A Trip To Vietnam
An incredibly interesting origin that has so much to offer
By Neil Oney, Q grader & Coffee Quality Specialist
Vietnam is a special place. As the world’s largest producer of Robusta, Vietnam isn’t generally thought of as an origin with high quality coffee. But that is hardly the case. Cau Dat in the province of Da Lat in the central to southeastern part of the country, grows significant amounts of great coffee, and we are one of the only specialty importers sourcing it who have quality controls in place over the entire process. Vietnam is a country of smallholder farms, averaging 1-3 hectares, farmers do not process their own coffee here but instead sell red cherry to wet mills, who process the coffee for export. Novus’ parent company, Mercon, operates several wet mills in Da Lat and has established strong quality programs at each of them.
Last month Scott McMartin & I travelled to Vietnam to visit our producer partners and taste the new crop coming out of the country. Last season we brought in two coffees from Vietnam: Lotus Washed and Opal Bold. We were very happy with both, but this year promises to be better
We spent a long time learning about Opal Bold, which is a unique product for us. A wet-hulled coffee, the Opal Bold is similar in style to Indonesian coffees, but we find it to be cleaner with a more complex acidity. The work done by the Mercon team in Vietnam to increase quality is extraordinary. Opal Bold starts with the same coffee used in Lotus Washed, but it is processed in a very different way. The coffee is washed and dried in exactly the same manner, but halfway through drying the parchment is removed (thus “wet- hulled”) before being dried the rest of the way.
Because of the extreme heat in Vietnam, it is very difficult to manage without over-drying or using commercial dryers. To combat this, they built a 2-acre greenhouse with special shades to reduce UV strength by 50%, which keeps the temperature below 30C. This slows drying and gives the coffee the distinctive blue hue for which wet-hulled coffees are known. It takes approximately 20 days, and four quality checks by our cuppers, to process a coffee lot from cherry to Opal Bold, but the time and effort are worth it for a unique coffee we’re excited to bring to you.
Lotus Washed is a strictly high grown coffee from farmers participating in our LIFT program in Cau Dat, grown above 1400 meters, and farmers are given up to a 50% premium for purely red cherries. The coffee is washed at a wet-mill controlled entirely by Mercon, and then dried in custom flat-bed driers at a lower, 25C, temperate until it reaches 11-13% moisture. The Lotus Washed is then stored in Da Lat, which has a lower average temperature than Ho Chi Minh, until it is ready for export, at which time it is hulled and sent to Ho Chi Minh for export. Once in Ho Chi Minh, the coffee is stored in a climate-controlled warehouse for up to two weeks before shipping. Amazingly, the quality of this year’s crop is even better than last year and we’re expecting great things once it arrives in February.