Occasionally, I’ll drop in to the thrift store to hunt for treasures, such as an overlooked vintage Bauer or McCoy pottery. But, this time I came across a display of coffee from Vietnam. It wasn’t too surprising, since Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world, after Brazil. But, what I didn’t know was the partnership between the coffee farmers in Vietnam and The Salvation Army. If you haven’t already heard of this coffee, it’s a good story.
Pleiku, which is located in central Vietnam, is largely covered with coffee plantations. The local people live in small villages wedged between the plantations, and through years of isolation, these communities have developed their own language and culture. In an effort to help these poor communities, The Salvation Army started a partnership with the Pleiku coffee network in 2009 with the purchase of 44,000 pounds of beans. It’s been going strong ever since.
In general, the world loves Arabica coffee beans, but what is largely grown in Vietnam is Robusta, which has a harsher, stronger taste. Its higher caffeine content (double that of Arabica) also makes it slightly more bitter.
The Salvation Army hired a San Francisco coffee company to come up with the right blend: 75% Robusta from Vietnam and 25% Arabica from Guatemala. If you’re wondering what this blend tastes like, think Café Du Monde without the chicory. What you’ll find in The Salvation Army stores is called Cafe La V. The brown foil bag features a big map of its country of origin. I love the saying on the back, which reads, “FRESH HOT HOPE.”
While Robusta is generally regarded as inferior to Arabica, it’s still good coffee. The slightly bitter, earthy flavor of the Robusta is balanced with the more delicate sweet flavor of the Arabica.
Try preparing the coffee Vietnamese-style by adding one to four tablespoons of rich and gooey sweetened condemned milk to your cup. Knowing that the proceeds from the purchase of this coffee assists local farmers and various projects in Vietnam makes each sip a sweet “feel good” experience.