Vietnamese coffee is the rocket fuel that keeps the country buzzing. You’ll find cafes on every street in every city, from trendy cafes molded by the creative class, to retro institutions that have evolved over decades, to pavement cafes draped around and across the sidewalks. In each one you’ll be enveloped by nattering locals nursing their favorite brew.
Traditional Vietnamese coffee is made from Robusta beans, which have a strong, bitter taste. For decades, resourceful café owners have dreamt up new ways to temper the potent Robusta bean and enhance the country’s favorite drink. As a result, there’s now a kaleidoscope of innovative coffee variations on the menu. Here are five fantastic coffees to look out for while traveling through Vietnam.
#1. The must-try: Drip-filter coffee
Vietnamese coffee beans are usually roasted in butter then brewed in metal filters. Some filters are small enough to rest on a coffee cup and make excellent souvenirs; others are so enormous they need a team to carry. The moments spent waiting for your coffee to brew are part of the pleasure of this style of coffee. Due to its bitterness, black Vietnamese coffee is an acquired taste. Feel free to sweeten your drink with condensed milk (you’ll find that many locals do), or mix it with ice. A cold cà phê sữa đá on a hot day is a quintessential Vietnamese coffee experience.
#2. Best to warm the soul: Hot egg coffee
The story goes that after the war when milk was scarce, Hanoians still craved something to take the edge off their coffee. Inexpensive and creamy, egg yolks emerged as the perfect alternative. Even as Vietnam became more prosperous and milk returned to the market, cà phê trứng persisted for its delicious goodness. It’s now a must-try Hanoi specialty drink, especially during the winter months. A dense, frothy head of foam sits atop a rich brew: gently fold it in with a spoon, and sip slowly.
#3. Best to cool you down: Coconut coffee
Very few cities escape the summer sun in Vietnam. If you start to overheat while exploring, why not try an iced coconut coffee? More of a scoop-able ice cream than a drinkable coffee, coconut coffee or cà phê cốt dừa, is at once a pick-me-up, fill-me-up, and cool-me-down. The barista will blend traditional drip coffee with coconut milk, fresh milk, and condensed milk. The finished product is spooned into a glass and serve as a refreshing treat. The coffee grounds the flavor with the coconut giving the drink a fun tropical twist, kind of like a coffee cocktail.
#4. Best for an afternoon snack: Yogurt coffee
A weird and wonderful alternative to milk, you just can’t go wrong with an enticing yogurt coffee, better known as cà phê sữa chua. The drink blends Vietnamese drip coffee with yogurt, condensed milk, and ice, though the last two are optional. You’ll find ca phe sua chua on menus across Hanoi, however the best coffee shops use fresh, home-made yogurt. The sourness from the yogurt, bitterness from the coffee beans, and sweetness from the condensed milk makes for a mouthwatering combination.
#5. Best for a sugar rush: Bac xiu
If you’ve tried the Vietnamese iced coffee and can handle something even sweeter, look no further than cà phê bạc xỉu. The ingredients are essentially the same as the holy trinity of a cà phê sữa đá: coffee, condensed milk, and crushed ice. The difference is all in the proportions, with more milk less coffee going into a bac xiu. The drink is popular with teenagers still learning to appreciate the bitterness of Robusta coffee.