What we learned about buying Vietnamese coffee on our recent trip to Hanoi. Two things stand out. Drinking coffee in cafes in an important part of everyday life in Hanoi and the coffee served in these cafes is fabulous. So, many foreigners seek to buy coffee beans to take home with them.
The whole market for coffee beans seems infused with infatuation over coffee beans processed in the guts of civet cats or weasels. This is called “alamid” in the Philippines. The world production of civet coffee must be minuscule, but the marketing and sale of it is big business. It’s a buyer beware situation.
There are several coffee merchants on Hang Buom in the old quarter of Hanoi. We bought coffee from Kim Lai (99 Hang Buom) and from Tam Loc Cafe at 103 Hang Buom. The Kim Lai traditional (non-“weasel”) was 400,000 per 500 grams. We bought more coffee beans from Tam Loc. We liked Tam Loc because they would grind and brew you cups of coffee from the beans you were considering. We ended up buying “Perfect Weasel”, not because it was weasel, but because it tasted the best when brewed. We tried to like some of the less expensive beans such as those from Da Lat and Culi, but they were just not as good. The Perfect Weasel tasted exactly the the coffee would would get at good Hanoi coffee shops. Two kilos of “Perfect Weasel”, cost us $75 US. Note that “real” Kape Luwak is about $250 per kilo. The “weasel” coffee we bought was much cheaper. We have no idea what the origin of the coffee we bought is, only that it tasted good. Reportedly, the Vietnamese have developed a method of treating coffee beans to make them taste like weasel coffee.
The prices in the photo below are from Tam Loc are open to some negotiation. We weighed the coffee when we got home. The Tam Loc was exactly correct. The Kim Lai seemed a bit light. We can’t imagine that local coffee shops buy their coffee at these places at these prices. Next time we are in Hanoi we’ll spend more time at the markets (such as Dong Xuan) and see if we can find cheaper beans.