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First, the topography of the Annamite Plateau is very complex and creates regional microclimates, which were observed over a hundred years ago and exploited for maximum diversity of bean species and varieties. There are two basic approaches to coffee - single origin versus multi-origin blends. In Southeast Asia, with such diversity of beans available, a multi-origin, blended coffee approach seems natural. Blending bean species and varieties is inherently superior in achieving a broad flavor range, persistance of aftertaste, sophisticated nose, ice coffee performance, and overall mouthfeel and sense of satisfaction for the palate.

The move in South America and other coffee-producing regions to single-source, 100% Arabica in the last decade has narrowed the flavor range and appeal of modern coffee to only those consumers with palates who prefer hybrid Arabicas. Our own public taste tests indicate that 70% of consumers respond better to mixed-species blends of coffee, and tastes run about equal for preference or Robusta versus Arabica. Vietnamese blended coffee thus has a wider appeal among the general populace than single-source, 100% Arabicas. Comments among consumers are often along the lines of "This is how coffee used to taste!" and "I didn't know coffee could taste like this!".

Secondly, roasting preferences establish decades ago favored a lower-temperature, longer roasting process. The dark "French" roast that we refer to today probably originated not as a high-temperature roast, but a slow and long roast that results in beans that have consistent color through the whole bean, and a dark color but no bubbling or burning. This distinction is VERY important, since many Americans today associate French roast with the all-too-common burning of coffee that takes place at certain coffee house chains. Burning coffee results in the breakdown of sugars and oils and fast oxidation and fermenting of coffee once exposed to the air. These drawbacks do not occur in the Southeast Asian dark roast, which is more stable.

Thirdly, beans are generally roasted in what is referred to as "butter oil", which may or may not be actual clarified butter oil. Occasionally vegetable oils are used, and historically, traditional "home-grown" coffee roasting style involves creating almost a caramel-like coating effect with the use of a small amount of sugar, oil, and generally a touch of vanilla or cocoa. This coating blackens in the roast and the beans wind up with almost a thin, hard shell. Why is this done? Robusta beans are uniquely slow to ripen on the bush, and often pickers pick unripe beans along with ripe beans. The traditional coating gives all the beans a similar color. The presence of a few unripe beans does not hurt the overall taste effect of the blend. However, modern growers pick only ripe beans despite the extra labor, and do not feature this coating in their roasting, opting simple for a little oil to keep the beans easy to turn in the slow roasting process.

 

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