Fruit drinks are plentiful and delicious. Sometimes they mixed with salt and served in plastic bags. Squeezed sugar cane and sugar cane juice with a squeeze of orange juice or lime is available in some places. Amanda Hesser wrote in The New York Times, “One of the treats of Vietnam is fresh-pressed sugar cane juice. In the late afternoon in Hoi An, about 27 kilometers south of Da Nang, the cafés along the Thu Bon River fill with people drinking beer, eating rice cakes and drinking gallons of the cane juice, called nuoc mia. It comes out of the press pale green and cloudy with a fluff of foam on top. It's sweet, zesty - due to being pressed with tiny limes - and pleasantly faint.” [Source: Amanda Hesser, The New York Times, September 1, 2005]

Fresh coconut water is also widely available and good. Fresh coconuts are refreshing and hygienic. Don't let the vendor pour it into a glass, which may be unclean. Soft drinks such as Coke, Pepsi, and Fanta are widely available. Vietnamese soft drinks are an acquired taste. Vietnamese drink green, black, rose, jasmine, hibiscus, lotus and artichoke tea. There are often tea leaves at the bottom of cups and bottles.

Tea (called tra by the locals) is the most common drink in Vietnam. As a matter of fact, most Vietnamese prepare an amount of tea that is enough to last for an entire day. Tea is also served before and after every meal. Most Vietnamese prefer green tea, but there are also black, fermented teas that can be purchased in urban areas. While tea is the drink of choice for most Vietnamese, the country also grows and sells coffee. Coffee, or "caphe," is a famous Vietnamese drink that is made by mixing French-roast coffee and condensed milk. It can be served hot or cold, depending on preference. During hot and exhausting days, Vietnamese would drink soda chanh or lemon soda. Coconut milk can also be purchased from street vendors and drank straight from husk of a young coconut. Vietnamese are also very fond of Cà phê sua dá (iced coffee), Nuo'c Sâm (iced ginseng), Sua dau nành (soy milk) and Soda sua hot gà (a concoction of iced soda with egg, milk and sugar). [Source: Famous Wonders]

Common non-alcoholic drinks in Vietnam: 1) Jasmine tea: a local tea beverage of Vietnam; 2) Cà phê sua dá: Strong iced coffee, most often served with sweetened condensed milk at the bottom of the cup to be stirred in; 3) Nuo'c mía: Sugar cane juice extracted from squeezing sugar cane plant, served with ice; 4) Rau má: Pennywort juice made from blending fresh pennywort leaves with water and sugar until dissolved is a near-transparent green color and served over ice; 5) Sua dau nành: A soybean drink served either hot or cold, sweetened or unsweetened; 6) Trà dá: A kind of iced tea popular for its cheap price, it has a faint lime-yellow color and usually does not have much taste; 7) Trà dá chanh: Lemon iced tea; 8) Chanh muoi: Sweet and sour salty lemon drink; 9) Soda xí muoi: Sweet and salty plum soda; 10) Soda hot gà: Egg soda; 11) Sinh to: Vietnamese fruit smoothie with green bean, red bean, avocado, pineapple, strawberry, jackfruit, durian, sapota, or mango with sweet condensed milk; 12) Nuo'c sa'n dây hoa buodi: Made of kudzu and pomelo flower extract; ) [Source: Wikipedia +]

In March 2011 the Japanese beer company Kirin took over the major Vietnamese drink firm Interfood. Interfood, which also makes food, posted $$56 million in sales in 2009. Kirin bought 56.5 percent of the company for an undisclosed price.

