Visiting Vietnam and not being a coffee drinker gives me the feeling that you’ve come to a country, had a decent time and left without experiencing one its most fundamental cultural activities. Talk to anyone that’s been to Vietnam and most will mention the coffee. Hot, cold, whatever the style, it’s that gorgeously-strong drink loaded with condensed milk that simply has to be tried.
Many places don’t make you sit and wait for that little metal filter to do its thing, slowly dripping over the thick sediment of condensed milk at the bottom of the glass. They serve it up pre-filtered; an “instant” coffee of sorts that can be mixed and downed in a few minutes, hot or over ice. But there’s something about the ritual of watching the drip … drip … drip of fresh coffee whilst squatting on a plastic stool on a street somewhere in a village, town or city that completes that typical Vietnamese picture. Anywhere we went on this particular trip involved at least a couple of coffees every day.
Here we are in our last port-of-call. Hanoi. A dynamic city that has coffee virtually anywhere you cast your eyes. The traditional local stuff, modern variations of it, plus a new breed of cafe’s that have brought the likes of espresso to the mix. Here’s a bunch of places that received our custom.
Located in Hoan Kiem District is a peaceful cafe within virtual arms-reach of the looming St Joseph’s Cathedral. Entrance is via a clothing boutique, also owned by the same crew, above-which are two floors occupied by Marilyn Cafe. The first floor balcony is a narrow and coveted spot at tree level and further up on the roof terrace you have a spectacular outlook of the cathedral.
There’s a variety of cafe-style food on offer but it was just drinks we were after on this particular visitation. After seeing macchiato on the drinks menu I had an immediate hankering for one. The waitress said it wasn’t available due to them not having ice cream. When I tried explaining that macchiato doesn’t actually have ice cream, all I got was a very vacant expression and utter confusion. Ca phe sua da it was. And it was a good one at that.
Marilyn Cafe – 4 Au Trieu, Hoan Kiem
It may be a little tricky to find, but when you do, The Cart is a great little hole-in-the-wall caf that specialises in freshly extracted juices, home-baked treats, sandwiches and fairly decent coffee. The girl may have been a little rushed in making my macchiato, but the outcome was ok. To get there, find a little cafe called La Place opposite the cathedral. Go down the laneway next to it and take the first left. It’s down a little further opposite the Splendid Hotel.
The Cart – 18 Au Trieu
The thing that drew us to Apple Tart cafe was just that. The apple tart. Apparently it was the best tart in town. Coming here for coffee, or the sad one I endured, doesn’t come recommended by me. One thing for sure is that if you find yourself within 500 metres of this place, make a side trip. The apple tart is really good. Really good. Just don’t have an expresso with milk.
Apple Tart – 116 Ngo Bao Khanh
So it seems we’ve tried the traditional coffee and a couple from an espresso machine, but how about one of those modern variations on Vietnamese coffee? In particular the ca phe trung and the ca phe sua chua cacao da.
The Hoan Kiem District is a very busy precinct. Busy with the regular locals going about their daily activities and busy with international blow-ins snapping up tourist tat at the many clothing and souvenir outlets. Thanks to reading about it here almost a year before hitting Hanoi, Cafe Pho Co is almost secretly tucked away above all of the craziness outside. This multi-level business specialises in the above-mentioned coffee varieties.
Find the silk shop at 11 Hang Gai Street and walk straight through it, down the narrow hall and into an atrium at the rear of the building. This is where you order and pay for your bevvies and carry on upstairs to one of the seating areas. The top terrace is the best; offering a breezy outlook over the lake and congested madness below.
The coffee? Well, ca phe trung is a dual layer of black coffee topped with whipped egg lightly mixed with the coffee, resulting in a slightly foamy and almost custard-like flavour. The other one, ca phe sue chua cacao da, is blended with yoghurt and mixed with Milo-like cocoa granules. It’s served over ice and makes for a very refreshing drink that’s akin to a coffee-flavoured lassi.
Cafe Pho Co – 11 Hang Gai Street
The name of this place alone attracted me to it. Puku. A word that made it into my vernacular not long after meeting my Kiwi partner. What’s a puku? If you look down and can’t see your belt buckle, well, you just may have one. Puku is a place that attracts expats and out-of-towners.
A French colonial set-up featuring an international menu, free erratic wifi and Lavazza coffee. Take a look … they even do a flat white. The milk may have come from a tetra pak but it was actually ok when the maker did their thing.
Puku Cafe & Bar – 16-18 Tong Duy Tan
It was the colonial vibe that first attracted us to this corner cafe, coupled with the need for more caffeine. One cold Vietnamese coffee and one hot one seemed the ticket on that very warm afternoon. Sitting by the big open windows offers street views of the busy intersection and manic tangle of commuters and bike riders.
The Little Hanoi – 48 Hang Gai
I may not have been a great fan of this part of town but in our wanderings I happened to look up at the right moment, setting my gaze on a guy pouring a coffee like an absolute pro. Man I love finding stuff like this. Signage with European coffee varieties sits by the entrance so it was a given that we stop and sniff about a little. It’s clear that these guys have been trained. I mean really trained on the workings of an espresso machine and how to steam and pour milk. I could even use the term barista. In Hanoi!
Macchiato for me, flat white for the other half. Really good. Seriously good. The single origin Arabica beans come from Quang Tri Province in central Vietnam. Had there not already been two previous coffees bouncing about my system I’d have gone for another mac at this fantastic corner hole-in-the-wall cafe.
Word has it they’ve moved to 25 Xuan Dieu in the Tay Ho District since we dropped by.
Oriberry Coffee To Go – 37 Ma May