Dalat Coffee Tours – How to Savour Dalat’s Growing Coffee Culture
Dalat coffee tours are fast becoming a must-do experience in the Central Highlands of Vietnam – the world’s second largest coffee producer after Brazil, the world’s largest grower of Robusta coffee, and a producer of fine Arabica, grown in the country for 150 years.
Dalat coffee tours are becoming increasingly popular, among foreign travellers as much as local visitors, and it should be no surprise seeing Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee producing country and the Vietnamese are keen coffee drinkers.
I’ll never forget noticing on our first trip to Saigon how there seemed to be a small tea or coffee stall on every block – typically tucked into an alleyway entrance – where locals squatted on tiny stools sipping black tea or coffee. The coffee, served in glass mugs or tumblers, was more often than not, a ca phe sua da (cà phê sua đa), a thick, muddy, chocolate-tasting coffee with condensed milk.
While the coffee stalls still exist in Saigon, these days there’s a sleek café on every block. If it’s not one of Vietnam’s Starbucks-like (only better) home-grown franchises, such as Highlands Coffee, it’s a café with a retro vibe or semi-industrial design. And they’re packed with coffee sippers from early morning until late at night.
While the old coffee houses and stalls made their filtered coffee with Robusta beans, which comprise 95% of Vietnam’s production, the newer breed of cafés offer pour-over and cold-brew using superb Vietnamese Arabica beans. While thought to be a more recent introduction by many who know Vietnam for Robusta, Arabica has actually been grown in the country’s higher altitude mountains for 150 years.
As most of Vietnam’s coffee is grown in and around Dalat it was only a matter of time before Dalat coffee tours began to be offered. We tried the two coffee experiences below on the Vietnam Culinary Tour we hosted last year and we’ll include these again on our next tour. We’ll test out more in a few months.
Dalat Coffee Tours – How to Sample Dalat’s Growing Coffee Culture
La Viet Cafe, Coffee Growers and Roasters
Of all the Dalat coffee tours on offer, the best is perhaps by La Viet (Là Việt). Home to Dalat’s – and some of Vietnam’s – finest bean-to-cup coffee, La Viet is café, coffee producer, roastery, and barista training centre in one. Located in a big, airy warehouse space with a cool contemporary style that could be in Saigon, Bangkok, Melbourne, or New York, but comes as a surprise in Dalat, La Viet is a must-do for serious coffee drinkers.
The big blackboard menus feature a long list of coffees you’d find on blackboard menus in any serious café around the world – don’t come here for a ca phe sua da or other traditional Vietnamese filter coffees, as there’s none on the menu. And don’t come for the food – when we visited there was little more than cakes and biscuits to accompany your coffee; it’s all about the coffee here.
Staff at La Viet offer regular, short, behind-the-scenes coffee tours of the facility, which tour operators and guides can book ahead if you’ve only got one day in Dalat and are on a tight schedule. However, if you are serious about your coffee, you have more time and you’re travelling independently of a guide or group, there are two scheduled daily tours on offer for 500,000 VND per person.
On the morning tour (8-11.30am) you get to visit La Viet’s coffee farm to learn how coffee is planted and harvested, while on the afternoon tour (1.30-4.30pm) you get a more in-depth look at how coffee beans are graded, processed and roasted, and some hands-on experiences at roasting and coffee making.
As we only had one day in Dalat and were tight on time, we did one of the regular on-site behind-the-scenes coffee tours of La Viet’s facility and process, which, while fast and only provided a brief overview, was still fascinating. It’s a great introduction to those still learning about coffee.
Make sure you allow some time to browse their wonderful little boutique. You can buy La Viet coffee, coffee makers and accessories, along with local teas, honey, jams, Marou Chocolate, and more, and it’s all amazing value. And try their coffee of course.
Le Viet Coffee
200 Nguyen Cong Tru, Dalat. Short tours of the facility can be booked directly ore requested on arrival, but book ahead directly or through a guide or tour operator for the longer morning and afternoon tours.
K’Ho Coffee Cooperative
After a glorious day of clear blue skies, ominous storm clouds moved in just as we arrived at K’Ho Coffee on the hilltop of Langbiang village, home to the K’Ho ethnic minority peoples, 10kms from the centre of Dalat. K’Ho Coffee was founded by local girl Rolan Co Lieng, a fourth generation coffee farmer, and her partner Josh Guikema, on a coffee plantation that has been in Rolan’s family since the 1860s.
Their aim is to produce and roast the highest quality Arabica green beans on the market in a sustainable, ethical and socially responsible manner while preserving the unique K’Ho culture, and they are indeed growing and roasting what’s now considered to be some of the finest Arabica coffee in Vietnam.
Of all the Dalat coffee tours on offer this is considered to be the most informative but also the most relaxed. This is definitely an experience for those who already know something about coffee growing and roasting. We booked a short ‘tour’, which consisted of a casual yet detailed introduction to K’Ho Coffee and their 100% Arabica single origin coffee, the story of the cooperative, and their growing conditions and methods.
We were given our introduction to K’Ho in their charming little roastery cum boutique. K’Ho Coffee is a co-operative ran by the K’Ho community, which grows 100% Arabica varieties in the fertile, high-altitude, volcanic soils of Langbiang. The coffee cherries are harvested by hand at their peak ripeness and after washing are dried on raised beds to maintain consistent moisture content. They are continually graded by hand at each stage of the process.
Following our intro, we were taken for a very short walk through the coffee garden, where cherries are growing on the trees, to their tiny café for a tasting. Wear flat shoes with grip that you don’t mind getting dirty: it’s slippery the day we visit, as it’s drizzling with light rain.
In a lovely, shaded spot, set amidst the coffee trees, we got to do a coffee tasting, and try their filtered coffee, espresso, pour-over coffee, and even their coffee ‘tea’ – all against the backdrop of Langbiang Mountain, visible when the rain stops and the cloud clears. It was easily some of the best coffee we’ve tasted anywhere, not just in Vietnam.
It’s possible to book longer half-day and full-day tours to get more of a hands-on experience of the farm and every stage of the coffee process, including how to select and roast beans, as well as learn more about how the work of K’Ho Coffee is changing lives for members of the cooperative.
The K’Ho are indigenous to the forests of Vietnam’s Central Highlands and are better known in Southeast Asia by their French name, the Montagnards. Most K’Ho are Christians and some have been persecuted for their beliefs.
Along with coffee beans, ground coffee, and coffee makers and accessories, you’ll find beautiful handmade K’Ho textiles, basket-ware and other handicrafts, made by the local artisans in the community, for sale in the K’Ho Coffee boutique. The K’Ho village around K’Ho Coffee’s headquarters is worth a bit of a wander for the charming low-rise houses and the church at the centre of the square.
Lang Biang Bonneur C Village, 10kms north of Dalat, foot of Lang Biang Mountain. Coffee tours and coffee tastings can be booked from Mon-Sat 8am-4pm on the K’Ho Coffee website.
Have you experienced any Dalat coffee tours? We’d love to hear your feedback and hear about any new Dalat coffee tours and would welcome tips in the comments below.