Although Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee in the world, coffee from Vietnam rarely gets much attention. This is partially due to the fact that most of the coffee coming out of Vietnam is Robusta (a coffee species generally considered inferior to Arabica). Also, until recently, there has been little incentive to put quality over quantity for exported Vietnamese coffee. Despite it’s marginalized status as an origin, Vietnamese coffee has an interesting history and it’s own unique manual brewing method (the Phin).
To learn more about coffee from Vietnam, I interviewed Harvey Tong, founder of Phin Coffee Club. Besides his passion for spreading the word about Vietnamese coffee, Harvey’s credentials include: growing up on a coffee farm in Vietnam, having ties to his family run Vietnamese Phin factory and writing his senior thesis on the history of Vietnam economic development through the coffee industry.
Who better to talk about coffee from Vietnam than Harvey?
I found Harvey’s insights to be fascinating, opening up the door to a coffee origin I have not explored much. Below is an overview of the history of coffee in Vietnam, including some discussion on traditional Robusta coffee processing and roasting. Here is a follow up post about brewing with the Phin and Vietnamese iced coffee.
Tomorrow is November 11, 2015, which marks the one year anniversary of my very first blog post “Getting Started- Drip Brewing 101.” In honor of this milestone, I thought it would be an appropriate time to write a bit about what a year of writing about coffee has brought about.
A summary of the year by the numbers:
3 Things I Learned from a Year of Writing about Coffee
The Best Way to Learn Something Is to Teach it
I have heard the old adage, “The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else” countless times in my life. However, I have never been as acutely aware of it’s impact until I tried to explain a few coffee concepts on the blog.
For me, the most obvious example of this would have to be three articles I wrote in succession at the beginning of the year (Green Coffee Explained, Coffee Origins- How Geography Relates to Taste and Understanding and Selecting a Great Roasted Coffee). My goal was to write a brief article about each subject as a resource I could point people towards as well as a building block for future discussions.
The country and region a coffee originates from is often the most defining characteristic by which a roasted specialty coffee is labeled. Specialty coffees that are not a blend (called single origin) often distinguish themselves by the country they are from and a regional or trade name to specify where in that country the coffee was grown. Most of the time a roaster will put a few flavor descriptors about the coffee profile.
Side Note: If your coffee is solely described as being “Pure Arabica beans,” you can usually translate this to mean “At least we didn’t use robusta.” It may be time to switch it up.
Defining a coffee by an origin country is helpful because you can get a basic sense of what to expect. While there are definitely broad distinctions that can be made by coffee growing regions, there is so much variation and other variables that impact flavor (read about coffee processing). Geographic coffee flavor profiles don’t really fit into neat little boxes. A coffee taster should certainly be able to pick out the distinctive flavors of a Sumatra coffee in a field of Central American coffees, but may not be able to single out a Mexican Chiapas from a field of Guatemalan Huehuetenangos (I certainly could not).
Because altitude, varietal, processing and origin all play an important role in coffee flavor development, you will find many differences in coffees grown in the same section of the world. There can even be some dramatic flavor swings year to year at the same farms. Keeping that in mind, I don’t recommend ever writing off a particular region of the coffee world. You should should always be willing to mix it up and try new coffees. You never know when one might surprise and delight you.
Here are some coffee regions of the world and some general flavor profiles you can expect to find with in them.