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Sipping Into Serenity: Traversing The Rich Culture Of Coffee In Vietnam

Sipping To Serenity: Traversing The Culture Of Coffee In Vietnam
Photo Credit: Ryan McQuire

It’s impossible to avoid the craze surrounding coffee in Vietnam no matter you are passing through. Although Vietnam trails Brazil as the second-largest exporter of coffee in the world, their own rate of consumption is well above average.  Coffee in Vietnam is not simply a caffeinated beverage.

Residents are genuinely serious about their brew and frequent interactions between friends and colleagues is far from uncommon. When honing in on the interesting role coffee has played in the country over the years, coffee consumption is now an inarguable and integral part of social life.

Despite, the permeating role coffee plays in the daily routine of many Vietnamese, the majority of foreign visitors remain unaware that Vietnam produces some of the highest-quality coffee in the world.

In Vietnam’s two biggest cities going out for coffee with friends runs deep in society. Even though most bars and restaurants risk the chance of getting closed down early,  coffee is left alone to operate at almost anytime.

Photo Credit: Jakub Kapusnak | Caption: A handful of beautiful Vietnamese Robusta coffee beans. 

In 2018 alone, the exportation of locally-grown coffee beans in Vietnam raked in a whopping $US 3.5 billion. Vietnamese Robusta—a style of coffee that has grown in popularity due to its unique taste profile. Although the Arabica strain delivers a punch of bitterness, its potentially intense taste is leveled-out by a lower level of acidity

In fact, Robusta coffee beans are in higher demand than another other strain available. After crunching the numbers we learned that last year 85% of all international exportation came from local Robusta beans.

Sipping To Serenity: Traversing The Culture Of Coffee In Vietnam
Credit: Rodrigo Flores | Caption: One of many world-class coffee plantations in central Vietnam. 

Three tips for drinking coffee in Vietnam

The ubiquity of coffee in Vietnam actually makes a lot of sense. In cities here, just like in countries like France, Spain, and Italy, life revolves around drinking coffee. Rather than scooping one up on your way to work, time is often set aside simply for spending some time relaxing over a cup of brew.

#1. Drinking Vietnamese coffee on an empty stomach is not advised.

Don’t forget that coffee in Vietnam is noticeable stronger than most coffee drinkers are used to. Even serious coffee connoisseurs are recommended to get some food in the belly before you dive into your morning cup.

Nobody likes feeling the uncomfortable effects from overly-strong brews, or from caffeine overconsumption. Avoiding unwanted java jitters is not difficult. Simply eat something first, no matter what it is.

#2. Learn how to use the traditional Vietnamese drip filter.

In Vietnam, brewing coffee via drip filters are one of the most common ways to drink coffee, especially when it is sold by street-side vendors. If you are new to this method of drinking coffee, using the drip filter properly might be a bit confusing.

However, after it’s clear how to use it, the drip filter process has been said by local Vietnamese to be a bit meditative. To start, put in your order and wait for the server to place two cups on the table. Cup one is used to filter and cup two will contain your ice (if you order iced coffee). The server will pour hot water in the glass one which contains the filter. The key is to let the container filter completely through from top-to-bottom.

Sipping To Serenity: Traversing The Culture Of Coffee In Vietnam
Photo Credit: Chris Pople | Caption: Coffee in Vietnam is still served in the traditional drip coffee filter as pictured above. 

After the filter is empty, take the filter off the glassware and dispose of anything left in cup one. Then, place the filter back on glass once and slowly add more hot water. Once the second round of filtration is finished simply take the ice from cup two and add it into cup one. Finally, add any amount of sweeter you prefer.

#3. Know the difference between the primary Vietnamese coffee options.

Option One: Cà phê đen đá, or, unsweetened iced black coffee.

In Vietnamese, this is called “cà phê đen đá”. Again don’t forget that Vietnamese coffee is almost guaranteed to taste more bitter than what you are accustomed to. If your palate is robust go for straight black with ice. If your sense of taste is more sensitive, it is a good idea to try option two first.

Option Two: Cà phê sữa đá (Sweetened iced black coffee).

Another way locals prefer their coffee is called “cà phê sữa đá”. This translates to iced black coffee with condensed milk, and may also be served with regular milk or sugar. Sweetened condensed milk is not a product often found in the west so be aware it’s much higher in fat content than sugar or normal milk.

If you prefer a healthier cup of coffee simply point to the menu item “cà phê sữa đá”. After, you may order less sugar by simply saying “cà phê sữa ít sữa”. This will let the server know you don’t want your coffee to be to bitter. This will result in a significantly sweeter flavor as the dairy products cut down on the bitterness.

Sipping into serenity: Where to drink coffee in Hanoi and HCMC

Finding an authentic cup of Vietnamese coffee is a stone’s throw away from about any street corner although the quality will vary depending on the person serving it. Some street-side vendors are beginning to sell fake coffee loaded with harmful chemicals to enhance any missing notes you’d get in real coffee. However, don’t let the bad apple ruin the batch as some fo the nest and most unique coffee shops are found scattered all over town and tucked away in small alleys.

#1. The Railway Coffee – Hanoi

Hanoi’s Railway Coffee is one of the most renowned coffee vendors in the entire country, and for good reason. Customers are seated in the middle of the railroad tracks and served traditional Vietnamese coffee between incoming trains.

