Southeast Asia Coffee Culture

Coffee is a drink that has been around for centuries and it’s had quite the history. Originally, coffee was only consumed in Africa and the Middle East, but today it’s found on nearly every continent.

Today, there are two main types of coffee drinkers: light roast drinkers who like their coffee smooth and dark roast drinkers who like theirs strong.

But what about people living in Southeast Asia? What types of coffees do they prefer to drink? And how does this affect Southeast Asian culture as a whole? Let’s take a look at some facts about these countries’ preferences when it comes to their beloved caffeinated beverage!

Southeast Asia Coffee Culture:

1) Viet Nam:

Southeast Asia Coffee

In Vietnam, coffee is more than just a drink; it’s part of their way of life. Coffee was introduced to Vietnam during the early 19th century and has been an important factor in Vietnamese culture ever since.

It’s no surprise that Vietnam tops out our list of biggest coffee drinkers per capita, and here’s why:

  • Vietnam is the second-largest exporter of coffee in the world (the first being Brazil) and it only grows on about 1% of its total land area.
  • Vietnamese citizens drink an average of 3 cups per day!
  • People over 50 years old typically drink 3-4 cups per day, while younger people tend to drink less coffee.
  • Coffee shops are everywhere in Vietnam but are mostly concentrated in Ho Chi Minh City (the city’s nickname is Saigon). There are thousands of small cafes and coffee-selling restaurants that line the streets.
  • It’s estimated that about 80% of the coffee shops in Vietnam are at least partly owned by women.
  • In traditional Vietnamese culture, it’s rude to refuse a cup of coffee when offered one, but today this has become a common practice and not everyone will offer you a cup.
  • Coffee is often served with a side of tea or water, usually accompanied by a glass of sweetened condensed milk.
  • Most coffee shops in Vietnam provide free refills and people will stay and chat with friends or family members while they drink their coffee, which is why the cafes tend to be so crowded.
  • The drips and bits at the bottom of the cup are called “phuong” and are sipped right before the coffee is finished to get the best flavor.
  • It’s common to order a “ca phe trung” when you order your coffee in Vietnamese, which is an egg yolk-flavored iced coffee that’s topped off with milk or cream.
  • As it turns out, the coffee Vietnam produces is considered to be some of the best in the world, so now’s a good time to start ordering those iced coffees down south!
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2) Malaysia:

Southeast Asia Coffee
Marcus Loke |

In Malaysia, it’s hard not to order coffee from a place called “Starbucks.” There are over 160 Starbucks chains across Malaysia and they’re one of the most popular places to get coffee.

But because Malaysia is so diverse in its population and its culture, there’s a lot of variations when it comes to what locals alike in their coffee and how they drink it:

  • Some people prefer tea over coffee, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy their coffee.
  • Coffee culture in Malaysia is just starting to take off and there’s a lot of room for growth.
  • Malaysians love their coffee because it’s convenient and they can always find a place to get it!
  • Even though there isn’t an official Starbucks store in every city, there are plenty of Starbucks kiosks in airports and shopping malls.
  • Malaysian coffee is typically wealthy with heavy milk or cream, much like French-style coffee; because of this, it tends to be sweeter.
  • Darker roasts are preferred since they’re usually stronger than lighter roasts, but sometimes people go crazy with the flavored syrup in their coffee.
  • The most popular flavors are chocolate chip, hazelnut, and caramel macchiato.
  • Most Malaysians drink their coffee with condensed milk which is thicker than regular milk but not as thick as evaporated or sweetened condensed milk because it’s been mixed with sugar and water to make it less sweet.
  • It’s common for Malaysians to drink their coffee with milk and sugar and not worry about adding other condiments like honey or syrup.
  • The traditional way of drinking Malaysian coffee is called “gotten,” which is simply stirring the condensed milk into your coffee until there are no more swirls of white.

3) Indonesia:

Southeast Asia Coffee
Stefen Tan |

Indonesians drink more instant coffee than any other country in the world, but they don’t stop there; most Indonesians love their coffee which is no surprise since Indonesia has its own “Starbucks” (which is called Starbucks Coffee)! You can find about 800 locations across the nation.

But even before Starbucks came to town, Indonesians have been enjoying good coffee for a long time. They’ve been producing their coffee since the 1700s and many work on small plantations almost like family businesses.

And because there are about 17,500 islands that makeup Indonesia, you can find a lot of different types of coffee because there are so many different varieties grown all over the nation.