Vietnam Aims to Make Vietnamese Taller by Drinking Milk

Margie Mason of Associated Press wrote: "During long years of war and severe poverty in Vietnam, milk and meat were true luxuries only the rich could afford. Many children went blind from lack of vitamin A. Countless others experienced stunted growth that has kept the whole population short and thin. But after 30 years of peace, the communist country has overcome many of these problems and is now boasting unprecedented economic growth that it hopes will translate into building a taller, stronger people. [Source: Margie Mason, Associated Press, November 07, 2004 ]

"An ambitious plan submitted for government approval last month aims to increase the average height of men and women by about 2½ inches over the next 25 years with milk as the main ingredient powering that spurt. "The Vietnamese people on average are shorter than many people in the world as well as compared with people in the region, and they're also weaker physically," said Duong Nghiep Chi, director of Vietnam's Sport Science Institute in charge of the strategic plan. He noted that the Japanese went through a similar growth spurt after World War II.

"Since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the average height of men has shot up from 5-feet-2 to 5-feet-4 and in women from 4-feet-9 to 5 feet. Weights have also increased an average of 18 pounds for men and about 6 1/2 pounds for women over the past 30 years, with food becoming more widely available only in the past decade. In comparison, adults in the United States, who were bigger to begin with, gained about an inch over the past 40 years, with men now an average height of 5-feet-9 1/2 and women about 5-feet-4.

"But studies in Vietnam have found that despite the recent leap in size and fast-growing milk sales over the past decade, many children still aren't drinking enough milk or getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, such as calcium and zinc. It's partly because of limited resources, with poverty concentrated in the countryside where most of Vietnam's people live. Perhaps an even bigger challenge will be promoting knowledge and awareness. Nutrition experts say many adults think milk and cheese are just for young children, who often stop eating dairy products after age 2. Some new mothers also don't believe they produce enough breast milk, leading them to substitute their own milk with formula.

"Chi's plan hopes to overcome those misconceptions by providing nutritional guidelines about what children should eat and how much. A pilot project, if approved by the prime minister, also would select 10,000 children ages 6-18 throughout the country and supply them with free milk for two years to see how much they grow compared to those not drinking milk. "If this program is approved, we will launch awareness campaigns among parents on how to give children a better diet," Chi said. "We will hold more campaigns to help create habits for the Vietnamese people to drink more milk. In the past, they did not understand the importance of this and they also did not believe that milk was an important factor for their growth."

Tea in Vietnam

While Vietnam is the world's second-biggest coffee producer after Brazil, many Vietnamese, including coffee exporters, still prefer tea to coffee. Annual consumption stands at about 14 percent of output, or 20,000-22,000 tonnes of mostly green tea.

Traditionally, Vietnamese tea drinking is considered a hobby of the older, more learned members in households and in society in general. Tea drinking would accompany aristocratic activities such as composing poems, tending flowers, or simply appreciating nature. Vietnamese people generally favor lighter teas with flower fragrance, which is green tea or white tea infused with flowers. The Vietnam Tea Association (VITA) was founded in 1998 and their goal is to protect and inform growers, consumers and business owners of Vietnamese teas.[Source: Wikipedia +]

Vietnamese teas are produced in many areas that have been known for tea-house "retreats". For example, some are located amidst the immense tea forests of the Lamdong highlands, where there is a community of ancient Ruong houses built at the end of the 18th century. Vietnam has the world's oldest trees, dating back to 1000 years. +

Green tea is the most popular amongst Vietnamese people. In 2011 it accounted for over 63 percent of overall retail volume sales. Vietnamese green teas have been largely unknown outside of mainland Asia until the present day. Vietnamese green teas have a lower content of caffeine compared to Chinese green teas but higher caffeine levels than Japanese green teas. Recent free-enterprise initiatives are introducing these green teas to outside countries through new export activities. =

Vietnamese Tea Culture

According to Vietnam-team.com: "Tea drinking has been a tradition of Vietnamese people for over three thousands years. There are many aspects of tea culture worth noting. The therapeutic and medicinal functions of tea are well known and in hot weather, hot tea is devoured for its surprising cooling effect, and in cold weather for its warmth. There are many types of tea in Vietnam , each with its own unique flavor and properties. Tea cultivation , the history of tea in Vietnam , its relationship to the environment, its economic impact on the ethnic minorities who grow it , the aesthetic aspects and social importance of tea-drinking rituals, could all provide topics for extensive research. [Source: Vietnam-team.com *]

