Farm: Various Small Farms from Da Lat and surrounds
Processing: Fully washed & sundried; finished in mechanical driers
Altitude: 1,387 to 1,508 metres above sea level
Owner: 26 smallholder farmers from the Da Lat district and surrounds
Town / City: Various towns in Da lat district and surrounds
Region: Lam Dong Province
Da Lat Microlot - Vietnam
This very special and unusual microlot comes from 34 smallholder Arabica producers living within the Central Highlands of Vietnam. All of these producers live within the Da Lat District of Vietnam’s Lam Dong province and farm on small plots of land ranging from 1,352 to 1,605 metres above sea level. Mercanta is the only specialty importer able to offer this high quality, specialty microlot and one of the few (if not only) offering coffees of this quality from Vietnam. Vietnam is a new origin for us, and we are proud to be investing in sustainably grown and priced specialty-grade Arabica in a region with great potential for the future.
This microlot has been carefully selected as being of exceptional quality by our partner in Vietnam, who represents and provides support for several hundred small-scale Arabica producers throughout the Lam Dong province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Each farmer owns from 1 to 1.5 hectares, and most rely upon coffee as their sole source of income.
Farmers who produce this coffee have received extensive training on improving all aspects of their production, from cultivation to business practices. All data regarding cultivation is entered on a regular basis into ‘farmers’ field books’, which are reviewed and discussed regularly with a field advisor and specialist. In the end of the year, the data is analysed and feedback is given to each farmer in farmers’ field schools, so that producers are able to more accurately complete cost-benefit analyses and better understand and implement the necessary steps to continue improving their production. This exceptionally rigorous approach to training and production practices (virtually unheard of elsewhere n the country) has resulted in an exceptional coffee that whispers of great things to come from this origin.
After careful cultivation and harvesting, the coffee is centrally processed at our partner’s wet mill, where processing is managed with a scrupulous eye to detail and quality control.
About the Quality Improvement Program:
Producers who have contributed to this lot and to all other Vietnamese lots sourced by Mercanta are participants in a strenuous quality improvement program aimed at increasing both the quantity and quality of Arabica coffee being grown in Vietnam’s Lam Dong province. Around 300 hectares of coffee and 200 farmers (a number that is steadily increasing) are currently enrolled in the program, which provides support and training in agricultural practices, health care and environmental protection. Each farmer participating in the program is given a unique code, which is used to track and provide full traceability on every lot of coffee produced through the program. Quality improvements are met with a premium price for the coffee that the farmers contribute through the project.
Furthermore – and important in a country facing massive groundwater depletion due to over irrigation of coffee – farmers who have contributed to this lot cultivate coffee in a sustainable manner adhering to strict soil, water and environmental conservation policies at every stage of production. The traceability system ensures that cultivation information for each contributing coffee farm is monitored, down to the application and timing of fertilisers and other inputs. Farmers are strongly urged to plant more shade trees and ‘green windbreaks’, and local wildlife is protected through the prohibition of hunting on all farms within the program.
Renovation is regularly performed as an intrinsic part of quality improvement. Upon reaching 8 to 12 years, coffee trees are stumped at 20 to 25 cm using an angled cut (to avoid water accumulating and causing damage to the root). Several months after pruning, farmers in the program select the healthiest of the emerging shoots, pruning the remainder away from the plant. After this step, a strong Arabica shoot is selected to graft onto the established root (see ‘Top graft’ & ‘Insertion of graft’ below): farmers select only shoots/scion from their strongest, healthiest trees. The graft is then secured. This form of renovation by grafting onto strong, established rootstock helps the plants to achieve resistance to soil born diseases and increases tolerances to stresses. It also can increase yields per plant.
All harvesting is done by hand and most contributing producers pre-sort their cherries, removing underripe and damaged beans before their coffee is collected and delivered to the central wet mill. At the mill, all coffee is sorted again using flotation tanks to remove any underweight and/or damaged cherries. After being sorted in this way, the ripe, heavy cherries are pulped using a Penagos ecopulper, which not only helps to conserve water but in some instances has also has been shown to contribute to better cup quality.
After pulping, the coffee is washed and then sun dried for at least 10 hours. All coffee is then finished by machine drying at low, constant temperatures.
All coffee is cupped according to strict protocols, and lots are separated according to cup profiles with only the best profiles making it into the program’s speciality lots.
In addition to quality improvements, the program also takes social circumstances of farmers into consideration, funding a nursery school for local children so that their parents have time to adequately manage their coffee farms. The program has also developed an educational course designed to keep young people in coffee and gender awareness initiatives which improve women’s capacity to contribute to farming and business decisions within their families.
Coffee was introduced to Vietnam in the 1800’s, and throughout the French Colonial period, Arabica was actually grown on many French-owned plantations. Nonetheless, due to a variety of political and economic factors (including a massive civil war and subsequent Communist prohibitions on private land ownership), Vietnam was slow to achieve any real relevance as a coffee producing nation. As of 1990, Vietnam was responsible for a tiny 1% of world coffee trade.
This had all changed by 1990, by which point Vietnam had reached its current place as the second highest producing coffee country in the world (after Brazil) – a result of heavy investment in coffee production made possible by the liberalisation of land ownership under Đổi mới reforms in the mid-1980s and World Bank/IMF policy recommendations incentivising farmers to produce coffee for export. The country’s story of rapid growth, however, left little room for high-quality coffee. Some 95-97% of the country’s production is Robusta, and although Arabica coffee production has been increasing in recent years due to the expansion in growing area and yield improvement, it still accounts for very little of the overall coffee production in Vietnam.
Coffee production in Vietnam is concentrated in the Central Highlands (80%), and the small portion of Arabica grown in the country hails almost entirely from the Lam Dong province, as does this microlot from the Lac Duong District, located in the north of the Province. The terrain here is largely what is locally called ‘Bazan Red land’ (red basalt soil) and offers the perfect conditions for growing coffee. This rich volcanic mountain soil, coupled with the highland elevations contributes to slow, even development of the coffee cherry and, ultimately, to a sweeter, better cup of coffee.
According to some sources, the name ‘Da Lat’ (the district from which all the farmers contributing to this lot hail) derives from the acronym of the Latin phrase 'Dat Aliis Laetitiam Aliis Temperiem' ("It Gives Pleasure to Some, Freshness to Others"), which the French colonial government used in their official emblem of Đà Lạt. In reality, the name Da Lat is more likely derived from the language of the local ethnic group Lạt and its original meaning is "Stream of the Lạt", and the acronym above is in fact a ‘backcronym’.