By Thuong Le
Tu Anh Le loves going to the Starbucks at the buzzing heart of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh Metropolis.
The 26-year-outmoded and her chums gown up for the occasion and take selfies at the cafe.
“Photos at Starbucks make my Instagram glance nicer,” says Tu Anh Le, who thinks the cafe is “luxurious”, savor a 5-star hotel. “I gather a lot of likes and good feedback saying I glance stylish.”
That appears to be the greatest draw for her because although she is a fan of Starbucks, she doesn’t savor espresso: “It makes my enamel yellow. I desire smoothies or bubble milk tea.”
Ten years after the American chain arrived in Vietnam, the verdict is rather clear: Vietnamese of us savor espresso, however they hold now not really appear to savor Starbucks. And the ones who hold, savor Tu Anh Le, are now not really going for the espresso.
Starbucks accounted for moral 2% of Vietnam’s $1.2bn (£934m) espresso-drinking market in 2022, according to Euromonitor International. And its footprint in the nation is rarely always really expanding rapidly. It has 92 stores, which works out to much less than one for each million of us. By comparison, Thailand and Indonesia have about seven and two respectively.
“Starbucks’ presence remains diminutive as a consequence of [the] consumer preference for local espresso flavours,” says Nathanael Lim, an analyst at Euromonitor International.
Whereas Starbucks told the BBC it was committed to long-time duration investment in Vietnam, it didn’t say if it was profitable in the nation.
But it certainly has serene fared better than other international rivals. Another US chain, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, perfect has 15 stores right here after 15 years. The Chinese language-owned Mellower Coffee now not too long ago announced it was closing its doors after four years, whereas Australia’s Gloria Jean’s left Vietnam in 2017.
They all probably faced the same challenges as Starbucks. Vietnam, after all, is now not any stranger to espresso: Or now not it’s the world’s 2nd largest exporter of the brew.
For one factor, the menu is dear for a aggressive market savor Vietnam – a busy road hosts at least 10 espresso retail outlets, from roadside stalls to hip cafes. And drinking espresso is far from a luxurious in a nation where road espresso distributors pushing trolleys typically encourage the drink on cheap, microscopic plastic tables. Some even offer potentialities newspapers as mats so that they can bask in their espresso sitting on the ground.
And two, the Java chip frappucinos and pumpkin spiced lattes that have received in other places moral hold now not appear to nick it right here.
“The Starbucks menu is now not various,” says Trang Carry out, a game artist residing in the coastal metropolis of Da Nang. She drinks at least three cups of espresso a day, however rarely drops into the local Starbucks.
She tried it when it first opened – however she chanced on the cappuccino “bland and now not very espresso-flavoured”.
For her, traditional Vietnamese espresso wins hands-down. “It’s stronger and more fragrant. The way Vietnamese espresso is made with the filter helps to extract more espresso. When the espresso is brewed… and the hot water is added to let it drip slowly… [it] is the most fascinating.”
To make Vietnamese espresso, a tin filter called a “phin” is placed over a glass, and hot water is then poured on the espresso grounds. It takes about 10 minutes for the decoction to percolate into the glass beneath. The drink can be served hot or cool, and with or without condensed milk, a staple in Vietnamese espresso.
French colonisers introduced espresso to Vietnam in the 19th Century. But the first espresso plant was of the Arabica species and didn’t adapt effectively to the nation’s hot and humid climate and soil.
Then, years later, the French brought Robusta plants which thrived. And that is the espresso popular in Vietnam today – Robusta has more caffeine, and a stronger flavour that is also more bitter.
Starbucks, on the other hand, uses 100% Arabica beans. The company told the BBC this was carried out to achieve “a flavour that can be subtle however also complex”.
But 97% of the espresso Vietnam consumes each year – about 200,000 tonnes, or 2kg per individual – is of the Robusta variety.
It may explain why even espresso drinkers who hold perambulate to Starbucks hold now not appear to savor what’s available. Marketer Tri Dang likes taking potentialities to Starbucks, especially older ones because of the cafe’s “youthful” vibe.
But he says he rarely drinks espresso at Starbucks because it has “a lighter smell, now not bitter and doesn’t perambulate well with my espresso taste”.
And the menu has none of the local favourites. Whereas the most popular accompaniment is condensed milk, there are more adventurous alternate choices too. There is egg espresso, born in Hanoi in the Forties. Amid an acute milk shortage, an creative bartender at the Sofitel Fable Metropole Hotel, Nguyen Van Giang, whisked in egg as a replace.
Today, some local Vietnamese brands mix traditional Robusta espresso with egg yolk, yogurt and even fruit to woo recent potentialities. A popular local chain Cong Coffee says its most cherished brew is an indulgent cuppa coconut espresso, which blends coconut cream, condensed milk and ice.
Coffee is a source of “national pride” for Vietnam, says Tram Nguyen, a graphic clothier based in Dalat.
“It’s something very special and I always mention it at any time after I talk about Vietnam. I am very proud of Vietnamese espresso. I always have a substantial savor for milk espresso, whether iced or hot.”
She loves espresso so grand that she likes to take a glance at out a recent espresso situation almost each day.
“I perfect went to Starbucks once, because I wanted to take a glance at the luxurious espresso, however I felt that the money I spent wasn’t value what I obtained back, so I didn’t reach back.”
Value is a substantial reason why Vietnamese of us hesitate to head to Starbucks, even to bask in the novelty of it. A medium-sized drink at Starbucks with none of the add-ons prices about 90,000 Vietnamese Dong (£2.9; $3.8;). That’s prohibitive in a nation where the average monthly wage is perfect around $345.
Even Highlands, one among Vietnam’s first espresso store chains, and its most a hit, debuted as a luxurious chain, however eventually rebranded and nick prices. It now has more than 600 stores across the nation.
And yet Starbucks merchandise is attracting collectors who are prepared to splurge. Tri Dang boasts a collection of more than 40 Starbucks tumblers and cups, which are now value a few thousand dollars.
But that doesn’t change the fact that in contrast to a decade ago, for young Vietnamese who want a cup of espresso, there are now masses of alternate choices to make a option from.
“Starbucks espresso is nothing special to me, it be too fancy and I hold now not savor the taste,” Tram Nguyen says. “I can bask in a quality espresso at a Vietnamese espresso store at half the tag.”