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Bean Me Up: Discovering Coffee Culture in Vietnam

… This is a guest post by Mike Zacks from Hoi An Now …

With all the motorbike and bicycle tours available in Vietnam, you’ll want to find some way to relax afterwards. This is where coffee comes into play – something that the Vietnamese are rightly famous for.

“That was the best coffee we’ve had so far in Vietnam.” I recently overheard this compliment, offered by an Australian couple, whilst enjoying my own morning brew.

The Vietnamese waitress glowingly accepted the compliment. And it’s no wonder she should respond so well to positive feedback, having learned a foreign language and studied a foreign cuisine to gain employment in the restaurant and tourist industry.

After all, waitressing to tourists in Vietnam isn’t a weekend job; it takes lots of commitment and training.

Coffee culture in Vietnam, image courtesy Hoi An Now

Their Coffee Comes From All Over

However, although the compliment was well intended, it was actually somewhat of an insult.

Because in the case of that particular coffee, the beans were imported, the espresso machine was manufactured in Italy, and even the beautiful ‘bodum’ coffee glasses in which it was served were manufactured in Denmark.

The only thing ‘Vietnamese’ about the coffee was the waitress! So, not exactly a local experience then.

In Western countries, the prevailing coffee culture evolves from Italian-style coffee – thanks to the likes of Angelo Moriondo and Luigi Bezzera, who introduced espresso to the world towards the end of the 19th century. God bless them.

Fast-forward a hundred years or so and espresso-style coffee has prevailed in the West – even in the U.S., where a Starbucks coffee sounds distinctly Italian. Venti, anyone?!

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It’s worth remembering that spaghetti evolved from Marco Polo’s discovery of noodles in Asia. And just like spaghetti and bun noodles are both ‘same same but different,’ so too is Vietnam’s unique and individual coffee culture.

The French introduced coffee to Vietnam in the 1850s, and no doubt the drip-style coffee method emerged soon after. Today Vietnam is the world’s third largest exporter of coffee, with around 7.9% of total coffee exported per year.

Coffee shop in Vietnam, image courtesy Hoi An Now

How Do The Vietnamese Drink It?

To many Vietnamese, an espresso doesn’t constitute ‘a good coffee’ – it’s far too bitter for their sweet-toothed taste. Instead, they prefer a thick, drip coffee – often with the viscosity of engine oil – made from locally sourced Robusta beans.

They regularly add a dollop of condensed milk to their brew, and, due to Vietnam’s hot climate, a cooling helping of ice. A good Vietnamese coffee is a short glass you sip; much like you’d sip a fine scotch whiskey.

In South Vietnam where temperatures are high, an iced coffee with milk is served in a tall glass – a style that’s probably better suited to Western tastes. In Central and Northern Vietnam, the coffee cups get shorter and the drink thicker – and locals wash down the dregs with an iced green tea ‘chaser’. Refreshing.

Man drinking coffee in Vietnam, image courtesy Hoi An Now

Drink Coffee In The… Evening?!

Like in the West, many Vietnamese enjoy coffee on a daily basis. However, it’s also somewhat of a nightly ritual; a chance for ‘the youth’ to socialise and date in a place where nightclubs or bars are limited and cafes abound.

The Vietnamese coffee culture is something you don’t want to miss – especially when visiting Hoi An as it’s so easy to find, and one of the cheapest experiences you’ll enjoy on your holiday.

If you’re an early riser, you’ll often see old men starting their day at a local coffee joint, in a ritual of talking and sipping that can last a couple of hours.

Another idea is to visit some of the beautiful coffee gardens dotted outside Hoi An’s Old Town. There, scattered amid the water features, glass perfume bottles, and TV screens blaring local pop music, are bands of trendy teens and twenty-somethings, enjoying a coffee whilst gossiping with friends.

It’s a thoroughly Vietnamese scene – so pull up a chair and dive right in.

Coffee drinking in Vietnam, image courtesy Hoi An Now

When you do stop by, try to forget all about Cappuccinos, Lattes, and Macchiatos (they won’t have them anyway) and order one of the local choices available.

Because if you let go of preconceived ideas about what coffee should taste like, Vietnamese-style coffee makes for a tasty drink while providing an authentic cultural experience.

Click here for a great list of coffee shops in Hoi An. And if you’re feeling adventurous, follow our guide to local coffee!

Psst…Before I go, some homework. (Yay!) Here’s a list of coffees that you can try your hand at ordering in Vietnamese. Good luck!

A few Vietnamese coffee suggestions

STYLE                                         NAME                                          PRONOUNCED

Iced coffee with milk               Ca Phe Sua Da                            Ka-fe sua-da

Tall iced coffee with milk       Ca Phe Sua Da Sai gon              Ka-fe sua-da Saigon

Black coffee                               Ca Phe Den                                 Ka-fe-den

Bio: Hi, I’m Mike, and I’m currently living life as a “Digital Nomad”. When I’m not sipping coffee in my hammock, I’m helping out the guys at Hoi An Now. The very kind Amanda at Adventures All Around has let me share my experience on Vietnamese coffee with you today. I hope you like it!

And now it’s Amanda here again, with a note to say this post contains some affiliate links, so if you click on a link and book something I will get a little something to help pay those blogging bills, but don’t worry, it’s no extra cost to you. You can find out how and why I use travel affiliate programs here.

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