We used to say one of the best things about Vietnam was the coffee and like most people we’d extol the virtues of it’s taste not realising anything about it’s production. All that was before we found out that it’s often not vegan. It might be hard to believe that a drink made from beans isn’t vegan, but Vietnamese coffee has a hidden side that most people don’t know about.
Let’s just be clear, we’re not talking about the popular tourist attraction and incredibly cruel trade of civet coffee (weasel coffee of Kopi Luwak) where the beans have been eaten by a civet cat and poo’d out.
That’s clearly not vegan and is as full of animal cruelty as it is of caffeine (read more about why here).
No, we’re talking about good old fashioned Vietnamese coffee, often served dripped straight from a stainless steel filter called a ‘phin’ and served over ice.
Vietnamese coffee tastes like a chocolatey, vanilla infused, sweet, salted glass of rocket fuel on ice; we know because we drank loads of it and there’s no denying that it tastes good.
Vietnamese coffee is usually made from robusta beans, the mainly inferior quality bean in the coffee world. Robusta coffee beans make coffee with a bitter, ‘burnt tire’ taste and has nearly twice as much caffeine as the better quality Aribica bean brewed coffee (we found this out from this article on The Roasters Pack).
To compensate for the awful flavour of the beans, people started to roast them with other additives to produce a better flavour, additives like butter and fish sauce.
The first person to burst our coffee flavoured bubble was fellow vegan travel blogger Amélie (creator of Mostly Amélie one of our favourite travel blogs), who told us about things she’d read about coffee beans in Vietnam being roasted in butter and fish sauce and then we began to dig a little deeper.
The more people we asked, the more people told us about the practice of roasting beans with extra flavourings (butter has been the most popular addition) but a lot of people simply didn’t have any information. Let’s face it, if you sit down in a cheap, side of the road coffee place, it’s unlikely the vendor will know how their coffee is produced.
We looked online and discovered shocking facts like “Only 10 percent of coffee is real coffee” from this alarming article explaining how most coffee in Vietnam is just made from chemicals.
The Wall St. Journal confirmed their findings that Vietnamese coffee is roasted in butter oil and our hearts sank a little further.
Vietnamese coffee giant, Trung Nguyen, (Vietnams’s version of Starbucks) state on their website that “beans are generally roasted in what is referred to as “butter oil”, which may or may not be actual clarified butter oil.”
So may or may not be vegan…
After we read that there was probably fish sauce, butter and more in our coffee we stopped looking online because it was all just too depressing. We were looking down the barrel at 3 months in Vietnam with the thought of no coffee.
But then our luck began to change and we heard from a few different people that shared our love of good, pure coffee and we began to find small coffee shops that were roasting their own beans and brewing up good quality coffee with no animal products and no nasty chemicals.
In Ho Chi Minh City, we discovered The Coffee Factory (we emailed them and they confirmed they roast all their beans in house with no additives, butter or fish sauce, so 100% vegan). The coffee was good, their little cafes are funky and we were happy to get our caffeine fix there.
We also emailed Shalom Coffee who also confirmed they roast their own beans in house with no animal products but sadly we never got to visit them in person.
We kept an eye out too for places selling Kho Coffee, a socially responsible cooperative growing and producing high quality, sustainable and environmentally friendly coffee in Vietnam. They have shops all over Vietnam and like us, they don’t believe in ruining their coffee with animal products (or anything else for that matter).
When we got to the coffee lover’s paradise of Hoi An we found coffee from Faifo Roastery on sale in coffee shops around town (9 Grains Bakery and Coffee, 11 Coffee and their new shop in the old town Faifo Coffee, 130 Tran Phu Street). Not only are the owners lovely, but they roast their own organic, Vietnamese, vegan coffee!
It seems that if you’re willing to spend a bit more on your coffee and head to a small coffeehouse that roasts their beans on the premises, or you find somewhere selling a reputable brand who are aiming for quality, then it’s entirely possible to fill your days in Vietnam with caffeine, just like the locals.
So, is Vietnamese coffee vegan?
There’s no hard and fast way of knowing unless you find someone roasting their own beans is the simple answer. With some research and a little effort (feel free to share good places you find in the comments below) you can be sure to get your caffeine fix, vegan style, when you travel in Vietnam.
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