You might have heard Vietnamese coffee has chicory in it and it’s the reason for its unique and bold taste. There is some confusion about Vietnamese coffee and chicory. Here’s what you want to know about it.
Vietnamese coffee in Vietnam does not typically contain Chicory. However, since the traditional Vietnamese coffee wasn’t available in the United States, Vietnamese immigrants substituted it for Café du Monde or French market. These are coffee and Chicory blends.
There are some more details and Vietnamese coffee taste details that you might find interesting. Keep reading to find them.
Does Vietnamese coffee have chicory?
Vietnamese coffee doesn’t typically contain chicory but what many people think Vietnamese coffee is, does. That sentence is a bit complicated and requires some explaining so let’s get into it.
The confusion comes from what people understand Vietnamese coffee to be. There are two groups in that are important to answer this question
- Vietnamese immigrants in the United States
- Vietnamese in Vietnam
Vietnamese coffee in Vietnam is made of dark roasted Robusta beans with sometimes some Arabica blended in. So in Vietnam there is no Chicory in the traditional coffee. There are some other additives that are often added to the roasting process or to the grounds to change the taste and texture. That’s not the focus of this article though.
During and short after the Vietnam war, a lot of Vietnamese immigrated to the United States. As we all know, people have a hard time giving up their coffee habits and it was no different in this case. However, the traditional Vietnamese coffee wasn’t available in the States at that time. Currently there are more options online but it’s still not ubiquitous.
Since the ‘real’ thing wasn’t available, Vietnamese immigrants looked for an alternative. The closest or best alternative for most of them was Café du monde or French market coffee. Which is a blend of Arabica coffee and Chicory.
It probably also helped that the picture of the French market on the tins of many of that style of coffee, looks like many (French style) market buildings in Vietnam. That last part is just speculation on my part though.
This type of Chicory blend coffee is now understood in the States to be ‘Vietnamese coffee’ since the Vietnamese population has been drinking and selling this type of coffee as such. The taste is actually quite close, which is why it became popular in the first place, but it’s not exactly the same.
The Chicory blend coffee has its roots in New Orleans and has nothing to do with Vietnam originally. Except maybe the fact that current day Vietnam was a French Colony and the market in New Orleans was called the French market. The French were the people to introduce coffee into Vietnam originally so it’s possible that’s where some of the taste similarities come from.
Why Does Vietnamese Coffee Taste Different?
If ‘real’ Vietnamese coffee in Vietnam generally doesn’t contain any chicory, why does it taste different than other coffee? ‘Other’ coffee usually being drip coffee from a machine or poured over by hand.
There are a few reasons why Vietnamese coffee tastes different than normal drip coffee.
- Brewing method
Where most other coffee in the world is largely made up of Arabica beans with maybe a little bit or Robusta blended in. Vietnamese coffee is the other way around. Vietnamese coffee is mostly made up of Robusta beans with sometimes a bit of Arabica blended in. Robusta is the main variety of coffee beans that is grown in Vietnam so that makes sense. Arabica is a minor part of the, pretty large, coffee production of the country.
Also the fact that the beans are grown in Vietnam makes a difference. The bulk of coffee beans in the world comes from Brazil. And besides the fact that Brazil mainly grows Arabica beans, the fact that it’s grown on the other side of the globe also has an effect on the taste.
The roast of Vietnamese coffee beans is also darker than usual. To counteract the less favorable tastes of Robusta beans, Vietnamese coffee roasters can add some other things during the process as well. Butter is probably the most common one because it really smooths out the taste. But other things like cacao, sugar and vanilla are also possible. This obviously is going to have an effect on taste.
And finally the brewing method is different from the usual paper filter. Vietnamese coffee is brewed with a Phin. This is a traditional metal filter. If you want to know more about a Phin, click here to find my article that explains it in detail. Because of this type of filter, the grind is slightly coarser than with a paper filter as well. This has an effect on the extraction and therefore the taste.
Why Is Chicory In Coffee?
Chicory is a plant that has light purple flowers. The flower is sometimes used in salads but has nothing to do with coffee.
The part that’s sometimes used as a coffee substitute is the stem. The stem is tough, almost woody and hairy. To turn the chicory stem into something you can drink, it has to be roasted and ground just like coffee beans.
The taste after it’s roasted is very similar to coffee which is why it’s used in the first place. The taste is often described a little more woody and nutty than actual coffee. It’s often blended with real coffee grounds but it’s also used by itself sometimes.
Most people believe this practice to have started early 19th century France since there was a big coffee shortage. Although it’s likely that the taste was known before that but that the coffee shortage popularized it.
Let’s be honest, coffee is an acquired taste. Caffeine is the biggest reason to start drinking coffee for most people. So for people to just start drinking chicory in large quantities, which doesn’t contain caffeine’ seems unlikely. That is, unless you’re used to drinking coffee and then it suddenly isn’t available.
Then later, during the American Civil War, it became popular once again in New Orleans. The city was having coffee shortages since the Union blocked the ports and so there was no supply. It’s probably no coincidence that the big brands that make Chicory blend coffee are ‘French market’ and Café du monde since the French had experience from years earlier back home.
The biggest reasons chicory is still used today is because it’s cheap, has no caffeine and suitable for people who like the health benefits. Although there is no research that has shown it to be better overall than regular coffee.
Is it healthy?
It’s a natural product that’s roasted just like coffee. Of course there are differences between the two. There are effects both coffee and chicory have on your body that are different, even if it tastes similarly.
- Might help improve gut health
- Caffeine free
- Might decrease inflammation
- Could lower blood sugar
So there are some health benefits to drinking chicory coffee. However, regular coffee has its own health benefits. There are other beverages like green tea that have a lot of these benefits as well. Although green tea obviously doesn’t taste like coffee like chicory does.
On the other hand, there are also people who have allergies to chicory so for those people it’s obviously not healthy to drink.
Favorite Vietnamese Coffee Products
To make Vietnamese coffee you don’t need many things so makes sure the things you use are correct!
Vietnamese Coffee: Get your traditional coffee from Nguyen coffee supply. It’s freshly roasted in the USA so it’s much fresher than imported bags. The used beans are 100% Vietnamese. Here’s a combo pack (Amazon) to see what you like best.
Phin: The only way to brew Vietnamese coffee is with a Phin. This one (amazon link) works well is cheap and reusable.
Scale: Even though a Phin isn’t super picky with weights, to brew and adjust your cups to be consistently delicious, a simple scale helps tremendously. I’ve been using this one (Amazon link) for over a year and while it’s not the most aesthetic, it works well.
Condensed milk: To make the delicious ca phe sua da, you need condensed milk. This one (Amazon link) is organic and works perfectly.