So you have landed in Vietnam. Welcome to the world’s second largest coffee exporter! Before stepping into that Starbucks at the entrance of the airport, how about checking out our short guide on Vietnamese coffee and how to best enjoy them at their mother land? The first thing to notice, Vietnamese coffee will taste different from your homeland. It is the result of not only the different types of coffee beans, but also a different method of brewing and the variety of additives that we have.
So how does Vietnamese coffee taste like?
100% Arabica beans are used in famous franchises like Gloria Jean’s, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. As a result, you can be more familiar with coffee that is aromatic, slightly sour with a gentle bitter aftertaste. Robusta’s, on the other hand, has a sharper and bitter taste with less aroma. And boy how it wakes your brain with that amount of caffeine! Tasting Arabica and Robusta right after one another can feel like a punch in your taste-bud, and depends on your level of “addiction”, it can be an experience ranging from exciting to unpleasant. If you are a casual coffee drinker or a die-hard Starbucks fan, this can conclude your coffee experience in Vietnam once and for all. For coffeeholics though, this is a path with no return, as from now on, this will be your definition of coffee, just like the way it has become to most of our Vietnamese people.
Here in Vietnam, we are used to drinking drip coffee. Hot water runs through grinded coffee powder in an aluminium drip filter called “phin cà phê”. The slower the drip flow, the stronger the taste at the end. And as the aromatic dark liquid slowly dripped down the cup, a Vietnamese coffee drinker usually sinks deep in his/her thoughts or chats through time with friend(s). Yes, “coffee drinking” or “đi uống cà phê” is a social activity here as well, the same way as “drinking” or “đi nhậu” is guys’ casual social activity during night time.
What suits you best?
Compared to Robusta beans, there is only half of the caffeine in Arabica beans and as the result, it is easier to get “Coffee drunk” when you drink our coffee. So be cautious with that cup of black coffee or “cà phê đen” – the Vietnamese equivalent of Americano. You should take it slow first to see if your body can get used to the sudden surge of caffeine.
A common combination for a cup of coffee here is “milk coffee with ice” or “cà phê sữa đá”. While it shares a similar taste with “white coffee” that can be easily found in other South East Asia countries, our version uses condensed milk. It is this combo of strong and bitter coffee, blends with sweet and creamy condensed milk, that forms our famous Vietnamese drink name. Maybe it is the sugar rush, or maybe it is the surge of caffeine, but this mixture will brighten your brain like midday sun. And to our American folks out there, I know your sugar addiction. You will soon grow a new addiction to this drink, trust me!
In Ho Chi Minh city, you can also find a hidden gem that is “yoghurt coffee” or “cà phê sữa chua”. Yoghurt’s gentle sourness is an interesting note to the normal bitter and sweet combination, which will leave your taste-buds yearning for more. A British friend of mine after discovering this special drink, couldn’t help but order one cup of this every single day! Try looking for it in one of district 2’s small cafes in Thảo Điền area. Another joy of Vietnamese coffee culture is to stroll in hidden alleys and find coffee recipes like no other.
Other than “cà phê sữa đá”, you can also find many local varieties that will take you by surprise. Remember that favourite eggnog that is drunk every Christmas season at your family union? Well, we have “Egg coffee” or “cà phê trứng”. Black coffee is mixed with whipped egg yolk and condensed milk. The result is a tasty, creamy, custardy warm cup of coffee that makes you hard to avoid a second helping. This drink originated from the North of Vietnam and is most popular there as well.
The variety of Vietnamese coffee is not only in the way we serve them. Have you ever tried Weasel Coffee? This is the type of coffee bean that is collected after real weasels have consumed the original coffee beans. The enzyme in weasel’s stomach creates a distinctive taste for the coffee bean that cannot be replicated by any other mean. Putting the making method aside, this is one of the coffee types that you definitely have to try despite its higher price tag. Weasel coffee has a vanilla aroma and smooth and sweet after-taste and is easier to drink than Robusta coffee.
So where can you find and try these in Ho Chi Minh city?
One suggestion is Kofi Kai at 80, 85 street, district 7 or BAZZAN Coffee at 173 De Tham street, district 1. Kofi Kai, previously AZZAN, is a franchise of the original AZZAN in Buon Ma Thuot – the land of coffee in Vietnam. They provide home-grown Arabica, Robusta and Cocoa beans with a collection of enviable brewing collections. You can try from Drip, Chemex, Aeropress, Moka pot to Syphone. The barista surely knows his stuffs and will nicely give you your own brewing experience as well. BAZZAN is more central-located while still sources their beans directly from AZZAN.
Another one is Milano Coffee franchise. You can find this local franchise all across Ho Chi Minh city, with a recommended one on Co Giang street, district 1. This franchise provides a wide range of combinations between Robusta and Arabica beans that are named from Milano no. 1 up to Milano No. 12. Different places will give you different number of options to choose from and they do have distinctive tastes between different recipes. Like a game, you will enjoy looking for different Milano Coffee places to figure out their own collection of recipes. Some places are even thoughtful enough to give you a detailed description of the recipe’s taste in both English and Vietnamese as well. So what are you waiting for? It is time to rent a bike and hit the road!
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Hey! I'm Thang, but people usually call me Carson. I'm a 32 year-old guy who has been living in Ho Chi Minh City for - you guessed it - 32…Learn more