Coffee was first introduced to Vietnam in the 19th century, when French colonists began cultivation of Arabica as cash crops in Nghe An, Quang Binh, and Lam Dong province.
However, it was not until 1920s when the French began planting Robusta in the highlands of Dak Lak province that coffee became the the major economic contributor in Vietnam.
Robusta coffee grown in the highlands of Dak Lak. Credit: DXLINH.
This growth was disrupted by the Vietnam War and the subsequent prohibitions on private land ownership by the Vietnam’s Communist government which lasted until the 1986 economic reforms.
This reform coupled with sponsorship of Robusta seedlings to farmers catapulted Vietnam into the second largest coffee producer in the world it is today, producing about 1.73 million tons a year.
Coffee Production in Vietnam
About 95% of coffee plantations in Vietnam are Robusta and are usually exported in the form of cherries and processed elsewhere. Overall, Vietnam contributes over 40% of the world’s Robusta production.
Majority of coffee produced in Vietnam is of the commercial grade. Credit: Marco Verch
Most coffee producers in Vietnam are private owners of large plantations. The main focus is mainly on commercial grade coffee — producing large amounts of coffee for export within the shortest amount of time.
Fortunately, there are signs of increasing interest in craft coffee in the recent years, with more farmers switching to Arabica plantation in pursuit of higher quality and better price for their coffee.
Most Arabica beans from Vietnam are grown in the Lam Dong province of Central Highlands.
Lam Dong province is known for its red basalt soil, high terrains, and temperate climate — the perfect conditions for growing high quality coffee. Credit: kangotraveler
As Vietnam’s Arabica are mainly of the Catimor variety, it carries the stigma of the variety’s notorious cup profile – dry, woody with astringent aftertaste.
However, this perception is starting to change with better understanding of the complex factors involved in the development of coffee flavor.
Improved cultivation and processing methods have produced better batches of Catimors in the recent years.