Vietnamese coffee is unlike any other in the world. It starts with a unique flavor and aroma – a little bit like chocolate, a sweet smell and a bitter taste, a sensation hard to describe. Then, the way the coffee is served is its own experience. Hot coffee is not a common drink in this area, so if you order a regular coffee, you should expect your drink to be served in a tall glass, on ice. There will also be a large amount of sugar in it too, as in Vietnam all drinks simply must be sweet.
The most common coffee drink is the Sweet Iced Coffee, an iced coffee poured over a layer of sweet condensed milk. This one will be served with a straw and a spoon to stir it into a sweet and sticky drink. Many say it’s absolutely delicious! But don’t let the sweetness fool you – both black and milky coffees are very strong – and without sugar, they would be quite difficult to drink.
If you like a quick coffee in the morning, Vietnamese style might not be your thing. To prepare the traditional coffee you need it to drip through a coffee strainer – a traditional metal filter – one drop a second – slowly enough to gain the power and aroma. Coffee prepared like this is almost as thick as a syrup – an essence of strength. It takes about fifteen minutes to make one cup. Like with everything in Vietnam, also with coffee, there is no rush!
The proper way to have your glass of coffee is to sit on a small chair, along with your friends, chat, and let the ice slowly melt into it. As the time goes by, you sip your drink slowly, gossiping while having a good time. It is very common to see the young Vietnamese spending their late evenings with friends, having coffee as late as midnight. Or groups of men and women, right at the sidewalks and in the little outdoor cafés, just watching the days go by when slowly sipping their highly caffeinated drinks.
Coffee is a big part of the daily lives of the Vietnamese people. Nowadays the youth in the cities, like Hanoi or Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), fell in love with craft coffee shops, and the number of multi-story spacious coffee houses, with spaces to work, study and socialize is growing just as fast as the amount of little, secret, beautifully designed cafés hidden somewhere in the alleys in each district. Planning your tours through Vietnam makes sure to save some time for hidden-cafes exploration.
To immerse yourself in the Vietnamese coffee culture, you should simply try it all. You’ll have the opportunity to taste some aboard your Mekong River cruise, but you should also stop by at any outdoor café, with the tiny, almost toy-like tables and chairs put on the sidewalk and order Cafe Sua Da (coffee milk ice) or Cafe Den Da (coffee black ice). Spend some time contemplating the street life, with no rush and, for those couple of moments, nowhere to go.
Then, as you’re walking the streets of Saigon, just before you embark on your Mekong Cruise or in Hanoi, before your pickup for Halong Bay Cruise – look for the signs of a small café, somewhere away from the main street. Maybe on the second floor of a little bit run-down house, you will find a precious gem of interior design and a quiet place to escape the city hustle! Several big coffee house chains are easily winning over big western brands – try them too, see how the tradition finds its place in the modern world and stays strong, still winning over the new ways.
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