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The Dangers of Saigon Street Coffee

You might want to think twice before buying your next cà phê sữa đá on the street. If you can call it that, really: “industrial chemicals” is not a phrase you want to have associated with your morning joe. Unfortunately, however, this may be a more accurate description than “coffee” these days.

While we've known for a while that some Saigon coffee vendors maximize their profits with coffee-flavored chemicals, a practice which city officials have been slow to haltThanh Nien decided to explore this fake coffee dilemma further, and the information that surfaced is not comforting for coffee drinkers.

District 5's Kim Bien Market seems to be the place to buy fake coffee, which comes in large plastic jugs labeled “instant coffee” and boasts “super profits” as well as “super convenience” for its users. The chemicals are sold in three varieties: robusta, moka and Brazilian.

According to Kim Bien vendors, the contents of these plastic jugs are poisonous and come from China, however it's also “good for coffee shops”, the vendors told Thanh Nien. No one will say what, exactly, the dark liquid contains, but a source from the Ho Chi Minh City Chemistry Association believes the substance likely includes heavy metals like lead or mercury, both of which can lead to stomach and liver cancer if consumed over a long period of time.

Meanwhile, vendors of the fake coffee are raking in profits. One liter of coffee-flavored chemicals goes for around VND380,000 and makes at least 400 cups of coffee, according to Xuan, a vendor at Kim Bien.

“You actually only need a few drops for a perfect cup. Most coffee shops use this liquid, as it gives a very real fragrance and a lot of profits,” she told Thanh Nien.

However, some don't buy the money-making argument. For those who stick to the real deal, cheap ground coffee costs VND150,000 a kilo and makes 40 cups at most. Still, Hai, a cafe owner in Tan Binh District, says he only uses real coffee beans and manages to turn a solid profit without resorting to dangerous substances.

“Only those who want to spend one and earn 10 would use this kind of murderous chemical,” he told Thanh Nien.

Perhaps it's time to swap that morning coffee for some tea...

[Photo via Thanh Nien]

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