What type of beans is grown in Vietnam and what type of beans is used for Vietnamese Coffee? And why is that the case? Here’s what you want to know?
Most coffee grown in Vietnam is the Robusta type because of historical and geographical reasons. Because of local availability and price, the local coffee is largely Robusta although more and more producers blend Arabica in their coffee to improve the taste.
Below are a ton of details like the history and current coffee situation in Vietnam that are probably interesting to you.
What is ‘Vietnamese coffee’?
When you say ‘Vietnamese coffee’ you can mean different things. Let’s clear up the confusion and outline what this post is talking about.
With Vietnamese coffee, you can mean the following things;
While all those things are clearly related, they are not quite the same thing. So let’s take a look at the question stated in the title in two different ways;
And then I’ll tie it together by talking about the effect on the taste of coffee in Vietnam.
Beans growing in Vietnam
Are coffee beans growing in Vietnam the Robusta type? Yes, most of the beans growing in Vietnam are the Robusta variety.
There are two main types of coffee beans that are popular in the world; Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is by far the preferred type in most places in the world. Robusta is usually seen as a low-quality, cheap bean that’s used to round out blends and frankly, filler. But why is that?
When the French were the colonial power in what is now Vietnam, they didn’t leave their coffee habits behind in France. In an effort to make coffee a bit more available and affordable in that part of the world, they started growing coffee in suitable places. Which is largely the central highlands in current-day Vietnam.
However, even though they tried growing Arabica, those coffee trees are a bit finicky. They’re harder to take care of and keep alive. Because of the local situation, they didn’t survive too long and/or bear fruit.
Robusta plants are quite a bit sturdier; they survive in areas and situations where Arabica won’t. They also grow at lower altitudes which means you can grow them over a larger area. Which means you can create more.
So growing Robusta was the natural thing to do. It’s not because they are naturally growing in Vietnam.
In the last few years, Arabica has become much more commonly grown in Vietnam. Many of the previous problems have been fixed with stronger breeds of coffee plants and modern agricultural techniques. And since Arabica is the preferred bean and commands a higher price on the world (and local) markets, farmers who can make the change often do.
Vietnamese coffee blends
Robusta isn’t as highly regarded as Arabica since the taste profile just doesn’t taste as good. So what kind of effect does this have on the coffee blends you get in Vietnam.
It all comes down to price versus taste. While there are different qualities and therefore prices of both Robusta and Arabica beans, in general, Robusta will be cheaper. Since consumers in Vietnam are very price sensitive, that will skew the blends towards Robusta automatically. A blend with more Robusta will be cheaper to produce.
However, with a growing economy customers are quickly becoming more discerning. That means that there are more and more coffee blends available that have more Arabica.
That said; most average coffee blends still have more Robusta beans than Arabica. But, it’s usually a blend. 100% Robusta bags of coffee aren’t too common, especially in the supermarket. Now if you go to a cheap streetside coffee shop where your cup is very cheap, chances are you get 100% Robusta.
The fact that blends are skewed towards Robusta also has to do with the fact that people are used to the taste. It’s what people have come to know and love and it’s what they expect when sitting down next to the street. Also, often the taste gets covered up by condensed milk so the more subtle notes don’t really matter.
Also, coffee roasters have found out how to add things during the roasting process to make Robusta taste better.
That takes us to the final point;
Effect on taste
What’s the effect of the bean choice in Vietnam on the taste of the local coffee?
The fact that most people that have drunk Vietnamese coffee think it has a very distinctive taste and a large percentage of people actually really like the taste.
So we can clearly see that it does have a pretty big effect on the taste of the final product.
Vietnamese coffee has a bold and strong taste that will stay with you for a while. The Robusta beans have a big impact on that final result. It does so in a bit of a roundabout way, however.
Robusta is often described with adjectives that aren’t necessarily positive. So why do Vietnamese still drink so much Robusta? There are three main reasons;
The first reason is the simplest. Vietnamese people are used to the taste of Vietnamese Robusta coffee. If you’ve been drinking or eating something your whole life, you learn to like it. There are local dishes everywhere in the world that people who aren’t used to it might not really like.
However, many other people also like it, so how is that possible?
The most important reason is that the taste of the beans is really influenced by the roasting process. If you just roast Robusta beans without anything added, the bad side of the taste will really come through.
That’s why Vietnamese roasters add a lot of extras during the roasting. Common tastes to add are butter, cacao, and vanilla. These things smooth out the negative notes and deepen the other parts of the taste. This is the biggest thing that turns Vietnamese coffee into something special. The Robusta beans are the cause of that taste but not all of that taste comes directly from there.
The final reason is that often the taste is covered up with sugar or condensed milk. This takes the edge of the strongest tastes of the Robusta and turns it into a kind of coffee milkshake.
Robusta is also much higher in caffeine than Arabica beans. This has a small impact on the taste since caffeine is bitter but also has a massive impact on how hard Vietnamese coffee hits you. Read more about the strength of Phin coffee here.
Is Robusta coffee only grown in Vietnam? No, Robusta grows in many places on earth. However, most countries produce more Arabica than Robusta. Vietnam mainly produces Robusta which is why the country is known for this type of bean.
Does Vietnam only grow Robusta coffee? The main coffee type grown in Vietnam is Robusta because historically this was the easiest to grow. However, in recent years Arabica is grown more and more in Vietnam as well.
Favorite Vietnamese Coffee Products
To make Vietnamese coffee you don’t need many things so make 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.