  • Indonesians love their coffee and that’s pretty obvious if you ever come to the country!
  • Some typical Indonesian flavors include ginger, grapefruit, clove, saltwater taffy, sweet potato, blueberry, vanilla yogurt, and pumpkin spice.
  • Indonesians like their coffee sweet, but not as sweet as American coffee; it’s mostly about the flavor of the coffee.
  • It’s common to order “kopi susu” or milk coffee which is usually served with condensed milk (like most Southeast Asian countries) instead of cream or half and half.
  • It’s common for Indonesians to drink their coffee with a dash of salt, but some prefer it without salt while others don’t mind the taste of the salt at all.
  • A traditional cup of Indonesian coffee contains one-ounce espresso beans with four ounces of water, so one cup is only about one ounce.
  • “Kopi Susu” is popular in Indonesia but not widely consumed because it’s hard to find the specific ingredients needed to make it.
  • Indonesians like adding spices and salted peanuts to their coffee, especially saltwater taffy, which is common among kids and older people.
  • A traditional cup of coffee in Indonesia is usually made in a “sok ibu” which means it’s made by an older woman or someone who has more experience making coffee than others, like the head of the house.
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4) Thailand:

Southeast Asia Coffee
Kawin Harasai |

Thai people, like most Southeast Asians, love their coffee and have been drinking it since the 1950s. Coffee is a part of Thai culture and has been for a long time, but it started to become big when Thailand opened up to other countries in the world.

And just like much of Southeast Asia, coffee is served with sweetened condensed milk which makes it much sweeter than American coffee because there’s more sugar and milk in it.

  • Coffee is a huge part of Thai culture and people drink it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; It’s not just an after-meal thing like American coffee.
  • Sometimes the flavorings get too sweet because most Thais like their coffee with condensed milk (like most Southeast Asians).
  • A typical Thai coffee is a strong blend of dark-roasted coffee beans with a dash of milk and sweetened condensed milk.
  • Thais like to add spices to their coffee, especially cinnamon which is one of the most popular flavors in Thailand alongside chocolate and salted peanuts, just like other Southeast Asian countries.
  • For a strong cup of Thai coffee, it’s served with a high concentration of dark-roasted beans and is only about two ounces which is equivalent to an American cup size.
  • Coffee in Thailand is pretty expensive so Thais usually drink instant coffee instead because it’s affordable and still has the same caffeine kick they need to get through the day.
  • Coffee is growing more popular in Thailand lately but it’s not nearly as popular as other Southeast Asian countries, like Indonesia and Vietnam.
  • There are a few coffee shops in Thailand that offer Western-style coffee, but most of them only serve Thai coffee because there isn’t a high demand for Western-style coffee.
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Yes, coffee is very popular in Vietnam. The Vietnamese are the third largest consumers of coffee in the world with 400 cups per year per person on average.

It’s extremely easy to find a café or restaurant that serves “Cafe Da” or “Ca Phe Den” (hot or iced coffee) on every block in Vietnam. Vietnamese coffee is an integral part of their culture, so it’s not just a drink they consume for the caffeine buzz; it’s more of a tradition to them.

If you want to learn how to order coffee like a local, check out our post here.

In Vietnam, there are different types of local coffee depending on what part of the country you’re in. In the north, it’s a strong sweet black coffee called “Café Dã Cà Phê” or commonly referred to as “Ca Phe Dac”, which is made with dark roasted robusta beans.

In the south, it’s a strong sweet black coffee or iced coffee called “Café Sua Da” or “Ca Phe Sua Da” which are Vietnamese words that mean “coffee with iced water”.

3) What is Vietnamese Coffee?

It’s a strong black coffee made with dark roasted robusta beans and sweetened condensed milk or sugar.

4) Where do you get it?

It varies depending on the region, but you can find it at just about any café or restaurant in Vietnam although many places specialize in making their coffee with robusta beans whereas other places make it with arabica beans.

No, not as much, but it’s getting more and more popular among young people and tourists visiting Vietnam. There are even a few cafes that offer Western-style coffee in Hanoi that are run by foreign entrepreneurs.


Thailand and Vietnam both have strong traditions in coffee culture. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just an after-meal beverage for them; It’s a way of life that brings people together and enhances their daily lives.

Coffee is such a big part of the Thai and Vietnamese cultures that people drink it everywhere, any time of the day, whether it’s iced on a hot summer afternoon or piping hot on a cold winter morning.

After reading this article, hopefully, you will have enough information to order coffee like a local when you visit Thailand or Vietnam!

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