These days, the word “authenticity” gets thrown around often. From restaurant menus to product labels, many of us search for authenticity when it comes to the things we consume. What is authenticity though? And when it comes to food and beverage, what makes a certain dish or drink authentic when we consider that all dishes have a plethora of ways of being prepared?
When we consider what makes an authentic Vietnamese iced coffee, many may default to labeling it as some variation of dark or “French style” roasted coffee paired with sweetened condensed milk at the very minimum. Cafes, blogs, and even baristas tout this as a recipe for Vietnamese iced coffee that’s authentic, but we ask ourselves: how is this Vietnamese?
We are here to debunk the myths that surround Vietnamese coffee– read on to learn more and to understand a bit more about what we mean by authenticity.
What is Vietnamese Iced Coffee?
Vietnamese iced coffee, no matter how it’s labeled or made, will not be authentic or true without the use of coffee beans that are grown and produced in Vietnam.
You can prepare a coffee beverage using espresso and sweetened condensed milk, but that does not make it Vietnamese iced coffee. You can even use a Vietnamese phin filter with beans from another country like Colombia or Ethiopia, but even then, that does not truly qualify as Vietnamese iced coffee. These examples of drinks are Vietnamese-inspired drinks and in the style of Vietnamese iced coffee.
Why does using Vietnamese coffee beans matter?
There isn’t anything wrong with enjoying coffee this way, but we want to be clear in our naming of what is and is not Vietnamese iced coffee. Why? It’s more than semantics– it’s about cultural integrity and uplifting not just Vietnamese coffee beans, but the people who produce them.
When a cafe or restaurant uses a coffee grown somewhere else other than Vietnam and slaps the label of “Vietnamese iced coffee” onto it, this renders the product and people of Vietnam invisible. In doing this, they strip the producers of their cultural due while profiting off of them– this manifests more systematically through the system we see today wherein Vietnamese coffee farmers are often forced into producing low quality coffee for low profit margins because there is no demand for specialty Vietnamese coffee as a result of it being rendered invisible.
Additionally, the intentional non-usage of Vietnamese coffee beans also creates confusion as to what the taste of Vietnamese coffee actually is. Vietnamese coffee is predominantly robusta coffee, which boasts a deep, bold flavor with notes of chocolate and nuts. If a coffee shop uses a fruity arabica to make a strong coffee with sweetened condensed milk, the resulting drink will most likely taste nothing like what Vietnamese people traditionally and historically enjoy.
How do I make authentic Vietnamese iced coffee?
While we can give you an iced coffee recipe, we think what is most important to consider when making Vietnamese coffee (iced or not) is using Vietnamese coffee beans. Additionally, if you’re trying to make the iced coffee most commonly enjoyed in Vietnam called cà phê sữa dá, then you’ll also need to use a traditional Vietnamese phin filter.
This is where the question of authenticity comes into play once again. We believe that so long as you use Vietnamese coffee beans (even Vietnamese arabica coffee beans), you’re making Vietnamese coffee. If you’re trying to make a certain drink such as cà phê sữa dá, then using Vietnamese coffee beans helps you prepare that recipe. Ultimately, drinks such as Vietnamese iced coffee are just that: drink recipes for iced coffee.
Authenticity lies in the origin of the product itself, and in this case that is the coffee bean and not the drink. Vietnamese iced coffee is any and all coffee drinks you make with ice that uses Vietnamese coffee beans grown and produced there. We believe in expanding the definition of Vietnamese coffee and Vietnamese iced coffee to encompass more than a famous drink recipe. In Vietnam, people enjoy coffee in a number of ways using different brew tools, types of beans, and more. When we pigeonhole Vietnamese coffee as a single drink recipe, we reduce the entirety of Vietnamese coffee culture into a narrative that limits its potential for more.
By uplifting diversity in Vietnamese coffee beans and giving agency to Vietnamese coffee producers, we seek to not only shift the narrative around Vietnamese coffee, but also change coffee culture as a whole. The next time you see a menu with Vietnamese coffee or Vietnamese iced coffee listed, we challenge you to ask them if they’re using Vietnamese coffee beans or not– and if not, ask them why they call it Vietnamese to begin with. As the Vietnamese coffee movement continues to grow, we’ll continue to ask these questions while uplifting the diversity of coffee and its producers.