A guide on where to travel in Vietnam for a coffee lover.
Drinking coffee has long become common among Vietnamese, and a coffee shop is definitely one of the best places to go in Vietnam. You cannot walk down a street without passing at least a coffee shop. People from all ages and classes drink coffee. Sitting around a low table and waiting your coffee dripping from a filter are great fun. A typical Vietnamese cup of coffee can take hours and creates perfect time for social contact and life enjoyment.
Vietnamese coffee is different among the regions, from the flavor, texture to the manner of serving and drinking. In Hà Nội, the capital in the North, coffee was more popular with people of high classes, to say the intellectuals and the rich, while the rest prefered tea. Meanwhiles, coffee was enjoyed by people of all walks of life in Saigon - the Southern capital. For the higher class, filtered coffee is a proper manner and a less fancy way of serving coffee from the bracket was more appreciated by the average.
If you wonder where to travel in Vietnam, a visit to a local, steamy and aromatic coffee shop is a high recommendation. In there, you can observe fun details of social manners and take a sip of a long rich culture of contemporary Vietnam. Among coffee places of Vietnam, Saigon is definitely the best Vietnam cities to visit.
Saigon Bracket Coffee (Cà phê vợt)
Saigon is one of the most interesting Vietnam cities to visit, and Saigon coffee is not a thing to miss. While filtered coffee has become more common, bracket coffee is dying. Now there are less than five shops that still serve bracket coffee. Cheo Leo Cafe is a unique one with a long and interesting history.
The shop was first started by Mr. Vĩnh Ngô in 1938 in the Bàn Cờ area of Saigon (now district 3). During the 1930s, Bàn Cờ - or Chessboard - was still a rural part of Saigon, and the name of the shop suggests its remote location. The place was loved by the most famous intellectuals of the city. Everyday, Mr. Vĩnh Ngô rode his Vespa to the city center to buy brandy Meilleur Gout or Jean Martin to prepare bracket coffee. Even when most of Saigon shop owners had changed to filtered coffee, Mr. Vĩnh Ngô still persisted his traditional method.
Now, the shop is known to the elderly who want to travel back in time, or youngsters who love the vintage atmosphere of Saigon and also to travellers who want to discover exotic corners and try Vietnam adventure travel.
The stove that has been burning for 80 years
The shop has celebrated its 80th birthday this year (2018). Now the three daughters of Mr. Vĩnh Ngô continue their father’s business. If you kindly request, they would allow you to their narrow kitchen where their wonderful coffee is prepared.
The stove was created by Mr. Vĩnh Ngô himself from a US oil barrel. Inside, he used bricks and caramelized sugar to sustain the structure. The stove has been burning for 80 years and spilled coffee has formed a thick, shiny and tar-like layer on the stove.
Hard work behind your coffee
Everyday, the ladies get up at 4 AM to get ready for the early birds who love coffee. Preparing bracket coffee may look simple, but skills and passion are required to create a perfect cup for the high-demanding coffeeholics.
On the top of the stove, there is always a pot for boiling hot water. When the bubbles appear, hot water is poured onto a bracket in the second pot (the ceramic pot is actually used by Vietnamese for boiling medicinal herbs). The coffee is let to infuse for several minutes before it is ready to be enjoyed.
Types of Coffee
There are several types of coffee you can try in this shop. Here is the list of the most popular:
- Black coffee (Cà phê đen). This is the strongest version and you may be kept awake for the whole night if you are not used to strong coffee. Vietnamese usually drink iced coffee since the weather is always hot. - Coffee with condensed milk (Cà phê sữa). The typical bitter taste of Robusta coffee is enhanced by the condensed milk (fresh milk is not a good choice for Vietnamese coffee). If you request iced coffee, milk is already mixed for you. If you order it hot, an extra cup of milk is provided along a small cup of black coffee, which is placed inside a bowl of hot water to keep it in perfect temperature. - Coffee with more condensed milk than coffee (Bạc xỉu). This is the lightest version. Back then, children usually insisted on visiting cafes with adults but coffee was too strong for them. Then shop owners added a bit of coffee to milk and that was how Bạc xỉu was created.
If you are a solo traveler who is experiencing Vietnam adventure travel, you may need these vocabularies to order coffee.
- Em ơi: what you say to get the waiter/waitress’ attention. - Cà phê: coffee in Vietnamese. - Đá: with ice.
- Nóng: hot. - Cà phê đen: black coffee. - Cà phê sữa: coffee with condensed milk.
Cheo Leo Cafe information 109/36 Nguyễn Thiện Thuật, ward 2, district 3.
Open time: from 5h15 AM to 6h45 (they close rather early because they need to get up really early at 4AM and the shop is always crowded with coffee enthusiasts so they work really hard).
Price: Around 15.000 VND/cup or about 0.6 USD.
Saigon has the longest coffee history in the country, making it one of the most interesting places to go in Vietnam, whether you are coffeeholic or just interested in its colorful culture. Drop by a local coffee shop, spend at least one hour there and enjoy the rich social life of Vietnam.