Whereas in Vietnam, the tea ceremony is not elevate to the status of a religious sacrament as it in Japan, the preparation, serving and drinking of tea has great social importance than just a pleasant sign of hospitality . Drinking tea is a ritual preliminary to conducting business, to scholarly meditation, to getting acquainted, even to romance. Politicians consider tea drinking a means of easing tensions as the negotiation table. Upon entering a Vietnamese home , sometimes even before making introductions, guests are offered tea. It maybe taken as affront by the host if the guest refuse ( even politely) by saying: "No, thank you, I am not thirsty". *\

Wedding parties serve tea before and after ceremony. Couples in love, old or young ,use the ritual of drinking tea to express their affection and as a means to understanding each other. The importance of the tea ritual is shown by the fact that whereas serving liquor is duty relegated to servants, only the host or hostess prepares the tea. *\

According to the customs of Vietnamese people, on moonlit nights, devotees set their boats on the lake and ponds when the lotus flowers are in bloom. They open the about-to-bloom lotus flowers and place a lot of tea inside each blossom, then close them with ribbon or string. Then they get the moonlit dew from the lotus leaves . By dawn, the living scent of lotus impregnates the tea , and the gatherers have enough dew to add to their teapots. After a few hours of sleep, they enjoy a blissful afternoon of tea. *\

It was during the Nguyen dynasty , with its new capital at Hue, that tea-drinking elevated to the status of art. In Hue tradition, tea table is smallish and set again the wall and only three sides available. The room would normally be intimate and tasteful decorated , although a tea course may also be held in a garden. A skillful tea drinker planning a tea course will select the tea services and design reflect or complement the weather. Members of the Nguyen dynasty used pots and cups with weighted, rounded bottoms that, if disturbed, would rock a bit, then right themselves. This symbolized the nation to survive despite its historical ups and downs. *\

A tea course requires a brazier, a boiling pot, an erthenware pot of cold water (usually rain water, and in special occasions some dew gathered from lotus leaves) , a tea pot, teacups, tea box and few pieces of Aquilaria, and aromatic wood. Your host will boil the water for a few minutes , then take it off the fire and let it about 90?C. It is poured gently into the teapot, and cover tightly for about five minutes. While the tea is steeping, skilful tea drinkers will comment the fine aroma of the tea, always keeping the tea as to the focus of the conversation, as you would do at a wine tasting . From the teapot, the tea is poured into a large cup called soldier-cup. This procedure ensures even distribution of tea’s flavor and color. If it were poured directly into each cup, the first cup would be more diluted than the last. As you sip the tea, discuss its taste and the mood it brings to you. Poetry ia always a good subject at the tea course, but nothing of the past, nothing of the future. The subject belongs only to the present. *\

Types of Vietnamese Tea

Lotus tea (trà sen) is a specialty product of the Vietnamese tea industry. Generally, high-quality green tea leaves are placed within lotus flowers for a day to acquire the scent, then the tea leaves are removed and packaged. A higher grade of lotus tea is made with lotus petals mixed in with high quality green tea leaves. Green tea style of Vietnam is to roll the leaves gently into crescents, and minimal handling. Vietnamese green teas are typically very potent. They are best brewed for most tastes for under 2 minutes using water temperature of 70 ̊C (160 ̊F). Beyond this time the tea will acquire a bitter taste that is nevertheless preferred by many tea lovers, as it reflects the potency of the tea leaves. Some tea lovers will brew 3-4 times from one set of leaves, preferring the narrower flavor range of the later brewings. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Jasmine tea (trà nhài) is produced in two grades similar to lotus tea. Jasmine tea has a more profound aroma than lotus tea, and lotus tea has a sweeter taste. While lotus tea is considered a specialty and is reserved for events or special meals, jasmine tea is popular as a "chaser" for Vietnamese iced coffee, and is poured into the glass after the coffee is consumed, allowed to chill, and then enjoyed as a follow-up to the iced coffee in coffee shop cafes, particularly in the night life of major cities, where coffee shops are a popular social rendezvous on hot evenings. +

