In 1857, French colonists introduced the first Coffea Arabica plants in the mountainous region within the Annamite range – in the central province of Lam Dong. The first Robusta plants arrived from Java in the early 1900s and later from the Central African Republic in 1955. The plants adapted to the favourable conditions in the South, especially in the Dak Lak province. However, Vietnam´s development as a coffee producing nation is a very recent one; one of the youngest and most astonishing phenomena.
The liberalization in 1986 (Doi Moi), were among the first reforms which contributed towards production by incentivizing investment in the coffee sector, which provided for the transfer of farming lands in the government´s possession to private farmers. This was a first step towards a market economy and the main cause behind large-scale migration from peripheral areas to the centre of the country – particularly apt for the cultivation of Robusta. This variety is highly resistant and easy to cultivate by the inexperienced Vietnamese farmers.
The 90s saw a real boom in coffee production for Vietnam following further liberalization by the State and the end of the thirty-year embargo by the US in 1994. These years gave rise to big chains such as Trung Nguyên (1996) and Highlands Coffee (1998), in addition to numerous coffee processing and instant coffee – very popular in South East Asia – production plants.
Vietnam´s position strengthened significantly within the space of a few years, soon becoming the second largest producer in the world after Brazil and the leading producer of Robusta. These results were thanks to a policy of intense farming of the land and a yield of up to three tonnes per hectare.
The effects were soon felt in the international market and the overproduction of coffee triggered a collapse in prices in 2001, falling to below 500$ per ton. Vietnam saw itself forced to set aside coffee reserves to sustain the price levels, which from 2004 began to rise again as the price crisis quickly curbed production forcing the farmers to abandon the plantations in search of more lucrative activity.
Nowadays, Vietnam continues to boast its position as the leading Coffea robusta producer with 18 million bags – its cultivation still revolves around the country´s central regions. Furthermore, in recent years, with the help of targeted projects and international financing, particularly form the French Development Agency, it has been directing its efforts to improving the quality and growth of production of Arabica. The latter currently represents little more than 5% of total production.
CA PHE DA
To prepare this typical cold Vietnamese coffee you need a ca phe phin, a filter that is set directly on the glass the coffee will be served in. Place three spoonfuls of dark roasted coffee (French roast), finely ground, in the filter and seal tightly. Position the appropriate water container above it and place directly above a glass with a few ice cubes. Pour a little boiling water to moisten the ground coffee inside and fill the entire contained with boiling water and cover. The coffee will slowly drip into the glass (approximately four minutes), and then is ready to be sipped. A very common variant is ca phe sua da in which concentrated milk is added alongside the ice.