Getting To Know the Vietnamese Coffee Culture
Slow drippers are tradition at modern Vietnamese coffee chain Trung Nguyen. // Janelle Bitker
By Janelle Bitker
Anywhere you look, at nearly any time of day, cafes are bustling in Vietnam.
Vietnamese coffee culture is one of the country’s biggest, lasting influences from the French, who introduced coffee farming in 1857. Now, Vietnam is the second biggest coffee-producing country in the world.
I recently traveled through Vietnam and fell in love with Vietnamese coffee. I appreciated how the cafe is the preferred gathering place for people of all ages, even late at night. And there are so many of them, in so many different styles. I spotted beautiful, modern coffee houses as well as tiny, outdoor operations that crowd the sidewalks with plastic stools. Strolling through leafy Hue in central Vietnam, I once counted five cafes in one block.
These days, the majority of the beans grown in Vietnam are Robusta, a variety that grows better in the hot climate. If you’re a coffee snob, you might frown at this fact as Robusta is generally thought to be inferior to Arabica. Once you’re in Vietnam though and taste the way the coffee is prepared, I highly doubt you’ll be a naysayer for long.
Even more fascinating, each region in Vietnam has its own specific style of coffee. Here’s a guide for how to get your caffeine fix on your next visit:
Giang Cafe, the original home for egg coffee. // Flickr user BexWalton
While you can certainly get more typical coffee drinks in Hanoi, it’s also home to the Vietnam’s most unusual preparation. In the 1940s, when milk was scarce in Vietnam, one crafty bartender started dropping whisked egg yolks into drinks instead. Today, egg coffee, or cà phê trúng, remains a popular fixture in the Hanoi coffee scene. Ordered hot, the drink comes in a small, ceramic cup and tastes like sweet, vanilla-scented coffee. It’s so rich and decadent, the texture almost resembles a creamy custard you’d eat with a spoon for dessert.
For a taste of history, visit the original home for egg coffee, Giang Cafe. 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Hanoi, www.giangcafehanoi.com.
In Hue, coffee comes in short glasses with ice on the side. // Janelle Bitker
In Central Vietnam’s Hue, the coffee matches the smaller city’s slow, easy-going pace. There are two ways to order your coffee: cà phê đen, black, or cà phê sữa, which comes with a thin layer of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom of the glass. If you want it iced, each shop has a bowl of large ice cubes on the side to use as you please. Here, the cafe experience feels like a ritual. You get a single-cup, stainless steel filter that slowly drips thick, strong coffee directly into your squat glass. At traditional spots, you’ll also get a free glass of watered-down green tea to sip on while you wait.
Grab a stool at True Coffee for a great experience, or try one of the other spots on this cafe-lined street. 15 Ngô Quyền, Hue.
The layers of Saigon-style iced coffee. // Janelle Bitker
• Ho Chi Minh City
Drinking coffee in Ho Chi Minh City feels strikingly different than in Hue and Hanoi. In this busy city, fancy, modern cafes are increasingly becoming the norm, along with drinks served in take-away cups. With the southern region’s extreme heat, beverages also almost always come over ice—and understandably so. Order cà phê sữa đá, and you’ll get a tall glass with lots of ice already mixed with extra sweet, milky coffee. Some spots will leave the condensed milk intact at the bottom, giving you a layered beverage primed for Instagram.
For a taste of the contemporary Vietnamese cafe, check out Trung Nguyen. With lots of locations all over the country, Trung Nguyen is ubiquitous enough to be likened to Vietnam’s Starbucks. In Ho Chi Minh City, most of the locations are gorgeously decorated and offer lengthy menus, including cà phê sữa đá, of course.