December 07, 2023
This month’s journey to a coffee origin country, takes us to Vietnam. Located on the eastern edge of southeast Asia, Vietnam is a slim country with a huge impact in the coffee world. Vietnam is an equatorial country with varied climatic regions, however, most of the country’s coffee production is concentrated in the central highlands, a mountainous region in the south of Vietnam. The central highlands are well suited for coffee production as the higher elevation offers cooler temperatures than the rest of the country while still having plenty of rain, sun, forests, and healthy soil.
The production of coffee in the central highlands of Vietnam began in 1857, when French missionaries brought coffee to the country. Coffee production took off in the 1920’s and the output of coffee rapidly increased every decade until cultivation was disrupted by the Vietnam war. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that the Vietnamese coffee industry recovered after the country transitioned through a variety of agricultural reforms. Fast forward to present day, Vietnam is a juggernaut in the coffee industry with production placing them as the second largest coffee producing country in the world.
The country’s enormous production numbers are due to a historical focus on mass production which is bolstered by a focus on robusta coffee production. Most of the coffee consumed in the world today is of the arabica coffee species as it has been deemed more desirable, however, robusta has always had a place in the coffee world. Robusta is a heartier plant making it less vulnerable to negative climate change impacts. Vietnam’s focus on robusta production, making up 97% of the country’s coffee output, has allowed the country to occupy a particular niche of the global coffee industry. When Vietnamese robusta coffee is exported, much of it is processed to be made into instant coffee, a popular product around the world.
Within Vietnam, there is also a distinct coffee consumption culture dating back many years. Across the country, coffee is sold in cafes and by street vendors. Typically, coffee is brewed in single metal cup brewers called phins. After brewing, Vietnamese coffee is oftentimes served with sweetened condensed milk to add some sweetness and balance the coffee’s flavor.
At Westrock, we work with Vietnamese coffee farmers through our traceability program Farmer Direct Verified (FDV), tracking coffee through the value chain so we know who we are working with, directly and indirectly, before the coffee reaches our roasting facilities.
Though Vietnam grows both arabica and robusta, they are most known for their robusta production. Because of its prevalence, Vietnam robusta has found its place as a cheaper, hearty blend component. In fact, it is one of the more well-known flavors some people from older generations have come to expect to taste when it comes to their morning coffee. Robusta is often used for the punch and power it brings to the cup, having double the caffeine content as arabica and a flavor profile that cuts through because of its intensity, even in small quantities. At Westrock, our flavor experts look for a classic full-bodied, nuttiness when they’re working with Vietnam robusta that helps bring together some of our blends that hearken back to the nostalgia of days gone by.
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