04 Jun Simply Saigon: the art of coffee in Ho Chi Minh City
I actually don’t know where to start. Saigon (HCMC) is a city of stark contrasts, frenetic traffic and ordered chaos. It is a place where you will find old world traditions and ways of life interspersed with shiny modern sky scrapers and new builds, green spaces and tree lined avenues, French colonial architecture and a million street vendors plying their wares(from ca phê, bánh mì and Phở, to prepaid mobile phone sim cards, books, jewellery and everything in between).
It is a place where a million scooters pay no notice to road rules, traffic direction or even pedestrians on pavements (if there is space on a pavement then it is fair game for a scooter to use as a thoroughfare or bike lane). Down every alley way you will find something new and the streets are filled with the aromas of coffee or of food being cooked by street food vendors.
Life here is fuelled by coffee (ca phê and generally served with a hearty dollop of condensed milk in the glass and then poured over ice – cà phê sữa đá) and there is definitely no shortage of coffee shops or street vendors selling one of a hundred versions of available coffee blends and styles (did you know Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world after Brazil?).
So, the basic types are:
Cà phê sữa đá: iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk
Cà phê đen đá: iced black coffee
Cà phê sữa nóng: hot coffee with sweetened condensed milk
Cà phê đen nóng: hot black coffee
Most often the coffee will be served to you with the Phin (or filter) on top of the cup. This is the process of brewing the coffee and it normally takes about 4 minutes for this process to be completed whereby you then remove the lid, turn it upside down and place the phin on top (this catches any drips and ensures you don’t make a mess on the table!). You then pour the strong coffee and condensed milk mixture (after stirring of course) over the ice (or drink as is if having a hot version).
Vietnamese coffee is rich, strong and has a serious caramel note to it and our personal favourite is definitely iced with condensed milk (a great pick me up that will help you shake off the amount of Bia Saigon or 333 you had the night before in the backpacker district… but that’s a whole different blog post!).
Our favourite place to have Cà Phê and watch the world pass us by is at Trung Nguyen (a Starbucks type chain found all over Saigon but with possibly the best cà phé we have had in Vietnam) but we suggest that you try the coffee everywhere and find your own top spot.
Learn a little more about the art of coffee in Vietnam here