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January 1, 2014

Weasel coffee

I’ve had a super day cruising the chaotic streets of the old quarter of a Hanoi – more on this in another post, but if thought I would first share my love of Vietnamese coffee with you (I know that some of you are already champions of the cause though..)

One of the enduring good things the French did in Vietnam (other than import its taste in baking, brewing and the guillotine) was to popularise coffee and cafe culture, and it thrives today across the country. At the end of a long lunch (about seven courses in five places – more on this to come) I stopped at one of the many coffee roasters. Not to taste any old blends, but to appreciate the role of the weasel in high end Vietnamese coffee production.

Just to help you catch up if you are not familiar with coffee from Vietnam, most of it’s crop is lower grade robusta beans, the stuff they blend into all sorts of freeze dried coffee around the world. This tends to give it an undeserved reputation for cheaper coffee. I actually really like the robusta bean, but in the West its the arabica bean that is King, and Vietnam does grow some arabica in its highlands around Dalat.

Street coffee in Vietnam involves some super freshly ground beans and a simple tin filter that sits on top of your cup – a brilliant solution for good tasting strong French style coffee.

However if you peruse the beans on offer most Hanoi or Saigon roasters they will have an array of more exotic options. You may have heard of Kopi Luwak – the rather expensive Indonesian coffee with a USP that it’s been excreted by a civet cat. Well in Vietnam, the humble weasel plays the same role in the coffee production process. It eats the beans, digests them and excretes them, giving them a unique flavour. Once cleaned up and double roasted you have “Weasel coffee”!

You have to make a few more decisions though – what grade of weasel coffee to have, and do you want your weasel to be organic? Along with Johnny, our brilliant street food guide from “Vietnam Awesome Travel” I sat with a friendly Kiwi family trying some of the coffees on offer. We couldn’t work out if the grade one status is a reflection of the better quality bean or the better quality weasel, but it packed quote a punch and had a distinctive chicory aftertaste – less bitter than the grade two (both use the Vietnamese arabica bean). They even had a special version called “Weasel Legend”!

Grade one weasel coffee here costs about $65 a kilo, considerably cheaper than its famous Indonesian rival. I recommend you try some if you ever get the chance, and I’m going to bring a supply home with me, so do pop by my kitchen if you want to give it a go!

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