- Interesting Facts about Coffee in Vietnam
- The Best Types of Coffee in Saigon
- Coffee Culture in Saigon
- Best Coffee Shops in Saigon
- Useful Tips for the Best Coffee in Saigon
- Buying Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City
- The History of Coffee in Vietnam
- Coffee Production in Vietnam
Coffee (Vietnamese spelling: cà phê) was introduced to Vietnam in 1857 during the French Colonial period. Now, it’s an inseparable and distinctive part of Vietnamese culture. Some of the best coffee you’ll ever taste in Vietnam comes from the Central Highlands, especially Dalat.
Vietnam is the world’s second-largest coffee exporter. Regarding national agricultural exports, coffee is second only to rice in value. Today, it’s estimated that Vietnam produces 20% of the world’s coffee.
Interesting Facts about Coffee in Vietnam
1. Long ago, coffee was rare and expensive so people used a mix of 80% roasted corn kernels and/or soybeans with margarine for oil and aroma.
2. Cow’s milk wasn’t easily available and the lack of refrigeration led to the use of condensed milk, which is now the signature taste of ca phe sua da or Vietnamese ice coffee.
3. The first instant coffee plantation was the Coronel Coffee Plant in 1969 which later became VinaCafe — one of the biggest coffee brands in Vietnam to date.
4. Pacamara — the famed best Arabica variety in Asia, and second-best in the world, can be grown in Dalat. However, this would’ve gone unnoticed if it weren’t for Will Frith — an American coffee expert of Vietnamese descent.
The Best Types of Coffee in Saigon
Popular Ca Phe Phin
Ca phe phin (cà phê phin) or Vietnamese filter/ drip coffee is one of the most common and traditional ways to brew coffee in Vietnam. The word phin originated from filtre in French and it’s a tin or stainless steel cup with tiny holes at the bottom.
The coffee is finely ground, then gently compressed into the phin. Afterward, a suitable amount of ≤ 95oC water is poured in and slowly drips through into a glass below. Generally, ca phe phin is served table-side while it’s still drip brewing.
Traditional Ca Phe Vot
Ca phe vot (cà phê vợt) is all about technique involving a hand-held net over a ceramic kettle of boiling water (typically used for brewing Chinese medicine). This style of brewing is debatably the oldest. Some Saigon coffee shops have served it for over 50 years.
You can have this coffee as strong as you like. Just ask the barista, and they’ll strain it as many times to your taste. Even pouring the coffee requires skill. The kettle is held up high and just enough coffee is poured to overflow the glass into a bowl below.
Nobody really knows the origin of this coffee brewing technique, but most people, especially those of previous generations, enjoy it nonetheless. If you want a comparison, it’s kind of similar to the Japanese way of drinking sake out of masu (square sake box).
Black Coffee – Ca Phe Den Da/ Nong
Ca phe den (cà phê đen) or Vietnamese black coffee is, simply put, the base coffee you get after brewing. It’s as strong as an espresso so make sure you can handle your caffeine. You can add sugar and drink it hot— ca phe den nong (cà phê đen nóng), or drink it with ice— ca phe den da (cà phê đen đá).
Milk Coffee – Ca Phe Sua Da/ Nong
Ca phe sua (cà phê sữa) is arguably the most popular type of Vietnamese coffee with an iconic combination of ca phe den and condensed milk. Ca phe sua da (cà phê sữa đá) is Vietnamese ice coffee with condensed milk. Ca phe sua nong (cà phê sữa nóng) is served hot and typically using the phin.
In Saigon, as well as Southern Vietnam, there’s also bac siu (bạc sỉu) meaning ‘white and a little’ in Chinese— 白小. It’s a variation of the ca phe sua with less coffee and more condensed milk, making it a common choice for women.
In Hanoi and other places in the North, the common name for ca phe sua is nau (nâu) which means brown. And as such, there’s nau da (nâu đá) with ice and nau nong (nâu nóng) served hot.
Saigon Egg Coffee – Ca Phe Trung
Ca phe trung (cà phê trứng) or Vietnamese egg coffee is said to have originated from Hanoi and has become a sensation among the younger generations. There are two ways to make it.
One, you get your steaming ca phe den nong or ca phe sua nong, crack an egg in and mix it well. Two, you whisk the egg yolk with sugar until it’s all nice and fluffy then put it on top of your ca phe den nong.
Coffee Culture in Saigon
Traditional Vietnamese Coffee in Saigon
Traditional Vietnamese coffee culture revolves around getting a coffee at a household coffee shop with little to no interior decor. Early in the morning, a cup of ca phe phin, or ca phe vot, as ca phe den nong or ca phe sua nong, is just perfect.
The traditional coffee is taken before breakfast, during breakfast, and even as breakfast to prepare for a workday. They’re not to be taken on-the-go, but on-the-slow.
Specialty Coffee in Saigon
Specialty coffee is a new surge in the world of Vietnamese coffee. Thanks to the advocacy of coffee experts worldwide, Vietnam is on the way to proving there’s more to Vietnamese coffee than Robusta.
Vietnam has an ideal geographical advantage for growing high-quality Arabica varieties like Bourbon, Ethiopia, and Moka. Even the humble Robusta can yield a complex flavor if grown and processed correctly.
