Coffee Country

Among a host of delights, Dalat also has a reputation for growing some of the finest coffee beans to be found.

By Cac Truc on October 18,2017 02:21 PM

Coffee Country

Photos: Gigira

Not just a mountainous town known for its mild climate and gorgeous landscapes, Dalat also has an irresistible charm from its exotic local farms growing amazing flowers, tea and coffee. Coffee buffs simply shouldn’t miss the chance to visit one of the local coffee plantations and sip on a cup of moka, robusta, arabica, or weasel coffee.

After driving along a 20-km track to Ta Nung district, we stopped in front of Me Linh Coffee Garden, especially famous for the quality of its coffee, especially moka, robusta and weasel. Dalat is laid out in front of you at the garden, with views of Cam Ly Dam as you enjoy a mug of hot coffee on a breezy terrace or look out to rows of coffee plants after walking around the farm, talking to farmers about how to grow and when to pick the beans.

My friend was a little dismayed at the weasel droppings we saw in a small area where they dried the beans. Yes, we actually witnessed with our own eyes how weasel coffee is made, which was not a pleasant sight, to be honest, no matter how good the taste may be when it ends up in a cup.

Coffee Country

It’s said that during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), when local aristocrats were first exposed to coffee, that it was considered a privilege to drink it. Farmers were not allowed to taste their own crop, so they picked out beans from dried weasel droppings. Surprisingly, they had a fragrance far more aromatic than the regular beans served to royals and French colonists. Nowadays, we know that thanks to the silk pellicle, developed by the animal’s enzyme, the beans are protected even after the forming process, which explains the extremely smooth and original musky taste.

I personally prefer robusta coffee, with its smoky thick, strong, full-bodied taste that gives a kick. The best cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed milk), which excites the back of your palate, is often made from pure robusta beans and condensed milk, which can truly dance ‘robustly’ in your mouth and leave a pleasant roasty after-taste. The staff let you smell different roasted beans and pick your favourite. The differences are clear, which makes it easy to decide.

Some order a cup of pure coffee with no sugar, to experience the original taste of the beans, while others choose a more normal recipe of mixed beans. The mixture most often found in coffee shops around Vietnam is somewhere around 65% arabica, 20% robusta, and 15% excelsa (or chari/cherry), which gives the coffee fullness and increases the crema when brewing an espresso. Every shop, though, has their own secret ratios.

Arabica is probably the most prominent coffee bean in Dalat. Its taste has the power to delight, with a lush body, roundness and delicious buttery caramel taste. The rich soil and temperate climate in Dalat give the beans a distinct mellowness no other place can match. A senior coffee specialist for Starbucks once said that ‘Dalat coffee has a bright refreshing acidity highlighting kola nut, toffee, and vanilla. It’s excellent in espresso, brewed coffee, or even cold brews.’

One of the most special types in town - the weasel coffee - takes your palate on an earthy journey. More and more people come to Dalat just to appreciate a small cup of the brew. It’s the most expensive and finest, not only in Dalat but around the world. During the digestion process, the gastric juices and enzymes in the weasel’s stomach are absorbed into the coffee bean, making changes to the bean and producing a charming flavour and tempting aroma that impresses coffee lovers. ‘It’s best to let the weasels roam free and eat the coffee beans, because they will choose only the good ones,’ our guide explained. Some farms, though, build cages for the weasels, to protect them from thieves and to maintain a level of hygiene.

Coffee beans in Dalat, no matter the farm, are always sun-dried to embrace the natural sweetness. It’s the dream of every ‘coffee-holic’ to come just as the farmers start to roast the beans, when the classic coffee scent fills the air. I love that feeling of waiting for the drops to pass through the filter, as ‘a cup of coffee with friends is happiness tasted and time well-spent!’ ^

Me Linh Coffee Garden

Block 20, Village 4, Ta Nung District, Dalat, Lam Dong Province

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