Who: Me Linh Coffee Garden
What: Coffee and weasel coffee producer
Where: Da Lat, Vietnam
Let's do an experiment: think about coffee. Maybe you're drinking a cup right now. Let's follow that brew backwards. Let it jump out of your cup and back into the bag. From the bag, go back to the roaster. Let the bean fade from deep roasted brown to raw tan. Pack the beans up by the sackful and send them back to the grower. Now picture tall, shrub-like plants, standing close together, row by row. Maybe your coffee plantation is tiered on a hillside, dotted with rows. Imagine long, sagging, straight branches on the plants, covered with saturated red berries.
Are you thirsty yet? Good.
Vietnam: A Major Coffee Producer
Where was your coffee plantation? Maybe it was a big, lush commercial operation in Colombia or Brazil. Maybe you pictured an idyllic community-based farm run by an Isak Dineson-like person in Kenya or Ethiopia.
Odds are, you didn't picture your coffee plantation in Vietnam, but maybe you should have. South America and Africa might be famous for their beans, but Vietnam has quietly become the second-largest producer of coffee in the world, right behind Brazil. The Vietnamese grow mostly Robusta, a bitter bean with a higher caffeine content than the more commonly known and grown Arabica. Because of their bitterness, Robusta beans are typically seen as lower quality, and they're mostly used to make instant coffee and blended into cheap supermarket brands. This might explain why Vietnamese coffee isn't very well known.
How Coffee Is Grown at Me Linh
Some producers grow a few varieties of coffee. Me Linh, a small plantation in the mountainous countryside around the ex-French retreat of Da Lat, grows Robusta and Moka coffee. Me Linh got started on its one-hectare farm just five years ago and produces about eight tons of coffee each year, including 230kg of weasel coffee (more on that later).
New coffee plants take three years to start producing coffee berries, which encase those delicious coffee beans while they grow. The coffee berries ripen, turning red and ready to harvest in October through December. Then, they're dried for 22 days in the sun so the coffee fruit can be removed from the bean. After that, the beans dry in the sun for three more days before they're ready for the roaster.
If you're lucky enough to tour the stunning countryside around Da Lat by motorbike, you'll start to recognize the dotted-lined mountains as coffee farms. Then you'll start to see them everywhere. And soon, you won't be surprised that Vietnam is coffee's best-kept secret.
Thanks, Me Linh!