffee was delicious; delicate with a subtle sweet after-taste. I felt like I could sit there for hours, sip on my coffee and get lost in my thoughts whilst taking in this incredible view.
I think its fair to say, it’s probably up there as one of my favourite coffee shops I have ever been too.
There is another element to this coffee farm and that's weasel coffee, also known as civet coffee or kopi luwak.... but I will save that for another blog.