If there is a coffee heaven, it is in Hanoi. It’s an exhilarating place to be for coffee lovers. I promise you will enjoy coffee in Hanoi from the very first cup of black velvety coffee till the very last, iced brew.
Coffee culture in Hanoi
Coffee culture in Hanoi is massive. As soon as you start exploring the capital city, you notice how much the Vietnamese enjoy drinking coffee, mostly over ice, all day long, without guilt.
They sit on colourful tiny stools chatting away to their friends, work colleagues or just browsing social networks on their smart phones. The whole scene is priceless and picture – perfect.
The Arabica trees were first brought to Vietnam by the French in mid-nineteenth century, but the Vietnamese took coffee growing, producing and making to a different level, becoming one of the largest coffee producers in the world.
Hanoi might seem like a busy place with thousands of bikes buzzing back and forth in an organised mess, but once you squat down on one of those tiny stools you suddenly see and definitely feel the chilled coffee vibe across the city.
The taste of coffee in Hanoi – personal experience
I still remember my first cup of Vietnamese coffee. It was the first thing I had on an early, damp morning in the city. There are coffee shops to the left and to the right, basically every other place is a coffee shop. I chose the one closest to our apartment.
The first thing that hit my nose was the scent. Rich nutty aroma mixed with chocolate notes. Once I had enough sniffing, I had a sip. Honestly, I thought my tasting buds had gone crazy as the thick, insanely strong but smooth and chocolatey drink filled my throat. The feeling was sensational as I’d never had anything quite like this before.
In one sentence, Vietnamese coffee in Hanoi tastes like top quality melted dark chocolate.
There are some mixed opinions amongst the experts and self proclaimed coffee snobs about Vietnamese coffee being fake. They say it’s full of additives. But I’d say for us, muggles, Hanoi coffee is as good as it gets.
How is Vietnamese coffee made?
To make the gorgeous drink, the Vietnamese use a French drip filter called a Phin, which sits at the top of a cup. A glass is often used for visual effect. The filter chamber is filled with coffee grounds, then a very thin filter press is used to weight the coffee grounds down. The cap is placed at the top of the filter which also has another useful purpose.
It takes a while for the coffee to drip through the filter, especially if it’s made properly. The thick chocolatey drink wiggles it’s way very slowly to the cup so be patient, it will be worth it.
In some, more local cafes, you will be served a coffee that has been brewed for you already, so you don’t get to play around with the filter. But what do you do with the whole filter once the coffee is in your cup? Where do you put it? It’s still a little bit wet underneath and can stain the surface…
This is where the lid comes in. You place the filter onto the upturned lid so that the remaining moisture doesn’t seep onto the table or a cloth.
Can you brew your own Vietnamese coffee at home?
Sure you can. You can buy the Phin on every corner in Hanoi and the rest of Vietnam for that matter. The price varies from 10.000 VND for a tiny filter to 30.000 VND for a larger one.
Once you have the filter, make sure you have good quality coffee to enjoy the full experience. The recommended coffee brand is Trung Nguen, check out their tutorial on how to make the perfect coffee at home.
The secret to making a silky smooth Vietnamese coffee
We got friendly with one of the local coffee shop owners where we used to go for our morning coffee shot. She spoke perfect English and told us a little secret of how she makes perfect Vietnamese coffee (it really was perfect).
So, when you add coffee grounds to the filter, don’t rush pouring hot water over it. Instead, add a little bit of hot water to the lid and sit the filter into it. Let the coffee grounds soak up the hot water and expand. Only then sit the filter over your cup and pour hot water over the coffee.
Keeping the coffee hot while it’s dripping
The coffee made in the Vietnamese style can get cold very quickly as it takes so long to drip through. Some cafes use a dish of hot water to keep the cup hot, or even a candle underneath your coffee cup.
This was especially unexpected and very pretty when it was starting to get dark. You will get this kind of coffee warming hack in the more local cafes.
Coffee choices in Hanoi
There are more coffee choices in Hanoi than you can possibly drink.
Black coffee, iced coffee, sweet coffee with condensed milk, coconut coffee, yoghurt coffee and even egg coffee.
The most famous 3 variations:
Ca Phe Nong – black coffee;
Ca Phe Sua Nong – sweet black coffee with condensed milk;
Ca Phe Sua Da – iced coffee with condensed milk;
If you feel like treating yourself, try some Ca Phe Trung – egg coffee. A truly amazing creation first invented in the Cafe Giang.
It’s sweet and incredibly rich due to egg yolk whipped together with condensed milk. It’s a winning combination! You should not leave Hanoi without trying this heavenly treat, you may not find it anywhere else.
Where to drink great local coffee in Hanoi
There is an array of coffee places in Hanoi and most of them will make you a magical cup of coffee. Do not neglect corner cafes or especially local cafes located away from the old quarter. These places will serve you only the best coffee as we experienced while living like locals in our apartment in Hanoi.
My top cafe in Hanoi was Cafe Lam, one of the oldest cafes in the capital. For the ultimate experience sit outside on the little stool and enjoy coffee with the locals.
60 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Next door to Cafe Lam you will find Cafe Giang, another charming place forever buzzing with coffee addicts. Walk through a very narrow alleyway and step into the ‘egg coffee lane’. Since they are the inventors of the eggy coffee, you should absolutely try it here.
39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
For the beautiful views of the Hoan Kiem Lake, head to Cafe Pho Co. It is quite tricky to find this place as it’s hidden at the back of a shop filled with silk produce and touristy t-shirts.
The sign is so tiny that it’s hard to see it from the street. When in the cafe, order your drink at the ‘reception’ area downstairs and then head upstairs to a peaceful terrace.
To reach the lake viewing platform, take the spiral staircase all the way up. For double indulgence, order their cakes, they are fresh and absolutely delicious.
11 hang trong ha noi, 11 Hàng Gai, Hàng Trống, Hà Nội, Vietnam
In the Old Quarter, next to St Joseph Cathedral, you’ll find Cafe Indigenious. It’s so tiny it’s really easy to miss it. We surely did! You’ll get a seat if you are lucky as it only has a few tables. It also sells nice coffee accessories and souvenirs.
36 Ấu Triệu, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Weasel coffee – a tourist trap?
Just like Kopi Luwak in Indonesia, Vietnamese specialise in Weasel Coffee also known as Civet-cat coffee. Well, all the coffee you see in the old quarter, unless it costs $500 per kg, is fake.
At specialised coffee shops around the world this kind of coffee sells around $30 per cup so why would it be sold to tourists on every corner at just few bucks per bag? Definitely one of the biggest tourist traps in Vietnam. Avoid.
The coffee beans sniffed out, eaten and digested by the Asian Civet makes, supposedly, the finest coffee. However, after the Vietnam (or American) War, it’s getting harder to source such beans.
Farmers in the central highlands area of Vietnam started illegally cutting down the coffee trees as well as hunting Civets for food. As a result, fake Civet coffee started dominating the market.
Warning – enjoy while it lasts!
As you leave Hanoi, you will suddenly notice that coffee in other regions is, let’s just say, different. The thickness is gone, the quality is questionable and the taste is oh so different, and not always in a good way.
The coffee is still served in a drip, but more often than not, it’s either too watery or has an unpleasant bitter taste. Also, a lot of places will serve you instant coffee and charge 35,000 VND for a tiny cup.
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