This a great guest post about Vietnamese coffee by Emma Sothern, travel blogger and freelance copywriter currently based in Hoi An, Vietnam. Emma’s blog is about travelling with alopecia and the weird/wonderful experiences it can lead to.
Every country has its signature drink. In Ireland, they’ve got Guinness. In Belgium, they’ve got hot chocolate. In Scotland, they’ve got whiskey.
And in Vietnam…they’ve got coffee.
In fact, Vietnam is now second only to Brazil as the largest exporter of the stuff, with 10.5% of the world’s total coffee exported per year. If you don’t think you’re a coffee person, you clearly haven’t been to Vietnam. Because the coffee here is unlike any you’ll have tasted before.
The art of Vietnamese coffee: DIY drip
While Western tastes have been grounded in Italian-style coffee – venti, anyone?! – Vietnamese coffee is distinctly French. They introduced it along with the banh mi baguette in the 1850s (Vive Le France!) and the drip-style coffee method emerged soon after.
To many Vietnamese, Italian-influenced coffee is far too bitter for their sweet teeth. Instead, they favour a syrupy coffee that’s served so thick you could stand a spoon up in it. And they usually include a dollop of condensed milk for good measure. Again, this is thanks to French colonists, who needed a dairy fix but also something that wouldn’t spoil. Condensed milk was a tasty compromise.
The process of drinking coffee in Vietnam is a performance in itself; the concoction of each brew in the hands of the customer rather than the barista.
Each cup is served with an ingenious metal drip contraption and the customer must wait patiently for the hot water to drip through those delicious beans before taking a sip. There’s no chugging back espressos and dashing to work around here.
The downside of this is that it can leave the coffee pretty tepid (although some places combat this by placing the cup in a bowl of hot water). The upside is that it makes you stop and relax while you enjoy your drink. As well you should.
The craft of Vietnamese coffee: A different culture club
In Vietnam, alcohol plays second fiddle to a shot or two of caffeine. And because of this preference, locals don’t hang out in bars or nightclubs as they would in the western world.
Instead, the young hipsters socialise in trendy ‘coffee gardens’ – some banging out dance tunes until the wee hours – while older men perch around tiny tables on the roadside, gathering in flocks to gossip over their early morning or midday brew.
(Strangely enough, this coffee culture doesn’t extend to older Vietnamese women. But then again, they’re usually doing 101 tasks at any given moment so maybe they just don’t have the time.)
In any case, coffee culture in Vietnam is a major part of, well, Vietnamese culture! It’s especially prevalent in the pretty tourist town of Hoi An, a place with heaps to do from organised tours to exploring the market…therefore, it’s a place where spots for a well-earned break are much appreciated.
The Ancient Town’s houses are choc-a-bloc with atmospheric cafes; but sometimes, the best thing to do is find a ca phe coc (a coffee street vendor), pull up a tiny red plastic stool and get stuck into a glass of cheap, dark and potent deliciousness.
On the menu…
If you want to order a traditional Vietnamese coffee, be warned – it’s not for the faint-hearted. The Vietnamese use locally sourced Robusta beans (which pack almost twice the caffeine punch as Arabica beans), resulting in a brew that’s thick, tasty and just a little bit deadly.
So if you’re one of those people who gets shaky after a latte, you should probably steer clear.
However, if you’re up for the challenge, there’s a couple of different ways you can order it:
1:Ca Phe Sua Da (iced coffee with a dollop of condensed milk, served in a glass): It’s what the youth drink here and is particularly popular in South Vietnam, where temperatures are higher. If you want it slightly weaker, order a Ca Phe Sua Da Saigon – the glass will be taller, and there’ll be more ice to dilute the caffeine hit. Less havoc on your heartbeat.
2:Ca Phe Den/Ca Phe Nong (hot black coffee, usually served by the inch in a cup): Favoured by old men (so ladies might get a funny look when they order it), this thick drink is popular in Central and Northern Vietnam. It’s washed down with hot green tea and is like a liquid jolt of sweet electricity. Nice.
Tip: You can mix up the above, so Ca Phe Den Da would be black iced coffee or Cafe Sua Nong would be hot coffee with condensed milk. Use these words to customise your order:
Ca phe: coffee
Sua (Nau in Northern Vietnam): milk
3:Ca Phe Trung (egg coffee): I can’t talk about Vietnamese coffee options without mentioning one of the greatest, tastiest inventions to come out of Hanoi – egg coffee. It’s sweet, it’s foamy and it provides your dessert and caffeine fix in one magical concoction. It may sound scary but trust me on this – and make sure you try it in Hanoi, anywhere else just can’t compare!
The last drop
Even if you’re not a regular coffee drinker, I highly recommend you try just one cup if you visit Vietnam. Whether you order it with a helping of ice, condensed milk or egg, you’ll be sippin’ on a true cultural experience when you do.
So enjoy every last drop!
Hi, I’m Emma. When I’m not getting my caffeine fix or working on projects as a freelance copywriter, I’m travelling around SE Asia. Right now, Hoi An is my home and I’m writing for the folks at Hoi An Now.