ONE of the world's largest coffee brokers, E D and F Man of London, has moved into Vietnam's burgeoning coffee market with a US$10.6 million bean processing joint venture - the first in the country. The plant in Buon Ma Thuot, at the heart of Vietnam's coffee-rich central highlands, will have the annual capacity to sort and grade more than 25,000 tonnes of beans to on-sell to roasters worldwide. General manager of the company's representative office, Michael O'Donnell, said the latest laser grading and sorting equipment was on its way from Singapore in a sign of the firm's commitment to the Vietnamese product. 'Coffee people are becoming aware of Vietnamese coffee, but outside of that, people don't yet know . . . we are very excited,' Mr O'Donnell said. 'We're also spending millions on marketing because its such a good product, it has a neutral taste and is good for blending. 'They have beautiful soils and good water and the husbandry and care the Vietnamese take with their plants is tremendous . . . we're finding yields here higher than anywhere else in the world.' The 200-year-old company, which through subsidiaries has already snapped up large quantities of last season's crop, has guaranteed to buy all the beans its joint venture with the Darlak Commerce Co can process. The company has never involved itself with growing or roasting, but trades worldwide in sugar and cocoa. Vietnam's central highlands produce robusta beans used heavily in instant coffee blends and mixed with higher-grade arabica beans in certain coffee-shop blends. Official figures released in Vietnam's state press yesterday claimed the upcoming harvest season would produce bumper crops for both state and private growers, with some 140,000 hectares ready for production. Harvest generated export revenues of US$350 million make coffee one of Vietnam's premier exports behind crude oil, rice and garments. The country currently stands fifth among the world's producers, second behind Indonesia in Asia. Average yields topped one tonne per hectare in the growing regions in the south and centre, with some start farms reaching 3.8 tonnes per hectare. Vietnam's state press quoted estimates from 'regional and international dealers' that by the end of the decade Vietnam would be producing 300,000 tonnes, 250,000 for export to some 35 countries.