Travelling Homebody - Coffee culture in Hanoi

Hanoi’s Coffee Culture

This article was supposed to be for Heritage (the in flight magazine for Vietnam Airlines) however, I decided to pass on the assignment for a number of reasons. Rather than waste the story, I decided to publish it here instead.

Drip coffee was introduced by the French in 1857, and Vietnam’s thriving coffee industry — which now exports almost 2,000,000 tonnes per year — was born from one Arabica tree. If you are visiting Hanoi, you will notice cafés everywhere, and locals and tourists alike enjoying the brew — at any time of the day. Perched on tiny plastic stools or small wooden chairs, cracking sunflower seeds onto the footpath, and drinking endless fragrant coffee variations with friends is unmistakably Hanoian.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Or ca phe sua da is a delectable combination of fragrant, dark roast coffee, sweetened condensed milk and ice. An icon of Vietnam, condensed milk was originally used in the drink because fresh milk was difficult to come by. Many cafés make batches of the brew ahead of time, but you can still find ca phe sua da served the traditional way: with a small, metal drip filter placed over the glass of ice and milk. Perfect for those who want a strong hit of caffeine to start their day, or lift flagging spirits in the afternoon. Just stir and sip.

Egg Coffee

Wander around Hanoi’s Old Quarter and you’ll see many a café spruiking egg coffee signs. Eggs and coffee? How is that possible… or delicious? But don’t let the name put you off — ca phe trung is a more like a dessert than a drink: think tiramisu or meringue. Egg yolks are whipped with sweetened condensed milk — and other secret ingredients — until they are light and fluffy, then poured over hot, black Vietnamese coffee served in a small cup in a water bath. Egg coffee connoisseurs know to eat most of the topping first, then stir the rest into the coffee for a sweet treat.

Iced Coconut Coffee

More like a frappe, coconut coffee — or ca phe dua da — is one of the most refreshing of drinks, and key to surviving the heat and humidity of Hanoi’s summer. Sweetened condensed milk, coconut cream and ice are blended, chilled and then spooned over strong, black coffee, which has also been chilled. Best drunk under a shady tree and a view of West Lake, with a cool breeze smelling faintly of incense gently caressing your skin.  Or if the heat of Hanoi is too much to bear, stay inside and savour your coconut coffee in the air-conditioned comfort of your nearest café.

Iced Yoghurt Coffee

Like coffee, yoghurt was introduced to Vietnam by the French and ca phe sua chua — yoghurt coffee — is a tangy delight. Creamy, natural yoghurt, ice chips, sweetened condensed milk and a drizzle of strong, black Vietnamese coffee makes a delicious, satisfying drink. And with the main ingredient being yoghurt, it’s the ideal antidote to hunger if you’re feeling peckish. Yoghurt coffee can be harder to find than other coffee variations, so if you see it on a menu, make sure you give it a try.

Last word:

If you understand the coffee culture in Hanoi, you are well on the way to understanding this bustling city. The secret is not to rush. Relax, and take in the vibe while drinking some of the best coffee you’ve ever tasted.

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