Caffeinated Vietnam’s Age of Enlightenment

Robusta cherries in Dak Lak Province

The Age of Enlightenment roughly corresponded with the introduction of coffee in Europe, as did the  rise of the Silicon Valley with the age of Starbucks.  If there’s a causal relationship between coffee and creative energy, that would help explain Vietnam — a driven, fast-paced entrepreneurial culture that happens to be the most caffeinated country in the world.

Vietnam holds “most caffeinated” distinction for two reasons: It exports more coffee than any other country, and the lion’s share of coffee grown in Vietnam is the Robusta variety — which has much higher caffeine content than the Arabica  you find at McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts.

The problem with Vietnamese coffee, from an American perspective, is that it tastes bad.  Some Americans like Vietnamese coffee, but not because of the coffee itself — which is extremely intense, bitter, and tasteless — but because of the condensed milk, sugar and ice that goes in it (or, more accurately, into which a small amount of concentrated coffee goes).

Vietnamese coffee drinkers hate American coffee for the opposite reasons.  It’s too weak and light — making it “coffee flavored water,” in the words of Vietnam’s unofficial Coffee King, Trung Nguyen coffee magnate Dang Le Nguyen Vu.

When they drink coffee, Vietnamese tend to consume less water and more caffeine.  But actually Vietnam doesn’t consume much of its coffee; it exports it.  That is changing as the next generation shifts from sipping their parents’ tea to hanging out in coffee houses, soon to include Starbucks in Vietnam.

As the shift toward coffee-drinking accelerates in Vietnam, look out:  Productivity and creativity could soar as it once did in Northern Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America as each region discovered how the brain behaves on caffeine.

Harvesting Arabica beans earlier this month in Vietnam’s highlands



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