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History of Vietnamese Coffee

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Vietnamese coffee gets its unique deep, rich flavour from:
• A colourful history of coffee farming since the 1800s and discerning connoisseurs
• Heirloom coffee varieties that deliver more original, broader coffee flavours
• Multi-species and multi-source bean blending for broader, richer taste
• Unique climate and microclimates for growing the widest variety of coffees in the
world. Each combination of coffee cultivar, soil type, farm elevation and weather
region provides uniquely different coffee with subtle textural differences on the
• Lower-temperature brewing allows for longer roasting for a deep, rich and dark colour
without burning
• Unique brewing and serving methods such as the Phin filter and the French Press –
Vietnamese coffee works well in drip brewers with cone filters and percolators also

Vietnam and Southeast Asia have a fascinating topography. The location of the
mountainous regions traverse the area in roughly the same direction as the prevailing
winds. There are north-facing slopes that are entirely different in climate than south-facing
slopes, and wide regions with altitudes that are right for different species of coffee.
Because of this, almost any species of coffee can be grown in what would be considered its
ideal, or “native” climate, up to about 3600 feet in altitude.
The Vietnamese coffee landscape is home to half-a-dozen unique species and varieties,
among them Arabica (and an “indigenous” Sparrow, or Se Arabica), Robusta, Excelsa
(sometimes called Chari), Liberica, Catimor, Culi and others.

First, the topography of the Annamite Plateau is very complex and creates regional
microclimates, which were observed over a hundred years ago and exploited for maximum
diversity of bean species and varieties.
There are two basic approaches to coffee — single origin and multi-origin blends. In
Southeast Asia, with such diversity of beans available, a multi-origin, blended coffee
approach seems natural. Blending bean species and varieties is inherently superior in
achieving a broad flavour range, persistence of aftertaste, sophisticated nose, ice coffee
performance, and overall mouthfeel and sense of satisfaction for the palate.
The move in South America and other coffee-producing regions to single-source, 100%
Arabica in the last decade has narrowed the flavour range and appeal of modern coffee to
only those consumers with palates who prefer hybrid Arabicas. Trung Nguyen’s public taste
tests indicate that 70% of consumers respond better to mixed-species blends of coffee, and
tastes run about equal for preference or Robusta versus Arabica. Vietnamese blended
coffee thus has a wider appeal among the general populace than single-source, 100%
Arabicas. Comments among consumers are often along the lines of “This is how coffee used
to taste!” and “I didn’t know coffee could taste like this!”
Secondly, roasting preferences establish decades ago favoured a lower-temperature,
longer roasting process. The dark “French” roast that we refer to today probably originated
not as a high-temperature roast, but a slow and long roast that results in beans that have
consistent colour through the whole bean, and a dark colour but no bubbling or burning.
This distinction is VERY important, since many Westerners today associate French roast
with the all-too-common burning of coffee that takes place at certain coffee house chains.
Burning coffee results in the breakdown of sugars and oils and fast oxidation and
fermenting of coffee once exposed to the air. These drawbacks do not occur in the
Southeast Asian dark roast, which is more stable.
Thirdly, beans are generally roasted in what is referred to as “butter oil”, which may or may
not be actual clarified butter oil. Occasionally vegetable oils are used, and historically,
traditional “home-grown” coffee roasting style involves creating almost a caramel-like
coating effect with the use of a small amount of sugar, oil, and generally a touch of vanilla
or cocoa.

The Vietnamese coffee brewing method, also popular in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and
other regions, is a low-tech brewing style using a simple metal filter called a Phin (most
likely originated in Cambodia in the 1800’s) that is essentially a single-serving brewer and
filter (just add hot water!).
In Vietnam, coffee is not consumed on the run. People sit in cafes or at home and brew the
coffee at their table leisurely in single servings. The Phin filter also works beautifully for
making a tall glass of iced coffee. The blend and roast profile is designed for a coffee that is
to be served with condensed milk, which is the Vietnamese tradition, providing the most
delightfully flavourful sensory experience in your mouth.
The proper grind for the Phin filter brewing happens to be similar to what is needed in
a French Press. The French, or Coffee Press, typically brews 3-6 cups of coffee and results in
a slightly different taste from the Phin filter, but captures the essence of the coffee better
than an electric drip brewer.
Electric drip brewers can do a good job with Vietnamese coffee simply by cutting back
slightly on the amount of the grinds and using a cone-shaped filter, preferably. The
resulting taste is nowhere near as intense as the Phin or Coffee Press, but still creates a
superior coffee brew.

Trung Nguyen Vietnamese Coffee, A Journey of Distinction.

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