Specialty coffee establishments are all about skillfully selecting and roasting the coffee beans. In addition, they incorporate different known brewing and filtering methods like the V60, French Press, Moka pot, Siphon, and of course, the Espresso.
Themed Coffee Shops in Saigon
Themed coffee shops usually have an interesting design and concept which appeal to younger people. These make for a great place to hang out with friends, take a few nice pics, study in groups, or even by yourself.
Chain Coffee Shops in Saigon
Chain coffee stores vary in Saigon. There are chains which incorporate elements of specialty coffee like Là Việt Coffee. Then, there are those specializing in coffee-to-go like Laha Café and Guta Cafe.
In addition, there are establishments focusing on themed coffee shop elements with a uniform concept and a lot of space. Popular brands include Trung Nguyên, Highlands Coffee, The Factory Coffee, Thức Coffee, and Phúc Long.
If you want to know better how to get around Saigon, check out our article on ‘25 Best Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City’.
Best Coffee Shops in Saigon
Cafe Vợt Phan Đình Phùng
Cafe Vợt Phan Đình Phùng is a household coffee shop about 4km from the city center and has been around for more than 50 years, 24/7, without a day off. Their techniques for ca phe vot have been passed down for three generations.
Location: 330 Phan Đình Phùng, Phú Nhuận District
Café Ba Lù
Café Ba Lù is a small household 5 km from the city center and features a unique 60-year-old recipe. Their day starts at 2 AM selling to working people in the city that never sleeps. At 2 PM, they hand-roast the coffee beans over a woodfire. If you like the coffee, they do have their coffee ground for sale.
Location: 193 Phùng Hưng, District 5
The Workshop Coffee
The Workshop Coffee is a pioneer of modern specialty coffee in Ho Chi Minh City. If you take a seat at the slowbar, the barista will talk you through the process of serving up your coffee.
You can select different brew methods and savor the aroma of freshly roasting coffee. You can’t, however, get traditional Vietnamese coffee here. They also sell freshly ground coffee, coffee beans, and coffee brewing paraphernalia.
Location: 27 Ngô Đức Kế, District 1
Vietnam Coffee Republic
Vietnam Coffee Republic is all about making use of specialty techniques to elevate traditional Vietnamese coffee. If you like their ca phe sua da, maybe you’d like to buy some of their coffee ground and make your own.
Location: 6D2 Thái Văn Lung, District 1
La Viet Coffee
La Viet Coffee is a growing chain brand also on a mission to combine traditional Vietnamese and specialty coffee. They also sell their carefully selected coffee beans and ground.
Location: 191 Hai Bà Trưng, District 3
Here’s the list of the best coffee shops in Saigon
Useful Tips for the Best Coffee in Saigon
1. It’s going to be really hard, if not possible, to get a decaf.
2. Only new chain stores or modern specialty establishments will have different milk choices.
3. Traditional coffee shops tend to not serve food, but you’re welcome to invite a banh mi to join in with your ca phe sua da.
Buying Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City
If you get tricked into buying cheap coffee ground, you may land up with a mixture of possibly burnt roasted corn, soybeans, and red beans which are harmful to your health. That’s the reason why it’s best to get your coffee ground or beans at established chains and the shops mentioned above.
Even though most chains and shops we included have an English menu, here are some common Vietnamese coffee words:
coffee beans: hạt cà phê; roasted coffee beans: hạt cà phê rang; ground coffee: cà phê xay; instant coffee: cà phê hòa tan; Robusta: cà phê vối; Arabica: cà phê chè; Liberica: cà phê mít (not to be confused with mít for jackfruit).
The History of Coffee in Vietnam
Beginning: In 1857, coffee was introduced to Vietnam by the French but wasn’t successful right away. The Arabica they brought from Bourbon didn’t grow well in the provinces of North and Central Vietnam.
Expansion: In the 1920s, colonization spread towards the highlands of Dak Lak Province (tỉnh Đắk Lắk) and Central Highlands (Tây Nguyên). In the early 20th century, coffee plantations were set up and thus began mass coffee production.
Journey: The French began experimenting with different beans of Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica at plantations across the country. It was determined that Dalat is the most suitable place to grow the best coffee.
All time low: The Vietnam War didn’t affect the plantations much but caused severe depopulation in certain areas. After the victory of North Vietnam, most agriculture became collective farming which limited production, especially of private enterprises.
New heights: The industry came back stronger than ever following the economic reform in 1986 thanks to co-ops and migrated labor. Nowadays, around 93% of the coffee produced in Vietnam is Robusta which is approximately 40% of global production.
Coffee Production in Vietnam
Traditional Vietnamese techniques usually involve roasting Robusta beans very dark to get that iconic bitter taste. This is why some unscrupulous producers mix in burnt corn or soybeans to increase profit.
Additives like margarine (not butter which is a homonym in Vietnamese), rice wine, even sugar, and salt are added to balance and add to the flavor. Some places, especially coastal ones, add fish sauce to get a distinctive taste.
Common coffee varieties found in Vietnam include Robusta, Arabica, Liberica, and the debatable weasel poop coffee. Instant coffee mostly uses Robusta, often with fillers and added flavorings like vanilla or hazelnut.
Weasel coffee (cà phê chồn) or Civet/ Kopi Luwak is a specialty in Asia but has raised many concerns surrounding animal rights. Therefore, production is no longer certified and you shouldn’t attempt to purchase it.