When we think of coffee countries, nations like Brazil, Colombia or perhaps Ethiopia come to mind. And we hardly think of the one that is the second largest exporter in the world: Vietnam.
But how did your market share jump from 0.1% of the global total to 20% in just 30 years and how has this rapid transformation affected the country?
When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the country was devastated and the economic policies copied from the Soviet model were not having any effect. Collectivizing agriculture turned out to be a disaster, so in 1986, the Communist Party reversed it and at the same time made a big bet: coffee, coffee production grew between 20% and 30% annually in the decade of the 90s. The industry now employs around 2.6 million people and the grains grow on half a million small farms, each between two and three acres. This has helped transform the Vietnamese economy. In 1994, around 60% of Vietnamese lived below the poverty line, today they are less than 10%.
Maybe you do not know, but Vietnam is a coffee giant. The question is: if only Brazil surpasses it in production, why does Vietnam consider itself so rarely? Because the Vietnamese coffee industry has been dominated by the Robusta for a long time, which resulted in the small supplies of high-quality Arabica coffee falling into oblivion.
Robusta coffee is more bitter and less aromatic than Arabica coffee and is used very often for instant coffees and low-quality blends. In addition, it constitutes more than 96% of Vietnam’s coffee crops. This makes it an essential source for commercial quality coffee giants such as Nestlé (Nescafé), which own several factories in Vietnam.
What happens then with the production of high-quality coffee? Is it completely ignored?
On the contrary, below the giant that is the Vietnamese Robusta industry, a committed group of coffee professionals is progressing towards an improvement in the quality of Vietnamese Arabica. They are carrying out this work from multiple perspectives with passion and dedication.
One of the companies known as Nestle has processing plants in Vietnam that roast the grain and pack the coffee.
A Better Process, A Better Coffee
In addition, some Vietnamese producers are working to improve their processing methods. Traditionally, the natural/dry processing method has been used in Vietnam. This means harvesting the coffee cherries and drying them with the fruit still attached to the seeds, this method allows to achieve a high-quality coffee, but only if the climate is dry and strict quality control methods are used.
Instant and bitter
Coffee was introduced to Vietnam by France in the 19th century and by 1950 an instant coffee processing plant was already in operation.
And that’s how the Vietnamese consume it. This is partly due to the fact that in countries like the United Kingdom, where more instant is used than espressos, lattes and cappuccinos, about 25% of coffee comes from Vietnam.
High-quality coffee shops mainly buy Arabica coffee.
But in Vietnam, the robust grain is grown, which is stronger.