Vietnamese coffee is the rocket fuel that keeps the country buzzing. You’ll find cafes on every street in every city, from trendy cafes molded by the creative class, to retro institutions that have evolved over decades, to pavement cafes draped around and across the cities. In each one you’ll be enveloped by nattering locals nursing their favourite brew.
Traditional Vietnamese coffee is made from Robusta beans, which have a strong, bitter taste. For decades, resourceful café owners have dreamt up new ways to temper the potent Robusta bean and enhance the country’s favourite drink. As a result, there’s now a kaleidoscope of innovative coffee variations on the menu. Here are five fantastic coffees to look out for while travelling through Vietnam.
The must-try: Drip-filter coffee
Vietnamese coffee beans are usually roasted in butter then brewed in metal filters. Some filters are small enough to rest on a coffee cup and make excellent souvenirs; others are so enormous they need a team to carry. The moments spent waiting for your coffee to brew are part of the pleasure of this style of coffee. Due to its bitterness, black Vietnamese coffee is an acquired taste. Feel free to sweeten your drink with condensed milk (you’ll find that many locals do), or mix it with ice. A cold cà phê sua dá on a hot day is a quintessential Vietnamese coffee experience.
Where to find it: You’ll find some of the best local brews right on the street. In Hanoi, head to Café Thai, which has existed in various forms since the 1920s. In Hue, settle down in the pavement cafes at the crossroads of Truong Dinh and Pham Hong Thai. In Da Lat, Cafe Tung is a must-visit, and in Da Nang, Cafe Long is a community institution.
Best to warm the soul: Hot egg coffee
The story goes that after the war when milk was scarce, Hanoians still craved something to take the edge off their coffee. Inexpensive and creamy, egg yolks emerged as the perfect alternative. Even as Vietnam became more prosperous and milk returned to the market, cà phê trung persisted for its delicious goodness. It’s now a must-try Hanoi specialty drink, especially during the winter months. A dense, frothy head of foam sits atop a rich brew: gently fold it in with a spoon, and sip slowly.
Where to find it: You’ll find the best egg coffee in Hanoi. The original Café Giang serves a creamy cup that you’ll scoop up by the spoonful. Alternative spots include Hanoian Kitchen, Ma Xo, and Loading T.
Best to cool you down: Coconut coffee
Very few cities escape the summer sun in Vietnam. If you start to overheat while exploring, why not try an iced coconut coffee? More of a scoop-able ice cream than a drinkable coffee, coconut coffee or cà phê cốt dừa, is at once a pick-me-up, fill-me-up, and cool-me-down. The barista will blend traditional drip coffee with coconut milk, fresh milk, and condensed milk. The finished product is spooned into a glass and serve as a refreshing treat. The coffee grounds the flavour with the coconut giving the drink a fun tropical twist, kind of like a coffee cocktail.
Where to find it: Ultra-hip café Cong Ca Phe is revered for its delectable coconut coffee. You’ll find branches across Vietnam in all major cities.
Best for an afternoon snack: Yoghurt coffee
A weird and wonderful alternative to milk, you just can’t go wrong with an enticing yoghurt coffee, better known as sữa chua cà phê. The drink blends Vietnamese drip coffee with yoghurt, condensed milk, and ice, though the last two are optional. You’ll find ca phe sua chua on menus across Hanoi, however the best coffee shops use fresh, home-made yoghurt. The sourness from the yoghurt, bitterness from the coffee beans, and sweetness from the condensed milk makes for a mouthwatering combination.
Where to find it: Cafe Duy Tri in Hanoi has earned a loyal following for its yoghurt coffee, which they make in-house and tastes almost like a yoghurt sorbet.
Best for a sugar rush: Bac xiu
If you’ve tried the Vietnamese iced coffee and can handle something even sweeter, look no further than cà phê bạc xỉu. The ingredients are essentially the same as the holy trinity of a cà phê sữa đá: coffee, condensed milk, and crushed ice. The difference is all in the proportions, with more milk less coffee going into a bac xiu. The drink is popular with teenagers still learning to appreciate the bitterness of Robusta coffee.
Where to find it: Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s sugar capital, and the birthplace of bac xiu. You’ll find street cafes across the city serving icy bac xiu in tall glasses with plenty of crushed ice. Try an upscale version at Vietnam Coffee Republic.
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