Organized Panel Session
The specialty coffee producing region in Vietnam has recently become an area of interest for international coffee importers seeking to expand their offerings. Although a public discourse about what constitutes specialty coffee is still taking shape in Vietnam, young coffee professionals are infusing the industry with a conception of culture that draws heavily on branding and attention to design – architecture and interior design of café spaces, coffee packaging design, and the vessels that consumers drink from. Although this may not be a new cultural practice in Vietnam, it is framed as such and signals a tension within what many Vietnamese would broadly consider to be one singular coffee culture rooted in the central highlands. This paper explores the notion of a “traditional” coffee culture that pervades Vietnam and the specialty industry’s challenges to it through strategically assuming the elements that make Vietnamese coffee unique from competitors while dissociating from high-volume commodity coffee producers in the central highlands. Drawing upon a series of recent interviews and long-term ethnographic work in the industry, I address a shifting perspective on the culture of agriculture within the specialty coffee industry and a deliberate framing and use of Vietnam’s coffee history and imagined future to construct a new vision of sustainable agricultural production. I demonstrate that this shift reveals an anxiety about how culture is conceptualized and conclude by exploring the implications of valuing and devaluing particular concepts of culture through the lens of consumption in contemporary Vietnam.