The Asahi Shimbun

Most people know the world's top coffee grower is Brazil, but few would be able to name the second-largest coffee-growing nation. The answer is Vietnam, and the reason for its lack of prominence as a producer of the dark, aromatic beans is that the coffee it grows has tended to be used for less glamorous areas of the market, such as instant coffee granules and canned drinks. But all that is set to change, with Vietnamese coffee finally gaining the recognition it deserves thanks to the unique way in which it is served and the ongoing craze in Japan for all things Asian. Customers ordering a Vietnamese coffee get a cup containing condensed milk 1 centimeter deep. An aluminum filter containing coffee granules is placed on top of the cup so that when the customer pours hot water into it, the coffee drips into the cup. The liquids create two layers in the cup: a top layer of bitter coffee and a bottom layer of persistently sweet condensed milk. The marriage of the two opposite flavors creates a smooth, rich, irresistible taste. Trung Nguyen Coffee Co., which operates about 420 cafes in Vietnam, will open an outlet in Roppongi-its first shop in Japan-toward the end of this month. Daitsu Inc., Trung Nguyen's sales agent in Japan, plans to open two more outlets this year. Daitsu President Toshihiko Mizuno initially specialized in construction, but the course of his life changed following an encounter with Vietnamese coffee during a visit to the country seven years ago. ``At first (the coffee) looked strange. But once I tasted it, I fell head over heels in love with the rich flavor, the sweetness and the aroma,'' Mizuno recalls. Four years ago, he began offering Vietnamese coffee beans over the Internet through catalog sales. They proved such a hit with Japanese consumers that his clientele grew to 500. A Vietnamese coffee fair he held at a friend's store in Tokyo last year was also highly successful, convincing the company president that a coffee shop specializing in the exotic drink was a viable proposition. He plans to offer nine different types of coffee at the first Trung Nguyen cafe in Japan. Hagihara Coffee owner Kojiro Hagihara first visited Vietnam in 1999 and was surprised to find the small nation boasted vast coffee plantations of the kind found in Central and South America. At first, however, he had no intention of buying the beans because of an industry myth that the coffee's low price reflected its poor quality. But Hagihara became interested in the drink after seeing a coffee shop in the countryside, at which customers were pouring coffee from old aluminum cans with holes crudely punctured in them. ``I'd heard the coffee tasted bitter, but I thought that if I took the best in a producer's region, it would taste good,'' he says. ``Instead of using (Vietnamese coffee beans) for mixing with other things, I wanted to exploit the local flavor 100 percent.'' Hagihara soon started offering Vietnamese coffee at branches of his coffee shop chain, showing customers the traditional way of serving it and turning the unknown drink into a menu staple. Drinking coffee has a long history in Vietnam, largely because the country was once a French colony. Local people say the reason they use condensed milk is that they didn't use to have refrigerators and couldn't store cream. The coffee growing industry has expanded rapidly as a way to obtain foreign currency, and the nation's coffee output has jumped ninefold in the past 10 years. S. Ishimitsu & Co., a trading firm that specializes in coffee, has been importing coffee beans from Vietnam for the past decade. It imports mostly low-priced types used for blends and processed coffee products. But Fukujiro Watanabe, head of the company's coffee section, says he has recently seen an increase in the use of Vietnamese-grown Arabic beans for regular coffee, and he regards the quality as superior to that of beans grown in Central and South America. ``The beans may be turned into exceptional products in two to three years,'' he says. ``I think imports will develop in such a way that we'll designate the factory that produces the best of each type of coffee, instead of ordering Vietnamese coffee as a single category.''

(IHT/Asahi: April 12,2002).

-- Duong Trinh Tung (, June 24, 2003


Gourmet Fair Trade Vietnamese Coffees

-- n/a (, August 10, 2004.

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