Artichoke tea (trà atiso) this is a herbal tea made from the leaves, root, stalk, and flower of the artichoke plant. The tea is a specialty of the Lam-Dong highland region, where an abundance of artichokes is grown. Kudingcha tea, also called bitter tea because of its taste. Due to its antioxidant activities, this bitter tea is prescribed to patients that suffer headaches, high blood pressure, cold fever and diabetes. Other common types of Vietnamese flower-infused tea are chrysanthemum tea (trà cúc), aglaia tea (trà ngâu, tea infused with the flower from the Aglaia duperreana plant), and trà sói, tea infused with the flower from the Chloranthaceae family. +

Coffee in Vietnam

Vietnam differs from Asian nations in that it is much more of a coffee drinking country than a tea drinking one. Vietnam is known for its brain-jolting strong coffee, often sweetened with condensed milk. The drink was introduced by the French who established some huge coffee plantations in Vietnam that exploited its abundant cheap labor. In the colonial period many streets were lined with cafes but they were almost exclusively the domain of foreigners. Vietnam even has its own café society.

Mike Ives of Associated Press wrote: “Unlike China, where tea is the caffeinated drink of choice, Vietnam inherited a coffee culture from French colonizers in the 19th century. Vietnam also is the world's second-largest exporter of coffee behind Brazil. According to the government, it produced 1.73 million tons of coffee last year, for an export value of $3.7 billion. Vietnamese coffee, made from ballsy robusta beans, packs a stronger caffeine wallop than European-style espresso, which is made from effete arabica. It has a slightly bitter taste that usually is offset by sweetened, condensed milk known to rattle tourists' eyeballs. [Source: Mike Ives, Associated Press, January 7, 2013]

According to the Wall Street Journal: “Some farmers hunt down beans that have been eaten and digested by civet cats and are then collected from the animal's dung. Aficionados say ca phe chon, or weasel coffee, imparts a darker, smoother flavor, and its beans can sell for as much as $500 a kilo in places like London and New York.”

Some Vietnamese drink Vietnamese-style coffee out of an aluminum cans with holes punctured in it. Vietnamese say they use condensed milk because in the old days they didn’t have refrigerators to keep cream ro milk.

Vietnamese Coffee

Vietnamese coffee is bitter and very sweet. Mike Eckel of AP wrote: Vietnamis “ known for bitter, super-strong coffee, lightened with condensed milk. You may also see ads for ca phe chon, the coffee famously brewed from beans that have been digested - in one end, then out the other - by weasel-like animals known as civets. Real civet coffee is extremely expensive - $100 a cup - so beware of imitations, which are extremely common, particularly in areas frequented by tourists. [Source: Mike Eckel, AP, February 9, 2011]

“Ca phe sua da” is unique kind of ice coffee that is unique to Vietnam. Customers are given a glass with crushed ice and condensed milk at the bottom and a contraption with a tiny plunger, screwed down on a spoonful of very finely ground coffee. Hot water drips down through the grounds through small perforations into the glass. It take about five to 10 minutes for all the coffee to drip into the glass. When the process is finished the metal contraption is removed and coffee, ice and sweet milk are mixed together with a spoon. It has a caramely taste and offers cool relief and a quick pick-me-up in hot weather. Afterwards customers are given a cup of green tea eta to cleanse the palate.

Even without the sweet milk, Vietnamese coffee is smell very sweet because the beans are placed in butter after they are roasted. Condensed milk is used because it doesn’t go bad at room temperature like regular milk. The cafes where Vietnamese like to drink are often small places often with a handful of chairs and tables and a bead curtain separating it from the street. They are often dark and viewed as a place go to escape the heat.

