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No other country in Asia is as coffee-obsessed as Vietnam. For the Vietnamese, coffee is more than just a hot beverage; instead, it is an integral part of their culture. People gather for a cup of coffee, chat, joke around, talk excitedly about current events, and make new friends. Coffee unites. And that’s just one of the reasons why coffee shops have been popping up like mushrooms in Vietnam since the 1990s.
It was French missionaries who first brought coffee to Vietnam in the mid-19th century, and then it started to be professionally cultivated in some parts of the country. But it wasn’t until 1980 that Vietnam emerged as the most important producers of coffee in Asia. Although the country lags far behind Brazil, the world’s largest coffee exporter, in terms of cultivated area, the coastal state became the world’s second-largest producer within just a few decades.
Today, the coffee grown in the south-east Asian country is almost exclusively of the rather bitter Robusta variety. More than 95% of the coffee is grown on small farms. It is harvested between September and March, and then shipped between January and September.
Intimex is one of the most important producers of coffee in Vietnam – and a good, long-standing customer of Hapag-Lloyd. The company exports around 500,000 tonnes per year in roughly 25,000 TEU to its customers worldwide, with Hapag-Lloyd transporting it mainly to Germany, Belgium and Spain. About 20% of the harvest remains in Vietnam and ends up in coffee cups between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
During our visit to Intimex in My Phuoc, it is almost impossible to understand our host, Managing Director Nguyen Duc Hiep. The noise of the machines in which the freshly picked and delivered coffee beans are cleaned, dried and then packed into sacks is deafening. In 11 production facilities spread across the country, around 1,000 employees work to prepare the precious beans to be shipped overseas. Duc Hiep takes a sample from a container of freshly delivered beans and lets them slide through his hand. He is visibly pleased, as the colour, size and texture of the beans meet Intimex’s high quality standards.
Although the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant problems for the company, demand is now back at a very high level and coffee prices are only heading in a single direction: up.
Outside, a truck carrying a Hapag-Lloyd container is idling. Duc Hiep nods to the driver and then says to us with a smile: “Germany has always been a role model for us Vietnamese when it comes to its high-quality products and services. But we don’t have anything to be ashamed of. On the contrary, we are extremely proud of the high quality of our coffee.”