Coffee in Vietnam: Drink Like a Local!

Coffee in Vietnam

The coffee scene in Vietnam is nothing short of legendary. Did you know that Vietnam is the second-largest coffee producer in the world and the largest producer of Robusta coffee?

Although it was the French that brought coffee to Vietnam, the Vietnamese have certainly made it their own. With variations including everything from coconut, condensed milk and even egg, drinking coffee in Vietnam is a rite of passage for travellers. 

For those of you looking for a taste of Vietnam’s famous Robusta beans, this article will tell you everything you need to know. And then, when you know all there is to know, you can tell your friends over a steaming cup of joe in Hanoi’s Coffee Street! 

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Coffee in Vietnam

Drip Coffee

Vietnamese coffee is made using a French drip filter (known as a phin). The phin sits on top of the cup and hot water is added to it. The water slowly filters through, with the barista repeating the process, sometimes two or more times. 

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Types of Vietnamese Coffee

Take everything you know about different types of coffee and throw it out of the window. There is no room for fancy frappuccinos and macchiatos here! Coffee in Vietnam is a rather different breed of caffeine-filled bliss. 

Although the vast majority of Vietnam’s coffee is of the Robusta variety, they also produce Arabica and Excelsa. It’s safe to say that Vietnam has really embraced this drink! 

When it comes to ordering coffee in Vietnam, it helps to know what on earth you are getting. To help you discover your perfect cup of daily fuel, we’ve listed a few of our favourite Vietnamese coffees below! 

  1. Ca phe sua (coffee with milk)

This is Vietnam’s standard coffee drink. It combines rich Robusta coffee with sweetened condensed milk. The milk to coffee ratio is usually 50/50. This drink is usually served cold with ice but you can order it hot as well. 

  1. Ca phe trung (egg coffee)

Perhaps the most famous of all Vietnam’s coffees is egg coffee. Invented in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, this drink first burst onto the scene in the 1940s, when milk was in short supply. As a substitute, condensed milk is whipped with raw egg yolk, until it turns into a light airy froth. It is then poured into the coffee and often served with sugar on top. Many travellers liken it to eggnog or tiramisu, delicious!

Egg coffee Hanoi
One for the bucket list! Egg coffee in Vietnam. Photo credit: Meg Bishop
  1. Ca phe sua chua (yoghurt coffee)

Yoghurt was another product introduced to Vietnam by the French. Although it sounds a little strange to those of us from the west, yoghurt coffee is very popular in Vietnam! If you love creamy coffee, you’ll adore the mix of rich yoghurt and aromatic black coffee. Yoghurt coffee is sometimes served with different toppings, including fermented rice and fresh fruit.

  1. Ca phe dua  (coconut coffee)

For a refreshing pick me up, look no further than a Vietnamese coconut coffee. Black coffee, a drizzle of condensed milk and coconut milk are blended with ice to form a kind of milkshake slushie. This type of coffee has become a firm favourite for hipsters across the country and is a feature in many coffee shops.

For a refreshing boost, try coconut iced coffee! Photo credit: Andy Cable
  1. Sinh to ca phe (fruity coffee)

If you just can’t get enough of Southeast Asia’s exotic fruits, why not try out one of Vietnam’s coffee smoothies? Blending fresh fruit with a few drops of intense black coffee, this fruity treat will perk you up and keep you healthy! There are different variations of this drink across the country. Look out for blended coffee with banana and avocado (sinh to ca phe chuoi bo)  in coffee capital Hanoi and blended coffee with sapodilla (sinh to ca phe sapoche) in Ho Chi Minh City

  1. Ca phe dua  (black iced coffee)

This traditional coffee drink is made using dark roast coffee which is passed through a drip filter, known locally as phin ca phe. The hot coffee releases into the cup slowly through the filter, before being poured into a glass of ice. Although most locals prefer to drink their coffee with sweetened condensed milk, you would need to ask for ca phe sua da if this is what you want. Ca phe dua is black iced coffee. This is an ideal choice for vegans in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam Coffee Culture

In Vietnam, coffee is much more than just a drink. Much like the famous Bia Hoi, coffee sits at the centre of many social circles, essentially acting as the beverage that bonds everybody together. Coffee culture in Vietnam has boomed since the 90s’ and there are now more coffee shops and cafes than ever before. Coffee is as integral to the Vietnamese culture as Pho and Banh Mi sandwiches

Egg coffee
There’s nothing quite like taking the time to enjoy a coffee. Photo credit: Phil Cousins.

Many believe that the unhurried art of drip coffee has helped shape the coffee culture in the country. Unlike in many western cultures, coffee is not a drink readily consumed on the move and is instead, a social affair to be savoured. It reflects Vietnam’s laidback social scene, a piece of tranquillity amidst the chaos. 

Drink Vietnamese Coffee Like a Local

If you are visiting the land of the ‘Ascending Dragon’, it is important to make sure your coffee etiquette is on point. These tips will help you drink coffee in Vietnam like a local. 

