Whether you’re a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donut type of person, or perhaps you gravitate toward the independents, anyone who visits Vietnam soon discovers a thriving cafe scene that they can’t help but embrace, with Saigon’s coffee culture one of the strongest in the country.
Đang xem: Vietnamese iced coffee
First things first, Vietnamese Coffee is unique. It begins with strong black drip coffee as the base, but then they go and add a generous amount of what by all estimates is 40% fat sweetened and condensed milk. It should be noted that milk in general in Vietnam is nearly always of the heavily sweetened and condensed variety. Even “non-fat” milk is akin to 2% in the rest of the world. In the north of the country Vietnamese coffee is called ca phe nau (brown coffee), while in the south it’s ca phe sua (milk coffee). It’s widely available hot or iced, but given the oppressive heat and humidity of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), one usually opts for iced.
Since being introduced to coffee by the French in the 19th century, Vietnam has become not only a huge consumer of coffee but a massive producer as well. Exporting predominantly Robusta beans, which are cheaper and easier to grow than Arabica, the nation is the second largest exporter in the world, with more than double the production of third ranked Colombia.
The resulting effect is an enormous concentration of cafés and coffee shops in the country, particularly in and around Saigon. While several international chains such as Starbucks, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf have set up shop in the city alongside popular national brands like Phuc Long, Highlands Coffee and Trung Nguyen Coffee, the real magic is the incredibly unique independent shops that dot countless alleyways. As Saigon continues to grow as a hub for international entrepreneurs and digital nomads, the city’s prolific café culture ensures that there are an abundance of good spots to work with strong wifi and stronger coffee.
Here’s a taste of four coffee experiences not to be missed in Saigon:
Vung Oi, Mo Ra was one of the first cafes I visited in the city thanks to Vespa Adventures ‘Saigon After Dark’ food tour. Truly a ‘secret’, this café is open during the day but I recommend a late night stop to enjoy the live acoustic music from 9pm to 10:30pm that will blow your mind. With plush velvet couches, dim candle lit lighting, and always a good-sized crowd, it’s like Central Perk had an Asian rebirth – and Phoebe Buffay would definitely approve. Beer and a range of Vietnamese coffees are on offer at moderate prices. To reach this gem literally turn up the dead end alley located at 7 Ngô Thời Nhiệm Street (alleyway 17), District 3, walk past/through a small garage, up a curving flight of stairs and knock. Reservations recommended during the music period.
Looking for something a little more glam? L’Usine is a highly curated lifestyle shop, gallery and European café with the bonus of free Wi-Fi, craft beer on tap and terrific people watching. With two locations in the city it’s a premium brand that is expanding its reach. The original location is 1st Floor, 151/1 Dong Khoi Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1 with a terrace overlooking Saigon Opera House and L’Usine Bistro offering a larger food menu. The second location is 70B Le Loi Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, just around the corner from Ben Thanh Market.
If you’re a serious café fan, how about hitting up a few dozen all at once? Café Apartment is a unique five story building housing dozens of independent “mini” cafés, clothing, jewelry and shoe stores, most notably Mockingbird Cafe, Things Cafe, and The Fi Cafe. While the building appears to be quite run down from the outside and is only accessible via a little alley – as most interesting places in Saigon are – loads of little wooden signs and stylish graffiti direct you through a labyrinth of halls and staircases that could easily be mistaken for a horror film – but in a really amazing way, I promise. Each café offers incredibly unique décor and themes, light menu offerings and mini balconies – not to mention air conditioning and totally passable bathrooms relative to Vietnam norms. The building is open 8am-10pm and worth exploring, particularly if you’re looking to study, chill or escape the torrential downpours of rainy season in Saigon. Located at 14 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1, HCMC, just a few blocks away from the iconic Bitexco Financial Tower, and about 25 meters in from the river.
This last one may be cheating a bit as Cakes & Ale is perhaps better known for its exceptional baked goods, beers, and cats than coffee per say, but let’s admit it, if you like Vietnamese coffee then you like sugar so this probably suits your palate. The cakes are a no-brainer, the mouthwatering array includes macarons, cupcakes and signature items such as passionfruit cheesecake or mango panna cotta served in a mini jar. If you’re with a large group or your just particularly glutinous, you can also order entire cakes. Trappist ales are the beer focus with multiple growlers priced from 335k VND. Now for the cats – while still meeting hygiene standards, the café has a strong presence of roaming resident felines. While I’m simply not a cat person, perhaps you are. Located at 6B TP. HCM, Công trường Quốc Tế, phường 6, District 3, HCMC.
A morning, afternoon or night cap coffee at any one of these places is sure to make you fall in love with Vietnamese coffee and the city of Saigon. And there are so many other hidden gems throughout the city that you couldn’t visit them all even if you went to a new one every day as James from Nomadic Notes attempted a few years back. Have you experienced Saigon’s coffee culture? Have any favourites that we haven’t mentioned?