Driving down the pre-dawn streets in Vietnam, activity is at a minimum. Market motorbikes do their first runs with fresh produce, sleepless freight trucks carry goods around the country and overnight tour buses carry snoozing passengers to their next destination. Down the road, there is one light, however, that is guaranteed to be glowing… no matter what time of day (or night). That’s the café.
Coffee in Vietnam is so much more than just a drink; it’s a pastime. After the local ladies wake up in the morning for their daily exercise, they gather at a favorite coffee joint and order up a round of cafe sua da Saigons (tall iced milk coffee). Before heading off to work, dressed for the job in suits and shined shoes, Vietnamese men gather down the road with friends, family and/or coworkers over a cup of café den (black coffee). It’s a morning ritual, like reading the paper or brushing your teeth. Get dressed, leave the house, meet up for coffee and then start your day.
During the post-breakfast hours of the morning, no matter what day of the year it is, you will find close friends and courting couples nuzzled into outdoor café furniture sharing stories, gossip, simple conversation or not speaking at all. In the center of the table: coffee. After a long days work, before dinner or even after dinner when most of the world would be gathering at the bar or local pub… the Vietnamese are sitting around a café table with glasses of iced or hot coffee, fresh milk, sweet milk or bitter black- the time of day doesn’t matter.
This coffee culture is widespread all throughout Vietnam. Whether you’re in the busiest of cities or the quietest mountain town, you will always find a café, and there will always be someone sitting in there.
Coffee is so important in Vietnam that even tourists cannot escape the caffeinated lure. No visit to Vietnam is complete without experiencing the slow dripping, mini filtered cup of coffee while watching the Viet-world pass by before you. Whether you’re roadside in a random Café XYZ or sitting two stories up in a posh Highlands Coffee, the experience is extremely Vietnam.
What makes coffee even more attractive (and accessible to all) is its price. A glass of coffee can be as cheap as 5.000 VND or upwards of 100.000 VND, all depending on where and what you are drinking. You could be squatting on a curb in the hot sun slurping an iced glass of instant coffee powder or sofa-sitting in a chic café trying the infamous weasel coffee; no matter what the setting, the coffee experience is one that all tourists must have. Need some help on ordering up the right cup of java? Here’s a quick guide to coffee in Vietnam:
Cà phê đen: Black Coffee
Cà phê sữa: Milk Coffee (Made with condensed milk unless otherwise requested)
Sữa tươi: Fresh Milk
Cà phê nóng: Hot Coffee
Cà phê đá: Iced Coffee
Cà phê _______ Saigon: Ordering a coffee ‘Saigon’ style means ordering a tall, larger glass of coffee (example, cà phê sữa đá Saigon: A Tall Iced Sweet Milk Coffee)