Coffee often seems to be the lifeblood of Vietnam
Coffee often seems to be the lifeblood of Vietnam — well, along with beer, tea, rice and pho. You really can’t walk far without the tempting aroma of coffee greeting your nostrils, and a hit of the particularly strong brew is enough to keep you going for hours.
Yes, Vietnamese coffee is certainly known for being strong, and is perhaps an acquired taste for many — whether a coffee connoisseur or just someone who likes a shot of caffeine in the morning.
If you like your coffee black then ask for cafe den, but if you prefer a bit of sweetness and creaminess you’ll want cafe sua; this comes with a shot of condensed milk in the bottom of the cup or glass, so be sure to give it a good stir before drinking. If you want milk but no sugar, you will probably be out of luck. Both are available as nong (hot) or da (with ice). Some places will serve it ready percolated, but at other joints you’ll be given the cup with a mini cafetiere perched on top and have to wait for the hot water to drip through.
There are various other coffee options including cafe trung (with egg) and cafe sua chua (with yoghurt) — more on the latter in a later post.
Unlike tea, which is available all over the place for a few thousand dong, coffee is a somewhat more civilised and pricey — though still cheap — affair. When looking for somewhere for your coffee, the two basic options are the streetside no frills joints or the chain coffee shops.
I’d say skip the chains and give the local places a go, as much for the atmosphere as for the coffee. Areas to head to in Old Quarter include the southern end of Hang Giay, or further afield try Trieu Viet Vuong, which is lined with coffee shops including Cong Caphe (at 152D). But really, they’re everywhere.
If you don’t get enough of it while here, plenty of places sell packs of beans or ground arabica, robusta or weasel to take home. You heard right: weasel. For those unfamiliar with this unusual blend, the basic story behind the product is that weasels eat the coffee beans, they pass through the digestive system and are excreted, and then processed. Apparently this makes for a less bitter blend, but it didn’t go down too well when I took some back to the UK as a gift. I’ve heard that some of the product sold as weasel coffee in Vietnam is fake — it wouldn’t surprise me — but I’m not sure how you can test that one.
For stockists, try Hang Giay, where there are at least three or four vendors, or there’s a shop near the junction of Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ma May. Or for a higher class of packaging, Indigenous on Au Trieu is worth a visit.
By Sarah Turner
Last updated on 17th September, 2014.