Art of Coffee


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Asia » Vietnam
October 14th 2016
Published: September 30th 2017
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Vietnam's most welcome surprise has been its coffee - while we've been fans of Vietnamese iced coffee forever, it's not something we crave on a regular basis. Once every couple of months or so is enough to satiate our thirst for the stuff, which is a far cry for the daily hankerings we've been having since sampling our first ca phe sua da in HCMC. Vietnamese iced coffee is more of a novelty or a dessert, and could never compare to the artistry of a latte or cappuccino expertly-prepared by a sixth-generation Italian barista, right? How wrong were we, once we first sampled the liquid gold churned out by Vietnam's ubiquitous coffee shops.

Our initial exposure to legit Vietnamese coffee was at our hotel breakfast buffet in HCMC - typically, this would be the absolute worst place to gauge a country's coffee, as it's rarely made to order, often dying a long, torturous death on a burner. But it was so incredibly rich and comforting, even though it had obviously been sitting out for quite some time. If the dregs of a coffee pot can taste so fine, how good would it be when freshly-made? Within our first few days
in Vietnam, a whole new world of caffeine possibilities opened up to us, one that went far beyond the normal Vietnamese coffee you might find in North America.

Our first egg coffee was a sublime experience, and was reminiscent of a more decadent version of a cappuccino, with a finely and deftly-frothed raw egg poured over top. The mouth feel and sensations were a completely new experience, and the taste was indescribable - never in a million years would we have thought that raw egg could go in a coffee, but it paired perfectly with the sweet, thick condensed milk. Whoever came up with such a thing should be inducted into the Coffee Hall of Fame!

Even better was Cong Caphe's coconut coffee, the most sublime slurpee imaginable - a smooth coconut cream slush delicately placed atop a shot of Vietnamese iced coffee? Does it get any better than a concoction that is half-dessert, half coffee, and 100% pure sexy deliciousness? Trust me when I say that there is nothing more refreshing than that coconut coffee after a day of touring around hot and humid Vietnam - outside of jumping into a swimming pool, there is no better and faster way of
Crazy House ...Crazy House ...Crazy House ...

... one of the most unique attractions you'll find anywhere in the world is in Dalat - it's a hotel that is like a fairy tale brought to life.
warding off heat stroke in Southeast Asia.

I've read numerous online reviews of Vietnamese hotels, and a common complaint amongst Westerners is the dreadful coffee - I have to believe that this is merely people refusing to get out of their comfort zone, because we've already been in several hotels in Vietnam, and while not on par with local coffee shops, they still produced excellent coffee. I can understand how it might be disappointing if you are expecting an americano or a cappuccino, but with an open mind, the quality of Vietnamese coffee is undeniable.

It's quite interesting that such a rich and flavourful coffee is produced here, since nearly all of the coffee shops frequented by locals use robusta coffee, which is widely acknowledged as being inferior to the arabica varieties served in the more-developed world. Perhaps it's a combination of the quality of Vietnamese-grown robusta coffee, and the skill of those making the coffee. Even though the heavy use of condensed milk can be overpowering at times, the fantastic aromas still shine through.

So of course, now that we arrived in Dalat, we had to make the obligatory visit to a coffee farm, since this is the heart of the country's coffee production. The Vietnamese coffee machine has ramped up over the years, to the point that it is now the second-largest producing nation in the world. They have even taken a page out of the Indonesian playbook and make their own version of the infamous civet coffee, which is supposedly extra delicious because the coffee cherries have been eaten, partially-digested, and then crapped out by weasel-like creatures.

It is believed that the quality of this coffee is due to not only the digestive process of the animal, but also its discerning palate - apparently, they will eat only the best-quality beans. The Indonesian varieties sell for up to $2,000 USD per kilo, but the Vietnamese version goes for a far more affordable, but still way-too-much-for-us price of only $200 USD per kilo! Luckily for us, we could still sample a cup of the stuff for about $3 USD at the Me Linh Coffee Farm, a price far more palatable than the idea of weasel crap coffee was.

