Saigon, Lam Dong, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Kon Tum - what feels like a random assortment of letters was the travel itinerary of our sourcing team visiting Vietnam. Equipped with nothing more than clothes, a camera, and wallet they traveled from Saigon up to Kon Tum by motorbike. For those of you who never got the chance to travel to Vietnam, the driving distance between Saigon and Kon Tum is roughly 18 hours. Today, we will share some of the stories we experienced during this three-week adventure.
Appreciating Quality Coffee
Arriving in Saigon we met with some local coffee lovers and professionals, exchanging thoughts about the global coffee industry and the Vietnamese coffee landscape. It quickly became apparent that Vietnam is in the midst of an immense change. Said to be the producer of mostly cheap and low-quality robusta the country is changing its appreciation for coffee, both in domestic consumption and at the farm level.
Speaking about coffee-growing countries, Vietnam might not strike you like the first one to mention. It is, however, the second-biggest producer of coffee globally. How come we rarely hear about Vietnamese coffee? Germany is its biggest importer (even our German team member was quite surprised) and processes it through big industrial roasters, which sell the beans to major hospitality and F&B chains like McDonald's, KFC, and Dunkin Donuts to only mention a few. Vietnamese coffee is rarely presented as such to the consumer, taking away the attention it deserves. Judged upon by the industry but enjoyed by the masses.
Vietnam realized that one way of increasing the image and price for coffee is to plant more varieties and increase quality. In one of our previous blog posts, we talked about robusta and how it fulfills certain characteristics that arabica will simply not satisfy. That being said, coffee farmers in Vietnam are becoming more confident in trying out new processing methods and growing techniques.
Vietnam's Coffee Capital
Our first stop was Lam Dong, Da Lat which is said to be the coffee capital of Vietnam. Although it is not number one in terms of production quantity the growing region of Lam Dong is leading the national quality movement. Geographically it is the highest growing region, enabling the farmers to grow arabica and experiment with fine robusta.
Prior arrival we were told that one day in Da Lat has all four seasons. At first, we thought it might be a saying or a misunderstanding until we woke up to a freezing 6 degrees. After having breakfast and driving towards the first farm the sun started to come out and the air was crisp clear. By noon we were all sweating and had to take off three of our five layers of clothing. Starting late afternoon the weather turned into autumn and the only thing missing were falling leaves.
It was a unique experience for every one of us and Da Lat was definitely the most beautiful region we got to experience.
Lastly, this special climate benefits the coffee plants, which are usually not exposed to any extremes for too long, preventing longer drought periods or lack of sun.
In Da Lat, we met amazing people, who shared our love and passion for high-quality green coffee beans. Most of them, however, also shared the same issues with their peers. Increasing prices through better quality is only effective if everyone is on board. If a hand full of farmers decide to strive for higher quality, but the remaining community is not following their lead, prices will stay the same overall and the additional efforts stay fruitless. There are, however, initiatives that are working on changing the mindset of everyone involved. One of them is La Viet Coffee. Their store is not only a coffee shop, but also a processing facility, education center, and cupping lab. Visitors can join them on a trip to the farm, learn how to process, roast, and brew the black gold.
Another company that follows this holistic approach is The Married Beans. They recently launched the “Inspiration Bar”, where they host events and bring together the local community and foreign coffee adventurers. We learned a lot about the domestic coffee landscape and its history. If you ever get the chance to visit Vietnam, we can truly recommend spending some time in Da Lat, Lam Dong.
Leaving Lam Dong, we headed towards Dak Nong and Dak Lak. Stay tuned for part two of our trip, when we meet the biggest coffee cooperatives in Vietnam and get to hear their stories. In the meantime, we will crack an egg on top of our Vietnamese Drip and enjoy some Caphé.
Harvest season is approaching rapidly and we are excited to show you our Vietnamese coffees at the beginning of November 2019!