  • Be aware that any kind of coffee with milk is going to be very sweet because condensed milk is almost always used. If you prefer a more bitter taste, opt for black coffee (ca phe den) or iced black coffee (ca phe dua). (If you’re in a more Western-style cafe, you may also be able to ask for soy or coconut milk.)
  • Don’t ever get your coffee to go. Coffee in Vietnam is something to be savoured, either with friends or whilst reading the paper before work. Either way, you’ll be consuming it while sitting!
  • If you prefer more milky coffees, ask for ca phe bac xiu. This is coffee with extra condensed milk. 
  • Forget lattes and cappuccinos and opt for a Vietnamese special! Egg coffee anyone?!

Where to Try Vietnamese Coffee

Giang Cafe  – 39 Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi

If you’ve fallen in love with egg coffee, there is sure to be no better caffeine experience than a visit to the place it was invented. Giang Cafe is hidden down a cramped Hanoi alleyway but don’t let that put you off.  We bet that you won’t find a better-tasting egg coffee than the one you’ll buy here!

Cafe Giang egg coffee
Giang Cafe’s famous egg coffee! Photo credit: Bex Pownall.

Cafe Dinh13 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hang Bac Ward, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi

This little cafe is typical of coffee culture in Vietnam. Cafe Dinh is a modest spot full of laughter and tasty coffee! It’s rustic and reasonably priced but also full of smoke, so bear this in mind if you are a non-smoker. To reach the cafe, you’ll need to go through the baggage shop.

Saigon Coffee Roastery151 Dong Khoi, Street, Quan 1, Thanh pho, Ho Chi Minh

Although it isn’t the easiest place to find, this coffee joint is welcoming and cosy. It serves a range of Vietnamese coffee, including the famous hand drip and civet coffee. The staff speak English and the reviews speak for themselves. Don’t miss this hidden gem in HCMC. 

K’Ho CoffeeBonneur’ C Village, Lac Duong Lam Dong

Situated in Vietnam’s central highlands, a visit to K’Ho Coffee is the ideal pitstop for coffee aficionados. As well as offering the opportunity to taste some of the country’s best joe, K’Ho Coffee also runs tours of its farm so that visitors can learn all about coffee production in Vietnam. This coffee company is part of a larger cooperative that supports local minority farmers. 

History of Vietnamese Coffee 

Vietnam got its introduction to coffee from French missionaries in 1857. According to legend, a Catholic priest in the North of Vietnam planted Arabica trees but after varying levels of success, he and the other missionaries took their coffee aspirations further south, as the climate was more favourable for coffee production. 

Now that the missionaries had mastered making coffee in Vietnam, they needed to address the distinct lack of dairy in the country. Craving the creamy taste of cafe au lait, the French began their search for a palatable substitute. In Vietnam’s climate, fresh milk would have soured too quickly so they decided to substitute it for condensed milk which has a much longer shelf life. This sweet discovery later became Vietnam’s signature coffee and was dubbed ca phe nua or ca phe sua.

Coffee in Hanoi
A coffee break is a welcome retreat from the chaos of Vietnam’s streets. Photo credit: Connie Tse

During the Vietnam War, coffee production was disrupted, not due to plantation damage but because the workers were caught up in the fighting. When the war finished, the government limited private enterprise and nationalised many plantations. As a result, coffee production struggled to recover to pre-war levels. 

In 1986, privately owned coffee plantations were once again permitted to operate, contributing to the coffee boom in Vietnam. Coffee even became Vietnam’s second most valuable agricultural export after rice. On average, the coffee industry in the country grew between 20-30% year on year!

Coffee Regions in Vietnam 

Early coffee production in Vietnam may have been almost exclusively Arabica beans but this is no longer the case. Almost all of the Arabica cultivated in Vietnam originates from Lam Dong province. 

Robusta coffee, which makes up 97% of Vietnam’s coffee industry, is spread much more widely. Production is concentrated in the Central Highlands but also occurs in both the South and North of Vietnam. 

All of these areas benefit from the ideal climate for growing coffee. Heavy rainfall, combined with humid microclimates means that coffee thrives in these areas. Da Lat is an up and coming destination for coffee plantations and has been given the nickname the ‘Europe of Vietnam’. This is because of its hilly terrain and fresh climate.

Dalat, Vietnam.
Dalat, Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Coffee Industry

In Southeast Asia, Vietnam dominates the coffee industry and is second only to Brazil in terms of coffee exports globally. A whopping 2.6 million people are now employed in Vietnam’s coffee industry which has transformed the country’s economy. 

The coffee industry has reduced poverty throughout Vietnam and has also resulted in an increase in female workers. Vietnam is also doing lots of work to make its coffee production more sustainable. The annual income for farmers has increased and nitrogen-fixing crops have been planted to increase the ground’s fertility naturally. 

At present, Vietnam exports over 26 million bags of coffee every year. You may not yet have tried coffee in Vietnam but you have probably drunk it at home at some point!

Header photo credit: Blss Ymsn

Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South East Asia Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind Winging The World, a blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks. In recent years, Sheree has also taken on the role of editor at South East Asia Backpacker.

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