How to Become a Vietnamese Coffee Lover
Vietnamese Coffee is Delightfully Different: A Coffee Cafe Tour in Hanoi, Vietnam
Keeping an open mind is a requirement when you’re traveling. My first day in Hanoi, I met Thanh, she’s an independent tour guide based in Hanoi. I had no set plans for my first day and I let my tour guide plan my day, which ended up being a great decision. We walked around the Old Quarter where I learned about life in Hanoi, in addition to my first cup of Vietnamese Coffee. If you’re not a Vietnamese coffee lover, you will be after trying some of the different ways it’s made.
I became a Vietnamese coffee lover with my very first cup of Vietnamese Egg Coffee. A few days later I returned to the same cafe for a group coffee tour. More about that below… Keep in mind I am not a coffee expert, I just enjoy it. This article is about how travelers can enjoy the varieties that can be made with Vietnamese coffee, and the different ways it is served. I will also give you a little background about the history of Vietnamese coffee,read on…
Recipes are below – Our tour guide Thanh, specializes tours around Hanoi: coffee, food, crafts and local sight-seeing around Hanoi.
How Special is Vietnamese Coffee
Vietnamese Coffee is so special that even though Vietnam is the second leading coffee producer in the world, they keep most of it in their own country. They love their coffee here and its become not just a morning ritual, but it’s about gathering in cafés for social gatherings. It’s strong which makes it the perfect coffee for blending.
History of Vietnamese Coffee
During the 18th & 19th Centuries the Dutch and French brought coffee with them to Vietnam. After the French began to grow coffee here, the Vietnamese made some improvements and made it their own. There are regional differences; my experience was in North Vietnam, Hanoi. Milk was never part of the coffee scene in Vietnam because keeping it fresh was a problem. Instead they used sweetened condensed milk, which they still use today. Condensed milk is the norm all over SE Asia, not just Vietnam because it’s almost always hot in many areas. Vietnam and SE Asia is a great region for growing coffee beans. Both Cambodia and Laos also began to grow coffee beans, but the Vietnamese became more successful at it.
Vietnamese Coffee Beans
Vietnam is now the second leading coffee exporter in the world. Most of the Vietnamese coffee beans are Robusta, and it’s the rich flavor why so many people love it. If you have not tried it yet, the distinctive flavor is why people become a Vietnamese coffee lovers. There are many ways to drink Vietnamese coffee, Americano (black or with condensed milk), Espresso, cappuccino, etc. **
Another reason it’s so popular is because their coffee is perfect for mixing. This is also why people who do not normally like coffee, end up liking Vietnamese coffee. There are many ways to prepare a cup, and for a more moderate taste, it depends on how the coffee is mixed and served. Coffee is a personal choice in Vietnam, and each has their own favorite ways of drinking it. This is why cafe’s specialize in brewing and blending in their own way, and this is also why there are so many coffee houses in Hanoi. Coffee is a way of life in Vietnam, and once you taste it, and the variances, you will understand. Read on to learn more about our coffee tour the ways it can be mixed so you too can become a Vietnamese coffee lover.
There are a number of popular ways to blend or mix Vietnamese coffee. We tried coconut coffee, ice milky coffee, and yogurt coffee, along with the conventional types of coffee. The strong flavor is why it’s perfect for mixing. As mentioned above, the strong taste may be diminished by the way its made and mixed. Perfect for those who don’t like strong coffee, or want to experience having their cup another way to enjoy for variety. With Vietnamese coffee, it’s possible to keep the strong taste, it depends on how it’s mixed and served at the coffee houses.
In case you don’t know, in food, the Asian’s like to mix combinations of tastes such as sweet, sour, bitter, bland sour, strong, mild etc.,it’s the Asian way of cooking. Vietnamese coffee beans create complex flavors, and become a connoisseurs delight. The cafe’s also blend their beans using various beans from the Vietnam areas which is a reason to tour more than one cafe, because their methods are often secret. This is why you want to do a tour, and why its important to do a tour with a knowledgable local. They know where to take you for the best experience.
Brewing Vietnamese Coffee
There are numerous cafés in and around Hanoi and they were all busy during my visit while in Hanoi. Many of the cafés had small groups that were seated in front on the cafe sidewalks due to overflow of coffee drinkers from the inside. People were enjoying their coffees on a street-side social setting. Most Vietnamese coffee shops use the drip method of brewing to retain the unique flavor of their coffee. ** (read below – how to brew at home)
This method is not common to Starbucks, except for the Starbucks in Vietnam. Starbucks changed their brewing style to be popular with the locals in Vietnam. They needed adjust to the local brewing methods so to stay competitive. Many coffee shops in Hanoi seem very protective about keeping their brewing methods private. I tried to take a picture of a coffee machine in one café, but they stopped me after the first photo. Some of brewing the set-ups looked like something out of a distillery. Steam, small pipes, filters, and add in some industrial noise.