Other types of coffee available at most cafes include “ca phe den nong” (hot black coffee), “ca phe den da” (iced black coffee), “ca phe sua nong” (hot coffee with milk) and “ca phe sua da” (iced coffee with milk). French-style “cafe filtre” is common at yuppie restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. Among the special coffees found in some places are “ca phe trung” (hot coffee with a raw egg beaten into it, with or without milk or sugar) and “ca phe chon” (Weasel coffee). In the latter beans are fed to a weasel (perhaps a civet). After they go through the animal’s digestive system they are collected and ground and brewed. Apparently, the weasel’s digestive juices give the coffee a unique, colorful taste. Those who have tried say it is smooth but has a musty flavor.

Starbucks Enters the Vietnam Coffee Market in 2013

Starbucks opened its first cafe in Vietnam— in Ho Chi Minh City— in February 2013. The company says it could open hundreds more in the near future in Vietnam, which it describes as a "dynamic, exciting" market. Starbucks already operates more than 3,300 stores across 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Jinlong Wang, president of Starbucks Asia-Pacific, said the company plans to expand across Vietnam in a way that celebrates the country's "coffee culture and heritage." "We look forward to growing with Vietnam's already vibrant coffee industry, and making a positive impact in the communities where we operate," he said in comments emailed to The Associated Press.

Mike Ives of Associated Press wrote: Starbucks “entry into Vietnam marks the latest salvo in a campaign to woo Asia's emerging middle classes. Starbucks' upmarket brand will appeal to the growing Vietnamese middle class, said Anthony Emms, managing partner at Stanton Emms Strategy Consultants in Singapore, which advises international food and beverage companies on Asian markets. "I don't believe there is a massive barrier to Starbucks in Vietnam," he said by telephone. "Starbucks is not really a coffee; it's a food-service concept."[Source: Mike Ives, Associated Press, January 7, 2013 +=+]

“Other international food chains have opened stores in Vietnam in recent years, including the Australian coffee chain Gloria Jean's Coffees International, the California-based Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and the American fast-food chains KFC and Burger King. And Nestle instant coffee — engineered to suit the Vietnamese palette — is sold widely in Vietnamese supermarkets. +=+

“Starbucks' announcement that it is moving into Vietnam has been received without much fanfare in local blogs and state-controlled media, although some speculate about how the company will compete with Trung Nguyen Coffee and Highlands Coffee, a homegrown brand that credits Starbucks as an inspiration. But Starbucks would risk alienating some of its potential clients if it didn't include Vietnamese drip coffee on its menus here, Emms said. "Say you get a grandfather coming in with a younger relative — he might not want to drink a cafe macchiato or latte," he said. +=+

How Local Vietnamese Cafes View the Competition from Starbucks

Mike Ives of Associated Press wrote: “Nghiem Ngoc Thuy has been slinging coffees to thirsty Vietnamese for 20 years in her colonial-style villa with peeling shutters, and she and her customers aren't too worried that the imminent arrival of U.S. giant Starbucks will alter their time-tested coffee traditions. Compared with other Asian markets Starbucks has recently entered, the Seattle-based company faces a unique scenario in Vietnam, where French-inspired coffee culture reigns supreme, two homegrown chains have established presences and family-run sidewalk cafes are as ubiquitous as noodle shops. "Our prices are affordable for average Vietnamese," Thuy said, pausing for just a moment during an afternoon rush at her family-run cafe in Hanoi, the capital. "Expensive coffee is just for the children of government officials, or people who have lots of money." [Source: Mike Ives, Associated Press, January 7, 2013 +=+]

“Dang Le Nguyen Vu, whose Trung Nguyen Group owns 55 cafes in Vietnam, said he welcomes Starbucks and doesn't view the American newcomer as a threat. "I could imagine Starbucks opening up to a hundred cafes at most in Vietnam in the next 10 years," Vu said. "But will people in a country with such a low GDP per capita, and a different taste in coffee, really accept Starbucks?" +=+