Perhaps it's better in Indonesia, because we really couldn't see what the fuss was all about - though it was seemingly richer and more complex in flavour, we actually preferred the regular version. After all,
Gaudi-esque ...Gaudi-esque ...Gaudi-esque ...

... the architect has acknowledged that famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi was an inspiration - even without knowing this fact, if you've seen Gaudi's work before, you instantly can see a bit of him at the Crazy House.
if I was actually going to pay $2,000 for a kilo of coffee, it better not have come out of anybody's butt!


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Interactive Architecture ...Interactive Architecture ...
Interactive Architecture ...

... as mind-blowing as seeing Crazy House was, half the fun was actually crawling all over it.
Dali-esque ...Dali-esque ...
Dali-esque ...

... there seemed to be some more Spanish influence at the Crazy House, with a bit of a Surrealist bent evident.
Organic ...Organic ...
Organic ...

... is one of the adjectives used to describe the architect's style - there are hardly any straight lines around the sprawling hotel, mostly sweeping, curving edges. But organic can also be used to describe the nature theme found in things like this spider web and mushrooms.
Dragon Pagoda ...Dragon Pagoda ...
Dragon Pagoda ...

... a very impressive place, as much of the intricate decorative flourishes were created using waste materials such as broken blue ceramic pottery and beer bottles. We never would have known, had it not been pointed out by our guide.
Unexpectedly Beautiful ...Unexpectedly Beautiful ...
Unexpectedly Beautiful ...

... perhaps it's because we haven't seen too many pagodas in Vietnam, but we thought that the Dragon Pagoda was spectacular. However, just like any other gorgeous religious buildings - European churches and cathedrals come to mind - after seeing a few, the novelty quickly wears off.
Lifelike Buddhist Monks ...Lifelike Buddhist Monks ...
Lifelike Buddhist Monks ...

... interesting was the prevalence of these Buddhist monk statues everywhere inside the pagoda complex.
Bejazzled Buddhist Display ...Bejazzled Buddhist Display ...
Bejazzled Buddhist Display ...

... Buddhist places of worship in many Asian countries are relatively austere, but in Vietnam, it's comparatively flashy, especially with the usage of jade and gold flourishes.
A Little Bit of Demonic Kitsch ...A Little Bit of Demonic Kitsch ...
A Little Bit of Demonic Kitsch ...

... Vietnam's attractions are often surrounded by tacky tourist shops, and the pagoda was no different. First, there was a store selling incredibly-expensive artisan wood furniture, and in the basement was this odd house of horrors. There were signs forbidding entrance for non-Vietnamese, but nobody questioned us entering - it was some kind of weird take on Hell, as far as we could tell, with displays like this torturer removing the innards of the poor victim, presumably for use in making a delicious Vietnamese broth.
Vietnam's Primary Agricultural Zone ...Vietnam's Primary Agricultural Zone ...
Vietnam's Primary Agricultural Zone ...

... Dalat is famous for fruit and vegetable production, mostly inside the long, slender greenhouses pictured here.
Elephant Waterfall ...Elephant Waterfall ...
Elephant Waterfall ...

... due to recent heavy rain, this wasn't the most pristine of pictures.
Jumpers, Not Fliers ...Jumpers, Not Fliers ...
Jumpers, Not Fliers ...

... surprisingly, the crickets are easily contained within these open enclosures. There is a lip lining the top of the corral that traps them - they can crawl up the wall to the lip, but cannot jump or fly over it.
Buddhas Digging the Crickets ...Buddhas Digging the Crickets ...
Buddhas Digging the Crickets ...

... they actually were quite tasty - if we didn't know any better, we might've confused them for some sort of crispy duck-flavoured snack. The accompanying sweet sauce was reminiscent of the plum sauce that is served alongside Chinese BBQ duck in North America.


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