With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

Best beer and coffee?

Posted by mracine on May 15, 2017

Let’s stop and talk about locally crafted beer.  Do you look for fresh, high quality malt and hops?  Does the brand or batch size matter to you?  Or do you, as a connoisseur of the bubble brew, look for a different aspect to determine your enjoyment?

If you are anything like me, then you’ll be pleased to know that in Vietnam you can get a special kind of beer that pleases the pallet at an extraordinary price. “Bai hoi” also known as “fresh beer” can be found littered all over Vietnam, but predominantly in the northern regions.  I was first introduced to this delectable treasure in Hanoi.

So by now, you must be wondering what magic makes this beer stand out from the rest.  Well, it’s outstanding price.  It’s usually priced around 5,000 dong.  For those who need a price conversion, it come to 22 cents per glass.  In other words, you can drink a small kegs worth for what you usually carry in your wallet.   In fact, the first hostel I stayed in gave it away for free during happy hour.



Okay… Maybe more like happy half hour.

Now, beer this cheap comes with a catch.  That would be favor.  In a fair contest, PBR would retain its ribbon and Budweiser would still be king.  But if your watch is often set to Miller Time, then you’ll have no problem pushing down this kind of libation.  Also the alcoholic nature of the drink is less than its kin.  It hovers around the 3% mark.
To those who come to South East Asia, you’ll quickly learn that beer can be inexpensive and tasty.  I suggest giving “fresh beer” as taste, but also give other locally brewed beer a chance.  Many like “Bai Saigon” and “Huda” have much more to offer in overall satisfaction.  The price may be an exponentially higher at four or five times the cost; but as with all things in life, you get what you pay for.


Food goes down better with local beer.


Do you remember this legendary scene from Happy Gilmore?


This begs the question; why not have poop for breakfast?  Well, maybe not that exactly.  You see, I had the synthetic version.

Ever since I watched the movie “The Bucket List”, Kopi luwak was something that was on my radar. Kopi luwak is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, selling for about US$3,000 per kilogram (2.2 lbs).


The specialty Vietnamese coffee beans are made with the help of wild civets also called “weasels” here.  Now, don’t imagine these weasels wearing barista aprons.  Instead, they help with the bean selection.  They supposedly only select the ripest and, as a result, the best coffee berries.  Then the weasels eat them.  After some time and nature doing natures work, the berries arrive on the other end of the weasel.   In what I assume to be “the new-guy-at-he-coffee-farm’s job”, a person goes around collecting the digested oblong berry logs laying on the ground.  The weasel excrement gets washed and then the beans goes through the same process as the rest of the coffee that gets served to us.


And I helped.

Now, I want to make clear that I did not drink Kopi luwak.  For one thing, I hear rumors of some weasels being mistreated.  Some farmers looking to profit, cage and force the beasts to only consume coffee berries to maximize yield.   For another, most poop coffees are fake.  They are just regular coffee bean passed off as the genuine article.  And lastly, I’m not insane enough to pay more than Starbucks’s prices for coffee and I rarely allow myself to do that.


That’s $20 per cup for possibly fake weasel coffee!

However, I learned that there are legitimate fake poo coffee at a reasonable price.  Now, that’s the kind of thing I go for. You see, the weasel poo coffee get’s its fame for two things.  The selection of the best coffee beans and the digestive enzymes in the civet’s stomach which rounds out the flavor and adds to it somehow.  Some Vietnamese companies learned how duplicated this process chemically.  Now all I had to do was to buy some.

However, I encountered some difficulty in getting my synthetic poo coffee.  In Hanoi, they are trying to sell you the “real thing”.  However, the “real thing” isn’t real at all.  It’s either synthetic poo coffee or just regular coffee.  But this doesn’t stop them for trying to sell it for “real thing” prices.  There are also lots of companies selling coffee with a picture of a weasel on them.  Technically, they don’t say its real poo coffee or synthetic poo coffee, it’s just coffee with a picture of an animal and if you get the wrong impression, well…  It gets really confusing very quickly.

Look, I’m just your average tourist looking to sit down somewhere and have a nicely brewed cup of coffee that mimics the beans that been digested by weasels.  That’s not too much to ask, is it?  Well, after studying up on it online, I learned that Vietnam was the second largest supplier of coffee in the world.  And I also learned that Vietnam also has a problem with some places selling fake coffee beans.  Yes, you read that right.  Fake coffee beans.  Apparently, you can dye soy beans and bake them a certain way to resemble and taste like coffee.  And it actually fools people.  What I can’t understand is why there isn’t coffee flavored tofu on the shelves of my local supermarket?  I would eat that.

So after some time, I found a few brands that sell the actual synthetic poo coffee with real coffee beans.  Imagine that!?  When I discovered this, I was off going in and out of stores asking where they kept their best “weasel dropping beans”. I eventually found a box that met my qualifications, I bought it and brought back to my hotel to try.

Both my wife and I were excited to give it a try.  However, a coffee pot wouldn’t work for this.  Mostly because we didn’t have a coffee pot in our hotel room.  Instead, we did like the locals and used a device that slowly drips the brew directly into our coffee cups.



We precisely measured the amount of coffee grinds needed with our eyes.  Slowly poured in the hot water over the coffee grounds and waited.  Using my expertise, I wanted to know if I could detect all the subtle differences between regular Vietnamese coffee and this special kind.  When the coffee making device finished I looked inside my cup to discover that my wife, in tradition to how most Vietnamese make their coffee, filled it half way with condensed milk.

So did my sophisticated pallet discern the hints of weasel dung over the condensed milk?  Well, no.  The major flavor in the forefront was the delightful sweetness that is condensed milk.  Then it’s followed up by the espresso like taste of the coffee.  The subtle earthy hints and chocolate flavors or the less bitter taste didn’t really come through.

On my second go, I had my weasel manure flavored coffee straight.  And this time, I tasted… coffee.  Yep, a good cup of coffee.  A bit anti-climatic I know, but there is one good take away I get from this.  The next time I make a pot of coffee and someone tells me it taste like crap, I’ll just take it as a complement knowing how much crap coffee can cost.




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