“Nghiem Ngoc Thuy, meanwhile, is still swooping across the worn tiled floors of her cafe, setting down steaming coffees just as fresh customers arrive to order more. The price: 15,000 dong (75 cents) per cup, she said on a recent weekday afternoon, as cigarette smoke curled toward the ceiling. 1,000 extra for condensed milk. Thuy's family has been in business since the late 1980s, and watched as this leafy neighborhood — called "cafe street" by some locals — has welcomed luxury cars, sushi restaurants and upscale clothing boutiques. +=+

“A regular customer, electronics salesman Do Thanh Tung, said he is eager to see if Starbucks coffee really is different from the Vietnamese blends he has been drinking since he was 10 years old. "Vietnamese young people will welcome Starbucks, once they get used to it," Tung, now 30, said as he hunched over a silver laptop. But he added that he doesn't expect to become a regular Starbucks patron because he drinks five or six cups of coffee a day, and a latte habit would get expensive. +=+

Obstacles Starbucks Faces Bringing Its Culture to Vietnam

The Wall Street Journal reported: “Starbucks Corp. has entered scores of new markets over the years, but in Vietnam, could it have met its match? The Southeast Asian nation has its own deep-rooted coffee culture that could prove challenging to the Seattle-based coffee chain. So far sales at the new location are exceeding expectations, according to Starbucks Chief Executive and Chairman Howard Schultz. [Source: Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2013 +*+]

“Starbucks decorated its first store with local art and artifacts to create a distinctly Vietnamese flavor. It also came up with a drink, the Asian Dolce Latte, to appeal to local palates. For food, it serves roast-duck wraps and French-style baguettes. But some say the chain could do more. Nguyen Van Minh Khanh, 24 years old, said Starbucks should use drip filters perched on top of glass mugs, the way the Vietnamese do. "If Starbucks wants to succeed in Vietnam, they have to change the way they serve," he said. +*+

“Local coffee entrepreneurs such as Dang Le Nguyen Vu seem confident that drinkers will likely stick with thick, oily Vietnamese coffee. The drink is available nearly anywhere, from Mr. Vu's 1,000 or so Trung Nguyen brand stores to the glamorous cafes of Ho Chi Minh City. It is also sold by vendors in Cong Vien Van Hoa Park in the center of the city, which is still referred to as Saigon by locals nearly 40 years after the Vietnam War. But Mr. Schultz said Starbucks is selling more than just coffee. "The environment that we create, the store design, the experience…they all add up to a much different position to anything that anyone in Vietnam currently occupies. " +*+

“Vietnam could prove a tough nut to crack. In other Asian markets, Starbucks often found itself introducing the concept of drinking coffee to consumers who traditionally drank tea, such as in India. In many cases the company quickly supplemented its menu with drinks more familiar to local tastes. Some early customers at the new Ho Chi Minh City store said they were more interested in sampling the ambience of the store than the taste of Starbucks' coffees. "It was a fresh and exciting experience," said 22-year-old Nguyen Ngoc Mai Huong, whose recent trip to the Starbucks in Ho Chi Minh City was her first visit to one of the company's stores. "I like the location a lot, but the price is a little high compared with other coffee shops," she said. Ms. Huong added that Starbucks might just be a trend for younger customers. "My parents said they would stick with the traditional Vietnamese coffee." +*+

Trung Nguyen Coffee, Vietnam’s Largest Coffee Chain

Trung Nguyen Coffee is a Vietnam’s largest coffee chain. Founded in the mid 1990s by Dang Le Nguyen, a former medical student from the Central Highland, it had expanded to 420 outlets shops, including a 400-seat café in Hanoi that served over a 1,000 customers a day, by 2002. Its success has been partly attributed timing. It offered a slightly upscale product that people wanted at a time when they had money for the first time to buy it. Trung Nguyen has world wide ambitions. He has opened several shops in Japan, China and Singapore. Another coffee chain, Au Lac Café, is challenging Trung Nguyen Coffee by going more mass market and targeting factory workers and office clerks. It was launched by Seattle-born David Thai.

