(Ro)Busta Rhyme! Bar Xiu Coffee Taste Test
In today's 0.00% ABV adventure...
There’s an invigorating “buzz” that one experiences when strolling the streets of Ho Chi Minh. It’s hard not to feel it, especially against the lively backdrop of motorbikes weaving around you, and the energetic honks of the locals riding said motorbikes - the perpetual soundtrack of a city in motion!
But for me, the “buzz” I felt throughout a previous trip to Vietnam could quite clearly be attributed to one additional factor: the copious amounts of deliciously intense local coffee I had been drinking.
Delicious Vietnamese Coffee from Cafe Ngyuen Hoang, served with refreshing iced jasmine tea.
I was particularly obsessed with Cà Phê Sữa Đá (pronounced car-fei-suu-da), a popular Vietnamese drink consisting of dark roasted Robusta coffee, mixed with condensed milk and served over ice. It was a creamy and refreshing treat – and I have been craving it ever since!
Unfortunately due to the pandemic, my attempts to travel back for that sweet, sweet caffeine hit kept getting delayed.
The Bar Xiu Cafe in Ho Chi Minh; Bar Xiu Singapore offers three types of ready-to-drink bottled coffee: the Ca Phe Sua, Bac Xiu and Cold Brew Coffee (Image Source: Barxiu Coffee Singapore)
So imagine my excitement when I came across Bar Xiu, a new brand in Singapore offering home-delivered, ready-to-drink Vietnamese coffee. Interestingly, the company has its roots in Vietnam, where it currently operates the Bar Xiu café in the Ben Thanh district of Ho Chi Minh city.
I’m told by Bar Xiu’s friendly customer service that the bottled coffee sold in Singapore is made from Robusta beans and prepared in classic drip coffee style - just like in Vietnam! Curious, I ordered some to try!
Yet before diving any further into the Bar Xiu coffee taste test, I feel that some context into the slightly misunderstood Robusta coffee bean is necessary.
In Defense of Robusta: Misunderstood but Mighty!
Two primary coffee beans account for the bulk of coffee production today: the Robusta bean (belonging to the Coffea canephora plant species) and the Arabica bean (or Coffea arabica). When it comes to Vietnamese coffee, the vast majority is predominantly made from Robusta coffee.
Now, Robusta is typically associated with a harsher, grittier texture with darker, woodier flavors. It’s also the bean that typically used in instant coffee sachets and found in gas station coffee.
In contrast, the more elegant Arabica bean is known for having fruitier, sweeter flavors, with lighter, milder textures. It’s often served in specialty cafes, and commands a price premium over Robusta.
Funnily enough, the reason Robusta is more pest-resistant than Arabica is due to its higher caffeine content at around 2.7%, almost twice that of Arabica’s 1.5%. For insects, ingesting this amount of caffeine content can literally be like taking poison. Thankfully though, for humans, it's productive
In all seriousness though, beyond the obvious economic sense for farmers to grow Robusta, the hardiness and reliability of the Robusta bean can have benefits for the consumer as well. Because it's more caffeinated than Arabica, you get bang for your buck! While I enjoy my Arabica brews on lazy weekends, I’ve personally found Robusta to be ideal for that workday kick, bringing forth a discernable eye-blinking, hair on the chest caffeinated buzz.
That may just be the Asian practicality in me speaking.
But make no mistake, my appreciation for Robusta extends beyond its functional purpose, and also to its taste. Part of why I love Vietnamese coffee is because it debunks the myth that Robusta cannot be just as delicious tasting as Arabica. One of the ways it does this is through the incorporation of unique add-ins like condensed milk, coconut cream, butter, and even egg yolks (thats right!) to Robusta coffee.
Another popular Vietnamese coffee variant - The Egg Coffee. More commonly found in Hanoi, it was first invented in Cafe Giang, and is made by beating an egg yolk with sweetened condensed milk. This cuppa here was from Loading T Cafe in Hanoi.
The name of the game here is not about concealing the harsher Robusta flavor compounds, but finding ways to complement and round out the nuttier, darker flavors of the Robusta variety. What results from this is some of the creamiest, most delicious cups of coffee I’ve tasted.
(Image sources: Vietnam Investment Review, Communicaffe)
And this may explain the relative difficulties faced by foreign coffee chains like Starbucks in their attempts to win over the Vietnamese consumers, whom take a lot of pride in their full-strength, heavy Robusta brews. Today, Starbucks continues to trail popular Vietnamese chain Highlands Coffee in market share, despite touting the superiority of its Arabica beans. Clearly, Robusta isn’t always the less preferred taste alternative to Arabica.
But okay okay, enough of my caffeinated ramblings.
Let’s get to the drinking!
Today, I'm trying two types of coffee from Bar Xiu, the first being the classic Cà Phê Sữa and the second being the Bạc Xỉu, Bar Xiu’s Special Vietnamese White Coffee.
For both these varieties, you can choose to customize your sweetness level on the website. When I was ordering this, the staff at Bar Xiu mentioned that most Singapore customers prefer to get it less sweet (here’s looking at you, Kopi Siew Dai ordering folk!), and advised me to do the same. For those who enjoy their coffee black, Bar Xiu also sells a Cold Brew Coffee without any milk or sugar.
Bar Xiu Ca Phe Sua – Vietnamese Coffee & Condensed Milk
It's 9 am on a Monday morning, let's do this.
My first sip brings forth a strong woody coffee note accompanied by a pronounced caramel twang. The texture is light and smooth, with mild creaminess from the condensed milk and a sweetness resembling dark chocolate. You might notice some bitterness and acidity rises back up on the palette, but its is balanced quite well with the nuttiness of slightly charred hazelnuts and praline.
Slightly burnt hazelnut praline notes (Image source: Cecilias Farm)
I continue sipping on the Ca Phe Sua over the next half hour, but already 10 minutes in, I start to feel an energizing buzzing in my body, no doubt the caffeine working its magic. There’s a mellow humming I feel right to the ends of my fingertips. Ah… there’s that characteristic Robusta jolt! I must say, I don’t mind it one bit.
I love the caramel, nuttiness in this. Its a great perk-me-up for all you hardworking busy worker bees.
Bạc Xỉu – Special Vietnamese White Coffee
It's only 10am after my first cup of Ca Phe Sua, and with bed time so far away, I feel like I could go for another cup. This time I pour out the Bạc Xỉu, or Vietnamese White Coffee, which the brand proudly describes as “liquid tiramisu” on their website. While the Ca Phe Sua is a combination of coffee and condensed milk, Bac Xiu features an added ingredient: whipping cream.
(Image source: Ferrero Nutrition)
Make no mistake: this is dessert drink. Right off the bat, it’s very rich and creamy, with a sweet vanillic note. Just like the Ca Phe Sua, this has a nutty aroma of hazelnut. However, in the Bac Xiu, the hazelnut flavours are expressed in a more milk-forward way. Kind of like the hazelnut filling in the Kinder Bueno chocolate, versus the more charred nutty quality apparent in the Ca Phe Sua.
The coffee note feels very mild, almost like a suggestion. If you're someone who prefers a strong coffee flavor, this might not be the one for you. But if you're someone with a sweet tooth, you'll be pleased to find in the Bar Xiu an excuse to have liquid ice cream for breakfast!
Drinking Bar Xiu's coffee has certainly rekindled my nostalgia for Vietnamese coffee! With borders to and from Singapore starting to open up, perhaps I just might start planning a return visit to Vietnam soon... Until then, however, these ready-to-drink bottled coffees offer a great way to get a Robusta fix.
Bar Xiu Singapore
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