Coffee production has been a major source of income for Vietnam since the early 20th century. First introduced by the French in 1857, the Vietnamese coffee industry developed through the plantation system, becoming a major economic force in the country.
After an interruption during and immediately following the Vietnam War, production rose once again after Đổi mới economic reforms, reaching 900,000 tons per year in 2000. In 2009, Reuters reported Vietnamese coffee exports at "an estimated 1.13 million tonnes" for the previous year, stating that coffee was second only to rice in value of agricultural products exported from Vietnam.
Coffee was introduced to Vietnam in 1857 by the French and slowly grew as producer of coffee in Asia. The height of coffee production occurred in the early 20th century as small scale production shifted towards plantations. The first instant coffee plant, Coronel Coffee Plant, was established in Biên Hòa, Đồng Nai Province in 1969, with a production capacity of 80 tons per year.
The Vietnam War disrupted production of coffee in the Buôn Ma Thuột region, the plateau on which the industry was centered. Although seldom involved in conflict, the area was a crossroads between North and South and was largely depopulated. After the North Vietnamese victory the industry, like most agriculture, was collectivized, limiting private enterprise and resulting in low production.
Following Đoi moi reforms in 1986, privately-owned enterprise was once again permitted, resulting in a surge of growth in the industry. Cooperation between growers, producers and government resulted in branding finished coffees and exporting products for retail. It was during this time that many new companies involved in coffee production were established, including Đắk Lắk-based Trung Nguyên in 1996 and Highlands Coffee in 1998. Both of these continued on to establish major brands distributed through a widespread network of coffee shops. By the late 1990s, Vietnam had become the world's #2 coffee producer after Brazil, but production was largely focused on poor-quality Robusta beans—considered inferior to Arabica due to their bitterness—for export as a commodity. Recent government initiatives have sought to improve the quality of coffee exports, including more widespread planting of Arabica beans, the development of mixed-bean coffees, and specialty coffee such as kopi luwak (Vietnamese: cà phê chồn, "weasel coffee").
By 2000, coffee production had grown to 900,000 tons per year. Price decreases, however, led annual production to drop to around 600,000 tons/year in 2003. In 2009, Reuters reported Vietnamese coffee exports at "an estimated 1.13 million tonnes" for the previous year, stating that coffee was second only to rice in value of agro-products exported from Vietnam.
Most coffee producers are local and state owned, such as Trung Nguyen Coffee Company Ltd., Hung Phat Company Ltd., Tam Chau Tea and Coffee Company Ltd., Viet Pacific Co. Ltd. known as Vietcoffee, and Vinacafe (Vietnam National Coffee Corporation). Highlands Coffee, a privately owned producer, was the first private company in Vietnam ever registered to an Overseas Vietnamese. A number of international players, such as Nestlé, have been established in Vietnam following economic liberalization in the 1990s.
Vietnam is the second largest producer after Brazil, accounting for 14.3 per cent of the world market share. The quality of the beans, however, has typically limited their marketability. Robusta coffee accounts for 97 per cent of Vietnam's total output, with 1.17 million tonnes exported in 2009, a value of USD 1.7 billion. Arabica production is expected to rise owing to the expansion of growing areas. Other types of coffee grown in Vietnam include Chari (Excelsa) and Catimor.
Vietnamese (Buôn Ma Thuột region) style coffee has characteristics that distinguish it from other coffees and brewing methods:
1. The growing regions of the Buôn Ma Thuột have been classified into micro-climates by European scientists contracted by private industry. In these different regions, several varieties of coffee are grown, including Arabica, Robusta, Chari (Excelsa), Catimor, and some indigenous varieties of Arabica such as the Arabica SE. Vietnamese coffee producers blend multiple varieties of beans for different flavor characteristics and balance.
2. Typically the coffee is prepared in single servings in single-cup filter/brewers known as phin. Generally the coffee is served tableside while it is still brewing. The use of sweetened condensed milk rather than fresh milk was first due to its availability and easier storage in a tropical climate. The condensed milk serves to sweeten the coffee as well. Long practice has led to this being the taste preference in the Vietnamese community.
3. The coffee may be brewed onto ice for cafe da, or when had with condensed milk cafe sua da.
Availability in other countries
In the USA, Vietnamese-style coffee is sometimes confused with that brewed in Louisiana with French roast coffee with chicory. Vietnamese immigrants who came to the state in the late 20th century adopted New Orleans-style coffee because they were unable to get Vietnamese-grown coffee. The French roast style popular in Louisiana was similar to Vietnamese coffee in its relatively coarse grind; therefore it made an excellent substitute for traditional brewing in the single-serving filter/brewer. In Vietnam, however, locally produced coffees are characterized by medium roast and seldom contain chicory.