While in Vietnam, you will frequently hear that Vietnam is the #1 coffee producer in the world. This is a bit misleading. Vietnam is actually the second largest coffee-producing country in the world after Brazil, but they export more Robusta beans than any other country. Brazil exports more Arabica beans. All of this came as a surprise to me, as I had never thought of Vietnam as a “coffee country.” Being from North America, when I think “coffee”, I think of Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, etc. But in Vietnam, the coffee industry employs more than two million people and has helped Vietnamese people rise out of poverty. The central highlands, where I did my motorcycle tour, is the coffee capital of Vietnam because the majority of the plants are grown in this region.
Regular Vietnamese coffee is strong and smooth. You can order it with condensed milk, yogurt, or even whipped egg whites (“egg coffee”). But the most exotic and expensive Vietnamese coffee comes out of the butt of a rodent. That’s right… a weasel-like animal called a civet eats the coffee beans, digests the outer shell of the bean, and then shits out the rest of the bean intact. The beans are then harvested from the poop and served for at least $30 in Vietnam. Other places in the world that import these beans charge upwards of $100 a cup. It is supposedly very rich, aromatic, and chocolatey.
I did not try this “kopi luwak” (civet coffee) because it is incredibly unethical. The poor civets are kept in small cages and force-fed coffee beans until they eventually die. In Da Lat, during our Easy Rider tour, we went to a rice wine factory where they also produced these coffee beans and we saw civets in cages. It is a very sad existence. If you go to Vietnam and care about animals, do not try the Kopi Luwak or “weasel coffee” as you’ll be supporting this industry. Just drink regular Vietnamese coffee… it’s really good!
Although most Vietnamese still traditionally drink tea, the coffee culture is growing quickly. This is evidenced by the massive amounts of coffee shops in the cities. Within one city block in Ho Chi Minh, I passed eight coffee shops! In smaller, less touristy towns, coffee shops are labeled “ca phe” but in tourist towns, the shops look like they could be sitting along the streets of the good old US of A.