Vietnam is a country that is little discussed in American culture, except for one is comparing war in the middle east to another war we already fought. When asked what one knows about Vietnam, your typical American might answer something about the war and then make a pho-related pun. That is usually the extent of our knowledge on the topic. Since those militaristic times, Vietnam has dropped off of our radar and out of our headlines. As a result, little is known about the culture and practices of their people. Not only does this have an alienating effect of our perception of the nation itself, it can also perpetuate stereotypes about their people. After all, the less one knows about someone’s culture, the more they assume they know.
One thing many coffee drinkers in particular assume to know is that although Vietnam is the world’s second largest exporter of coffee, the coffee exported by the nation isn’t of high quality. This belief stems from the fact that Vietnam is a grower of mainly robusta beans, which are known for being both bitter and bold. Italian espresso is traditionally made with robusta beans, which have a higher caffeine content and stronger taste than traditional coffee beans. However, robusta beans can also be brewed in coffee machines. Espresso, though beloved in Italy and drank more than the American style of coffee, is hit or miss in the states. Regular coffee drinkers avoid it, snobs love it, and most people who drink it are doing so in their lattes, cappuccinos, or some other form of frothy beverage. Americans may not traditionally enjoy the more intense coffee beans, but that doesn’t mean they can ignore Vietnam’s increasing force in the world of coffee beans.
Considering America’s love of sugar, it’s rather surprising that Vietnamese coffee drinks haven’t caught on before now. Because of their strong flavor profile, robusta beans are paired with sweet condensed milk in Vietnam, which creates a smooth and well-balanced beverage which is tolerable even to only occasional coffee drinkers. This practice of adding condensed milk comes from the French, who after forcibly colonizing Vietnam and planting coffee beans, couldn’t easily acquire fresh milk. The French also introduced the practice of combining yogurt and coffee, which is now a dessert tradition of the nation, along with egg coffee, a frothy, tiramisu-like blend of egg yolk, condensed milk, and dark coffee. Coffee in Vietnam is often blended with other substances to create a smorgasbord of new concoctions. Coffee has found its way into smoothies as well, which may contain avocado, cashews, bananas, and other healthy ingredients. Though these recipes may not make their way into the United States, they are very much alive in Vietnam.
Coffee has helped shape the success of Vietnam today. After the Vietnam War, the nation was crippled economically. Investment by communist parties enabled Vietnam to begin growing the coffee beans first brought by the French. With fertile soil and an ideal climate the crops flourished. Its success led to the percentage of the population below the poverty line shrinking to ten percent, as well as bringing an exciting addition to Vietnamese cuisine.
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