When thinking about the world coffee market, one would probably think of countries such as Brazil, Columbia, and Ethiopia, but according to the latest WTO (World Trade Organization) numbers, Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee exporter today.
Vietnam produced around 1.65 million tons of coffee beans in 2015-2016, trailing only Brazil. A majority of coffee chains and shops in the United States buy Arabica coffee beans, whereas Vietnam’s climate is perfect for producing the Robusta bean. Arabica beans contain between 1-1.5% caffeine compared to Robusta’s concentration of between 1.6 and 2.7%, creating a darker, nuttier, and more bitter taste.
Ironically, tea was the traditional beverage of choice for many Vietnamese people. It was not until the arrival of French colonists in the mid 1800s that café culture bloomed and enjoying a cup of coffee became a daily Vietnamese routine. This coffee culture has been carried over by many Vietnamese Americans, immigrants, and diaspora in America.
The unique aroma of roasted Robusta beans, the metallic slow drip phin filter, a generous layer of condensed milk at the bottom of the cup, and high caffeine content found in Vietnamese ice coffee, or commonly refer to as cà phê sữa đá among Vietnamese communities, has risen to mainstream popularity. From national coffee chains such as Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee, to every local Vietnamese restaurant, Vietnamese ice coffee is widely known and available.
Vietnamese craft coffee roasters have sprung up in many cities in the United States, from Philadelphia, Portland, Austin, to the coffee center of Seattle, mostly owned and operated by first-and second-generation immigrants and Vietnamese Americans.
In an interview conducted by the Courier Post with Thu Pham, a Philadelphia small business owner and co-founder of Càphê Roasters stated, “it became this beautiful community of Vietnamese entrepreneurs wanting to create a Vietnamese coffee business.” This seems to be only the beginning of a wave of Vietnamese roasters in America, joined with a shared ancestral lineage and mission to bring visibility, representation, and value to crops grown by Vietnamese farmers to everyday Americans, one cup at a time.
Thuy Nguyen is a research intern at the East West Center in Washington. She holds a Master’s degree in Diplomacy and Military Studies from Hawaii Pacific University, and is based in Honolulu, Hawaii.