In 2000, Margot Cohen wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review, "The Trung Nguyen brand is spreading across Vietnam, giving a caffeine-like boost to new trends in consumerism and private business "I've never heard of Starbucks," says Dang Le Nguyen Vu, puzzled by a reference to the Seattle-based coffee chain. That might seem odd for a man presiding over Vietnam's fastest-growing coffee-shop franchise. But Vu isn't venturing abroad. He's concentrating on converting local coffee-drinkers to his own brand, Trung Nguyen--a name now emblazoned across 165 cafes in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and provincial towns. [Source: Margot Cohen, Far Eastern Economic Review, October 26, 2000 =]

"The caffeine-powered push of Trung Nguyen is driving a new consumer trend in Vietnam, creating fresh business opportunities, developing new marketing techniques and breathing life into the country's coffee industry. Yet Trung Nguyen's strategy differs from Starbucks'. While the U.S. company is marching across China, Malaysia and Singapore with cloned outlets offering nearly identical decor and service, Trung Nguyen outlets maintain an individual, almost haphazard character. The franchise agreements are tailored to a swelling class of private entrepreneurs who are looking for new opportunities with minimal investment and low-cost products. =

"With growth concentrated in the south, where there are now 149 shops in the chain, Trung Nguyen is just starting to penetrate the north. The first Hanoi outlet opened in April, and eight others have followed. The company is now aiming for a coffee shop in every province, with 20 in Hanoi. Some cafe owners report thriving business. Nguyen Kim Thu, who opened a cafe near Hanoi Polytechnic University in January, quadrupled her customers and trebled her monthly revenues to 30 million dong after she signed on with Trung Nguyen in April. She's still selling other beverages--witness a bright yellow awning advertising Lipton tea--but coffee is the big draw. She's reassured by Trung Nguyen's policy of keeping at least 1.5 kilometers between outlets. Sill, none of her waitresses don the tan, geometric-patterned outfits in evidence at some other Trung Nguyen coffee shops. Though some might find that diversity refreshing, inconsistency can also draw criticism. =

"While they have done a good job of building brand recognition, they need to have more control over their brand image for the medium and long term," says David Thai, who has built his own roasting facility in Hanoi for a new gourmet coffee brand, Highlands Coffee, to be launched in December. "They have to institute and control consistent quality standards, across the board, from one outlet to another." In future, Vu will face more competition from Viet An. The Vietnamese firm opened two "Boca" brand cafes in Ho Chi Minh City this year--featuring flavors like Irish cream--and is hoping to have 20 cafes by the middle of next year. But that's good news for Vietnam's economy, which needs as many coffee breaks as it can get. =

Competition in Vietnam’s Coffee Chain Business

In 2011, Reuters reported: “While Starbucks ponders its future in Vietnam, local chain Highlands Coffee is snapping up choice real estate and gaining share in a country whose thirst for caffeine sipped at Parisian-style cafes dates to French colonialism.Its founder, Vietnamese-American David Thai, saw Starbucks rise from his hometown of Seattle into an international coffee powerhouse. He sniffed opportunity and now operates 40 cafes. [Source: John Ruwitch and Jason Szep, Reuters, January 13, 2011 ]

