I never used to be a coffee drinker. I didn’t ever need the caffeine to wake up in the morning, and I never had to stay up late enough in college to be compelled to drink it at 11pm. I have a sensitivity to caffeine, so much so that after two successive days of coffee intake, I am hooked and need to drink it to avoid caffeine withdrawl. You would think this would be enough to keep me away from coffee forever, but I cannot pull myself away; I just like the taste. So as a coffee lover, coming to Vietnam was a little like being an opium addict and traveling to the poppy fields of Afghanistan. And I have been indulging, big time.
The Vietnamese grow two main types of coffee: Robusto (80%) and Arabica (about 20%). Coffee was introduced here by the French, and it has been flourishing as a crop and as a pastime ever since. In a strange take on refining coffee, those who live in the Vietnamese highlands feed coffee beans to weasels on weasel farms to produce what is then called weasel coffee. The weasels poop out the beans, and they make coffee out of it. Don’t ask me who came up with this idea, but it is a thing, and an expensive thing at that – apparently a cup of weasel coffee, the authentic stuff available in Dalat and a few other places, is upwards of $10. So if you are interested in trying it, head to Dalat and take a motorbike to a weasel farm to have a cup of what must be the world’s most eccentric coffee.
Vietnamese coffee is excellent, and I am particularly smitten with how it is prepared here. Instead of watering down their coffee (which is really espresso) with milk, they go straight for the good stuff: condensed milk. Yes, the sticky, whiteish-yellow deliciousness that is every diabetic’s worst nightmare. Just a small spoonful of that stuff and the coffee is as sweet and delicious as it should be.
Why did Westerners ever come up with the idea of putting regular milk, which is mostly water anyway, into coffee, brewed with water, and add sugar on top of that? What a waste of time and effort! With condensed milk, you get sugar and milk at the same time.
Naturally, the Vietnamese don’t do it for the speed – or at least I don’t think they do. They do it for taste. But with a nation like the US, where everything has to be quick and convenient, why would we waste precious seconds adding two things when we could add just one? Plus, I would hazard a guess that as sweet as condensed milk is, adding regular milk plus sugar to coffee results in a greater amount of added sugar in total than would result from a small amount of condensed milk.
So when I return home, I can go one of two ways: 1) accept that I have a problem and do nothing about it, feeding my addiction by purchasing an espresso maker, or 2) wean myself off of coffee again. I will keep you updated when I decide what to do. But for now, I’m on the coffee express, and loving every minute.