Even though Vietnam is the world’s second-largest exporter of coffee behind Brazil, the high quality and unique characteristics of its finest beans are not as well known to Americans compared to other coffee regions.
Part of the reason is certainly due to the country’s decades-long war. And foreign investment is a recent phenomenon, as Vietnam did not possess a stock market until the early 21st Century.
But another reason is what we call the Myth of Arabica.
Most of us have been led to believe that Arabica is the only good coffee bean and that Robusta, the primary coffee crop in Vietnam, is inferior. However, Coffee Quality Institue and Uganda Coffee Development Authority assert that:
Much of Robusta’s poor market reputation is as the result of correctable defects in cultivation and processing rather than qualities inherent to the species.
Moreover, the characteristics of Robusta species is so robust that it can be grown untended which allows farmers the equivalent of a passive income in the past, hence the quality was very low.
In addition to low quality production, Vietnam’s coffee beans were grown primarily for local consumption and the traditional Vietnam coffee drinker likes dark, very strong, and heavily sweetened coffee that does not require the best practices to produce.
As a result, most farmers did not have incentives to produce better coffee. But that has changed dramatically as the Vietnamese government has embraced the development of high-quality coffee exports to the world market. As local coffee producers and roasters engage in external markets, they are improving their practices to provide better coffee so they may earn more for their families.