In 2000, Margot Cohen wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review, "A similar strategy of low-cost venues and high brand awareness is fuelling the spread of Dilmah tea, a Sri Lankan brand aided by the ingenuity of a group of Russian-educated Vietnamese distributors . In the coming months Vietnam's cafe society is likely to become even more crowded as local and foreign companies expand. The trend is creating a new kind of public space. Rather than talk business in outdoor beer gardens, fetid karaoke parlours or bustling restaurants, entrepreneurs and executives are turning to cafes. Meanwhile, young people are carving out their own cafe sanctuaries. Starbucks hasn't set up shop in Vietnam, and with good reason: A 50 percent tax applies to imported roasted coffee, and few can afford a $2 coffee injection. But the Vietnamese seem increasingly willing to pay 8,000 dong (57 cents) to sip filtered Trung Nguyen coffee and be part of the scene. [Source: Margot Cohen, Far Eastern Economic Review, October 26, 2000 =]

"The country's north-south divide also presents business challenges. In the north, where proximity to China has nurtured a strong tradition of tea-drinking, Trung Nguyen and other coffee promoters have their work cut out for them. In the south, where the French colonial taste for coffee has long lingered, Dilmah is struggling. "Southerners think that tea is for free," says Vincent Lu, national sales manager for Nestlé. Typically, those who order coffee at street stalls receive a thimbleful of tea at no extra charge. Of course, there's plenty of overlap, since job opportunities in the south's growing private sector and in government in the north have led to internal migration. Grimy neighbourhood stalls attract customers for both beverages. Still, all companies are targeting young people who're more likely to change brew. =

"The market is thriving on choice, a reflection of the individualism seeping into Vietnam's nascent consumer culture. Teenagers marvel over Dilmah's 25 different flavors, while a slightly older crowd pores over various Robusta and Arabica blends at Trung Nguyen. "Sometimes I go to other cafes, but it's very boring because there's only one choice," says Hieu, a 25-year-old tourism manager lounging in a Hanoi outlet. "Before Trung Nguyen opened, I never drank coffee at all." Quips his pal Tung: "It's a movement." Ironically, the movement is flourishing just as local coffee farmers are facing hardship. Vietnam is the world's third-largest coffee exporter, but dismal world prices--40 percent lower than last year--are casting gloom over former boom towns such as Buon Ma Thuot in the heart of the coffee-producing province of Daklak, where Trung Nguyen is based. =

"Domestic prices have followed suit, offering roasters like Trung Nguyen lucrative opportunities. "The margins are really quite sexy," says an industry analyst. Considering that Vietnam consumes just 20,000 tonnes of coffee but exports more than 480,000 tonnes, Vu and his cohorts have ample scope to pump up domestic volumes. Perched on the balcony of a Trung Nguyen cafe in Hanoi, Vu won't comment on whether favorable margins have aided rapid expansion. Neither will he disclose annual revenues or retail volumes. "There are many sensitive matters," murmurs the diffident 29-year-old, alluding to the fact that private enterprise is still a grey area in Vietnam. He won't allow himself to be photographed, and his roasting facility in Daklak remains off-limits to reporters. =

Fierce competition reinforces Vu's reticence. State firms have long dominated Vietnam's coffee business, and not everyone wants to see a private company flourish. Officials at state-owned Vinacafe say they command half of the domestic sales of roasted coffee in the Hanoi area, estimating that Trung Nguyen has 10 percent. With hundreds of small roasters struggling to hold their own, a few entrepreneurs are beginning to enter the gourmet coffee market. Vu founded the company in 1996 when he was still a struggling medical student in Daklak. Friendships with local coffee agents, he says, allowed him to buy beans on favorable terms and slowly build capital to import machines from the United States and Taiwan. The real innovation came when Vu introduced franchising to Vietnam. The first cafe, opened in October 1998 in Ho Chi Minh City, was wholly owned by the company. But thereafter a host of entrepreneurs franchised the company name and products for 15 million dong to 300 million dong apiece, depending on the outlet's location. All Vu gets, besides revenues from coffee sales to cafe owners, is a one-time payment for use of the name; franchisees receive a 10 percent discount on their coffee purchases. But the cafes are living advertisements for Trung Nguyen: Once hooked, customers are likely to buy it to take home. =

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Last updated May 2014

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