Hanoi Coffee Tours: Vietnamese Coffee Lover
Vietnamese Egg Coffee
We were in The old section of Hanoi called the “Old Quarter“, There’s a lot of character in this part of town and the word “old” is very accurate. Going back to my first day there, my Hanoi Travel Guide Thanh, introduced me to a small yet popular and hidden cafe for my first Egg Coffee. We ordered coffee and then I had to search for a seat since the cafe was very busy. My mind drifted from the idea of this strange brew as I was trying to find a place to sit. All the seats were very short, and reminded me of child sized chairs. Many of the restaurants, not just coffee houses seems to have very short tables and chairs too.
Once I sat my 6 ft.tall frame down on that little chair, my coffee showed up and I forgot all about how far down I was sitting. Along came my surprise as I took my first sip. I was amazed at first because of the appearance of this very unusual blend. The flavor was incredible. It was then and there that I decided to join the group coffee tour for the next day because I love the taste of the Vietnamese coffee and having the egg mixed in made me acknowledge that my trip was going the right way. I so enjoyed my first cup of Vietnamese Egg Coffee on my individual tour I became a Vietnamese coffee lover for life.
Vietnamese Egg Coffee
The next day our small coffee tasting group arrived at the same cafe that served my first cup of Vietnamese Egg Coffee, Our coffee’s were cool in temperature on top, yet the coffee on the bottom was hot. The two ingredients were not mixed well when they put it in our cups, and that was on purpose. I think it depends on the shop and how they mix it (see the video). The first taste was such a surprise, and if I told you more, I’d spoil it for you, but you have to try Egg Coffee for yourself and discover the unusual combination. It was absolutely delicious seems like the perfect breakfast. (I don’t think adding bacon would be helpful). Be open-minded even if you’re not a regular coffee drinker! Both coffee drinkers, and non-coffee drinkers would love this stuff!
Travel is about experiencing new things and living in the present. This is why I agreed to coming back for the group coffee tasting. Thanh takes pride in showing tourists to the best places in town, and many of them are hidden. She will take you into ally ways and up stairways that you won’t find on your own. Thanh Hanoi Travel Guide Facebook Page
Watch the video below to see how they make Egg Coffee; recipe on bottom of page.
Milky Ice Coffee
On our second stop our tour group made a visit to very cute cafe, well decked out with flowers and plants and larger chairs and tables, hurrah. Another shop that would be hard to find on our own, but our tour guide made sure we didn’t get lost. Through an alley, a few turns, inside a building, and up a narrow stairway. The shop had a lot of character and our Milky Ice Coffee was again a great choice after the egg coffee we just had. The coffee was smooth but not strong thanks to the milk and ice. Another reason to be a Vietnamese Coffee Lover.
Americano or Espresso or Cappuccino
We were ready to move on and find another shop. Another climb up the staircase after making our way through another alleyway. Time to order their specialty coffee. We then proceeded back downstairs to sit because they were no available seats at the upper level. Once more we sat on some very short chairs. We tipped our little cups and sipped this new brew. All of us at that point were beginning to feel the caffeine, but everyone was enjoying the experience. I did notice that Cindy’s knee was bouncing up and down until I pointed it out to her and we all had a little laugh. Group tours can be so much fun!
Our coffee was stronger this time because it was straight up, nothing fancy but with exceptional flavor. We each decided on what to order and picked our own brew; espresso coffee, Americano, or Cappuccino coffee were our choices. We enjoyed the full robust flavor that is to expected from Vietnamese coffee but with that distinctive flavor. This café offered us a chance to understand the complex flavor of the coffee itself, without adding additional flavors that often change the coffee into another kind of beast. Kind of like experiencing run of the mill jungle animals instead of Godzilla or King Kong. They all have their time and place. 🙂
Vietnamese Yogurt Coffee
Vietnamese Yogurt Coffee seemed more like yogurt ice cream, especially after we had just finished a stronger coffee at another café. Our coffee had a slightly sour and sour taste to it along with a hint of that strong coffee flavor that coffee drinkers get accustomed to here in Hanoi.
Thanh knows how to organize a great coffee tour. It became apparent that it’s important to set up the tasting order for a coffee tasting to obtaining the maximum benefit of enjoying each stop. If you know about wine tastings, it’s proper to begin with white wine before going to a more robust red wine. Its different with coffee, but there is still an order to it and our hostess Thanh set up our tour for us to enjoy coffee the best way. The yogurt in the coffee was a welcome treat! The coffee had some sweet, and a little Sour and Bitter taste. If you like coffee and you like yogurt, you will become a Vietnamese coffee lover.
Now it was time for a great treat on our Vietnamese Coffee Tour, Coconut ice cream coffee! This combination is hard to beat on a warm day, or any time of day at that matter. Coconut Ice cream and coffee was to be our dessert, because it was our last coffee tasting of the day. Sweet, cold yet with that distinctive robust coffee bean flavor. Thanh knows how to host these tours!
Vietnamese Coffee Lover Recipes
© Travel Food & Health Magazine – © Thomas Levine Photography