In Saigon, coffee is king. Historically a nation of tea drinkers, the Vietnamese began to cultivate coffee in the late 19th century, thanks for the French, and have risen in the ranks of coffee producers ever since. Today, Vietnam is the second-largest coffee exporter in the world with almost a quarter of the coffee drank in the UK coming from the fields of Vietnam. Not all of the coffee is sent overseas, mind. The Vietnamese like their coffee beans as much as the rest of the world and in Saigon coffee-drinking café culture has reached the level of obsession.
Taking their cue from the highly caffeinated locals, tourists in Saigon are drinking Vietnamese coffee by the mug-full. As anyone who has spent any time sight-seeing amongst the frantic, congested and humid streets of Saigon is likely to know, coffee shops are as the perfect place to take a break. There are hundreds of coffee shops for you to sample in Saigon, each of them an oasis of air-conditioned, heavily-scented tranquillity. Here are some handy tips on how to order coffee Vietnamese style and a few city centre cafes in which to drink it.
- Cà Phê Den Nong: This is traditional, hot, Vietnamese drip coffee. It is made using coarsely ground, dark Vietnamese coffee beans and a French drip filter. This is not a long coffee (i.e. it is not topped up with hot water) and often tends to be very strong.
- Cà Phê Sua Nong: This is Vietnamese drip coffee, as above, served with deliciously sweetened condensed milk.
- Cà Phê Dá: This is iced coffee brewed in exactly the same way as Cà Phê Den Nong but poured over ice to create a cold beverage. Without milk or sugar this drink can be very bitter.
- Cà Phê Sua Da: Iced coffee, as above, but served with sweetened condensed milk. This is one of the most popular drinks in Vietnam.
Trung Nguyen is Vietnam’s favourite coffee brand and the company has a whole chain of coffee shops throughout Saigon. The first one I visited was on Dong Khoi Street in the heart of district one. The extensive menus are partly translated into English and the extremely attentive staff were happy to talk us through the baffling array of options, making it the perfect place for a Vietnamese drip coffee novice. I choose which coffee I wanted from a choice of five strengths and was presented with my first ever Cà Phê Sua Nong (hot drip coffee with condensed milk). It was rich, sweet, nutty, chocolately heaven and from the first sip I was hooked. This is probably one of the most expensive coffees you will find in Saigon but, trust me, it’s worth it.
If you’re a budget traveller or backpacker and staying on Pham Ngu Lau Street in District One, you will no doubt find yourself drawn to the laid back charm and well-stocked chiller cabinet of Sozo Café. Sozo was established to help disadvantaged Vietnamese people, who may have struggled to find work otherwise, support themselves. Sozo serves traditional Vietnamese coffee as well as the full range of ‘western style’ coffees with soy milk or fresh.
Located on Thu Khoa Huan Street, close to the famous Ben Thanh market, i.d. café is well known in Saigon for its retro-modern décor, good food and drinks and reasonable prices. i.d. café is no-smoking which is a relief in Saigon where most coffee shops still house a ‘smoking area’. Like most other coffee shops of its ilk this place offers one type of Vietnamese drip coffee and an abundance of cappuccinos, lattes, mochachinos and whatever else your heart might desire.
A stone’s throw from Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office in Saigon District One is Au Parc café. A big hit amongst tourists and the ex-pat community, Au Parc is always busy; a sure-fire way to ensure a place is worth going to with little to no local knowledge. With a huge menu filled with Mediterranean-style tasty treats, a small outdoor terrace and a nice view of downtown park it’s the perfect place to take a break from sight-seeing and drink a cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with milk) or two.
You can’t talk about café culture in Saigon without mentioning L’Usine. So cool they had to make two of them, you can find one L’Usine located on Dong Khoi and another located on Le Loi, close to Ben Thanh market. It’s hard to pick which one of these atmospheric and design-conscious places is best to go to. The Le Loi café is above a rather lovely clothing shop that offers an antidote to the garish knock-offs available at Ben Thanh market whereas the original on Dong Khoi is housed in a French colonial house dating back to around 1800. Best just to try them both, I say. Please contact us AsiaTourAdvisor or via phone at (84) 4 3926 3858 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details and book cultural trips with best prices and services.
Tags: Vietnam tours in Saigon