Fake, potentially toxic coffee being sold in Vietnam: Report

Coffee business is big in Vietnam, and some vendors in the capital Ho Chi Minh City are cashing in on the trade by selling a dubious chemical that turns water into a beverage that tastes like coffee.

The "black liquid" is available at a wholesale market, Vietnamese daily Thanh Nien News reported, with "super convenience" and "super profits" being labelled on the big jerrycans it comes in. Buyers can even choose from Brazilian, mocha or robusta flavours.

One seller is charging 380,000 dong (S$24) a litre, which she said can make at least 400 cups of coffee. In contrast, a kilogram of cheap ground coffee which costs 150,000 dong can only make about 40 cups, according to Thanh Nien News.

The seller told an undercover reporter that the chemical comes from China and is used by "most coffee shops" in Ho Chi Minh City.

While further tests on the liquid are pending, Thanh Nien News quoted a source from the Ho Chi Minh City Chemistry Association as saying that it likely contains toxic heavy metals such as lead and mercury, which can cause liver and stomach cancer after long-term regular consumption.

A coffee shop owner told Thanh Nien News that casual coffee drinkers will not be able to differentiate between a cup made using real beans and another made using the liquid.

The latter cup tastes more bitter without leaving a tinge of sweetness at the end and gives off a pungent smell, he said.

huizhen@sph.com.sg