Address: No 26, Alley 10 Điện Biên Phủ, Cửa Nam, Ba Đình, Hanoi, Vietnam

#2. Cafe Lam – Hanoi

Cafe Lam is a place to enjoy what some have called some of the most innovative takes on traditional Vietnamese coffee. It was one of the very first official coffee shops in Hanoi, and the dingy one-room establishment dates back to 1956 where the establishment has remained wholly intact since it’s inception.

Cafe Lam is also considered both a historical and artistic institution. During the war, penniless customers paid their cafe bills with artwork rather than currency. Throughout the years, Owner Nguyen Lam’s one-of-a-kind cafe has slowly acquired some of the most significant works of art in the northern region. Today, the collection is said be worth a fortune.

Address: 60 Nguyen Huu Huan, Old Quarter

#3. Vietnam Coffee Republic – HCMC

Unlike Cafe Lam, Vietnam Coffee Republic is a representation of modern-day Vietnam coffee culture. VCR’s passion centers around creating a cafe that refuses to sell anything but the best.

Maintaining a strict brand philosophy like VCR, requires meticulously sourced coffee beans in addition to embracing better business practices like sustainable trading, and mutually-beneficial business relationships all the way from farmer to each end-consumer.

When it comes to modern world-class quality coffee, VCR is doing all the small things right. Not to mention, they recently launched their own line of cold brew coffee bottles with a shelf life of six months…

Address: 8a/7b2 Thái Văn Lung, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh City

#4. The Workshop – HCMC

The Workshop is another modern version of Vietnam’s future coffee industry. With a secret cigar room upstairs and another brand of in-house cold brew, The Workshop’s owners are all about creating an experience that can’t be found elsewhere.

Sipping To Serenity: Traversing The Culture Of Coffee In Vietnam
Caption: Vietnamese iced coffee served with super sweet condensed milk.

Tasting all products before they’re sold to the consumer is an integral part of their business philosophy. In fact, its current manager claims to drink at least ten cups per day after adding up all the tasting sips throughout the course of the day.  For The Workshop, mastering the art of the brewing process is a focal point.

By implementing experimentation into their brewing technique each individual batch carries its own nuances of flavors. If you want to see where chemistry and coffee collide, The Workshop will show the benefits of a beautiful amalgamation between the old and new. Although they follow tradition, the bring a balance of modernity to the table.

Address: 27 Ngo Duc Ke, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Deceptively delicious: The birth of Vietnamese egg coffee

The variations of coffee in Vietnam don’t stop with sweetening agents, extremely robust taste profiles, and locally-bottled cold brew. As Vietnam undergoes a new wave of coffee culture, most would admit the country’s affinity for everything coffee is in some way related to the invention of egg coffee, one of the capital city’s most iconic coffee concoctions.

Egg coffee emerged at a time when necessity and creativity had to join forces. Back in 1946 Vietnam experienced a severe shortage of milk during the Indochina War. Coffee with milk was in high demand yet it wasn’t available at this time.

In search of a creative solution, now-famous barista Nguyen Van Giang was working at Hanoi’s Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel which gave him the tools he needed to find a suitable solution to the milk shortage. Even today, his Hanoi egg coffee continues to grow in popularity.

Photo Credit: Richard Mortel | Caption: The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel is one of Hanoi’s most famous historical sites.

Inspiration for the iconic concoction

In search for an alternative means to continue selling coffee Giang began playing with ingredients. Using only his knowledge of the food items available on-site Giang began tinkering with any food item that could potentially fill the void of sweetened coffee.

As Giang continued to experiment, he eventually came up an unprecedented substitution that might just work. Eventually, he decided to whisk up a bit of egg yolk as a possible milk substitute.

Without any inclination of the impact his recipe would have on the future of Hanoi’s coffee scene it seemed he stumbled across an authentic novelty item-egg coffee. Although it might not sound like the best marriage, Giang’s egg coffee turned out deceptively delicious and gained immediate success.

Sipping To Serenity: Traversing The Culture Of Coffee In Vietnam
Caption: Egg Coffee was invented in Hanoi back in 1946 as due to a widespread shortage of milk. 

As he swapped milk with whisked egg yolks the reactions coming back from his customers was absolutely positive. The taste of egg was not present because if would drastically affect the coffee, but the rich creamy texture also made for the perfect solution to the milk problem.

Vietnamese egg coffee finally arrives in Ho Chi Minh City

Today, egg coffee has slowly made its way south to Ho Chi Minh City with a recent surge in cafes offering egg coffee.

Rather than a light cup of coffee, the original recipe came out more like a sweet creamy drink served either hot or cold. The consistency of this coffee was obviously much thicker due to the egg yolks. In time, this led to use of a spoon when customers dug into the frothy groundbreaking beverage.

Soon after, Giang quit his job and decided to make egg coffee full-time, A drink that could only be found in Hanoi at the time. Soon he opened his own coffee shop called Cafe Giang in Hanoi, where it still resides today.

Where to find egg coffee in Hanoi

Today, customers can still visit the original Cafe Giang or head over to Cafe Dinh for a slightly different take on the wildly popular beverage.

Where to find egg coffee in Ho Chi Minh City

If you’re exploring in the south luckily the past few years have brought a handful of egg coffee options to Ho Chi Minh City. Make your way to The Note Coffee in the backpacker ward of Bui Vien, or get cosy over a cup at Cafe Trung in District 3.

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