It's not just coffee.
One of the reasons I love Vietnam is because they love what I love: coffee. Within 2 years I made 6 trips to Vietnam. I'm not sure what you think about that. As for me, an office employee, that's a record. Over all those 6 trips, I'm now summarizing my coffee experience in Vietnam, and share it with you all.
You can savor good coffee everywhere in Vietnam from North to South. But, if you want to learn about coffee itself, I strongly suggest you come to Buon Ma Thout. I was lucky to come to Buon Ma Thout with a guide who spoke fluent English and had all the details in his hands. Tin, our guide, explained to us that there's no finished product of one hundred percent Robusta Coffee, or Arabica Coffee, or such. There's always a mixture between the three types (Arabica, Robusta, Mocha) in the final product. When it's called Robusta Coffee, then it means that the ingredient of Robusta Coffee is dominant, and so on. Moreover, the finished product's ingredients are not solely coffee. Fish sauce, butter, and rhum, are mixed together.
We bragged to Tin that in our country we have another type of coffee. We tried to explain slowly and carefully on mentioning the origin of the coffee we meant. Nevertheless, Tin and Mr. Vu, our driver, showed the least sign of shock.
"You mean weasel coffee, don't you?" asked Tin.
"Y...ess... You have that also?"
"Sure we do!" Tin and Mr. Vu replied almost at the same time.
"It comes from the droppings of weasel?" We just wanted to make sure.
And ... here it is! You can buy a big sag of a weasel's droppings if you like... I wonder what would it taste like if blended with fish sauce, butter, and rhum?
Let's thing of something more beautiful.
It's a coffee tree's flower. Notice also the dark red brownish line along the leaf's veins and all around the tip.
Here's the coffee tree. It's a Robusta.
The story goes from left to right. Number 1 are the young coffee beans. When they get ripe, they will turn red like number 2.
When they've turned red, people will put a large plastic mat under the coffee tree. And then they'll rip off the coffee branches with their hand so that the coffee beans will fall to the ground.
Next step, the beans are peeled and will look like the bean number 3. The coffee beans will be left on the ground under the sun to dry up. it's like getting tanned. Above is the example.
A coffee bean has 2 layers of skin. Bean number 3 has been peeled off from the first layer of skin. Bean number 4 has its second layer of skin peeled a bit on the left side. You see that? Number 5 is the second layer of skin. When the second layer of skin has been peeled off, it would look like bean number 6.
So after the first tan, the coffee beans would be peeled off from the second layer of skin, and tanned once again.
Here's a picture of a woman drying coffee beans in Da Lat.
The next part of the story must be the secret part. As mentioned before, the coffee beans are mixed with fish sauce, butter, and rhum. But how? I wasn't told about that.
The box on the left side is example of ground coffee product. The one of the right is my favorite. Highly recommended.
I sometimes think that drinking coffee in Vietnam is somewhat like the ceremony of drinking tea in Japan, but informal. Look at this! First, condensed milk is poured into the cup (number 4). Lift up the lid (number 1), there's where the ground coffee is poured into (number 2). The bottom serves as a strainer. Below is another strainer (number 3). As you pour water through the top strainer (number 2), the coffee juice will drip gradually into the drinking cup below (number 4).
Sometimes the coffee glass is placed in a small bowl of water to reduce the heat and make you able to hold the glass.
There are several varieties of this cup strainer. But the basic is all the same. Trust me, drinking Vietnamese ground coffee with this strainer or not, does matter!
Some Vietnamese love their coffee hot, but a dozen love them cold. So if you want your coffee cold, once all the water has drained through the strainer, you can pour the coffee into a glass filled with ice cubes. In Vietnam, ice coffee is often served in a tall transparent glass. I like the feeling watching the thin brown lines circle around the ice cubes as I stir my glass.
That was the most authentic coffee drink of Vietnam. Besides that, Vietnam has a number of ways in serving coffee. One of my most memorable coffee drink in Vietnam is this:
It's called "Blue Coffee": coffee mixed with kahlua, from "Blue Butterfly Restaurant" in the Old Quarter area, Hanoi. The taste is as thick as the ones using strainers. I suspect this one has also went through that straining process.
If you come to Ho Chi Minh City a.k.a. Saigon, you can go to Ben Thanh Market and find lots of coffee vendors who sells all types of coffee available in Vietnam. I've been told that the market is run under a communist system. Therefore, all vendors must sell on the same price. When I asked why the prices of coffee beans differed, the vendor answered that the prices differed because of the quality is different. The more expensive, the better the quality. I haven't proofed that yet. But in the case of packaged coffee, I've checked several vendors. All of them did sell for the same price.
Speaking of quality, if you happen to see packages of coffee with big numbers on it ranging from 1 to 5, those numbers indicate the quality. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of it, but you can check it out here. The greater the number, the greater the quality, the higher the price. Regarding to this, the vendor's explanation in Ben Thanh Market about the difference of the prices seems to make sense.
Coffee in Vietnam is not just coffee.