Viet Nam is well known for its coffee culture. Amongst top coffee cities such as Istanbul, Addis Ababa, Vienna, Portland. I’ve heard Hanoi with its Hang Hanh Coffee Street in the Old Quarter is also amongst the best coffee shop culture… but hey, I happen to be in Saigon right now, and I believe it can beat Hanoi for sure!
If you’re a coffee lover, going on the quest of finding the best cup in town is often an adventure of itself. I am not a huge fan of the coffee but I do love the culture around it. Searching for new coffee shops sometimes leads you to a city’s most off-the-beaten-path destinations and that’s what I adore the most when I travel in a city. It is best to have someone to show you those hidden gems.
So here I am, that virtual “Someone” giving you my “must visit spots” in Ho Chi Minh City.
But first, let’s talk about the coffee itself. Coffee in Vietnamese culture is HUGE. Young professionals to old elderly men sit outdoors sipping iced coffees in the morning at 5am until anytime later, from their lower plastic chairs, gossiping, watching people walk by the dusty streets and speeding mopeds. This culture in Vietnam was adopted from the French colonization in the 19th century but nowadays the Vietnamese coffee has gained its own reputation and differs from anywhere else in world. Business wise, Vietnam is, after Brazil, the largest exporter of coffee.
Not only is tasting coffee in Viet Nam is an experience but also learning how it is prepared is the key to understanding its coffee culture. Cold is the way the locals roll with their coffee. You would think coffee as hot but in Vietnam, coffee is served with ice; we call it the “Ca Phe Sua Da”, translated word by word as Ice Milk Coffee.
The milk is definitely not actual milk but a sweetened condensed milk, thick, incredibly sugary but the perfect counterbalance of the super strong dark-roasted Vietnamese coffee.
How to prepare the Ca Phe Sua Da?
Put 1-2 tea spoons of condensed milk in a glass first. It is traditionally brewed in individual portions using a filter they call Phin, a small metal cup with a filter chamber and a lid in which you will place the coffee grounds at the bottom and tamp the grounds firmly with the presser. Placing the Phin on your glass containing the condensed milk, you then pour boiling water in the Phin. Then it’s time for patience and watch every drop of coffee fall down over the thick condensed milk.
The portions are small, but it is so strong that you wont need more! Usually what you will find at Vietnamese cafes when you order a Ca Phe Sua Da is a tall glass with long stirring spoons and a lot of ice!
Where to enjoy Ca Phe Sua Da in Saigon?
There are so many coffee shops, I can’t name them all. If you are in Ho Chi Minh for longer than a month, read my blog post of Saigon Cafes Directory (coming soon). Here are my favourite picks, for you dear travellers, to discover the beautiful cafe culture of Saigon while visiting town.
Address: 27 Ngo Duc Ke, 3rd floor | FB
Are you a real coffee drinker? Want the best? I reckon this place will make you happy. Located right in the centre of D1 close to the opera house, The Workshop team produces, roasts & brews their own coffee. It’s sweet spacious coffee shop with a high ceiling and also not so noisy. They have rooms available for group meetings which is pretty convenient.
Are you like me and your favourite store is Urban Outfitters? Well welcome to L’USINE: Fashion, Lifestyle, Cafe, Gallery. Knowing that you want to grab a coffee, throw in a post-shopping session as they have all the hip hip accessories for home decor, your wardrobe or stationary!
It has two locations in Saigon, the classic one being at Dong Khoi, hidden inside an alleyway with arts and crafts, my favourite place to go at 8am and get a latte and enjoy delicious Sweet + Sour Cupcakes, while the place is still quiet. Throughout the day, both L’Usine locations get quite busy so it’s impossible to stay focused if you are doing important work. The menu isn’t my favourite but when it’s on the specials board, I recommend the lamb, it’s yummy!
At Càfê RuNam, you will be able to find the traditional drip brewing process with a Phin. It is my favorite place to sit, enjoy the food, coffee and interior decor. There is a Cafe Runam on Mac Thi Buoi that is very elegant and chic, Runam Bistro where you can also enjoy amazing food and they have a location in Nha Trang. At Cafe Runam, on Mac Thi Buoi, you can go upstairs to enjoy your coffee on terrace with a romantic decor of foliage growing up the walls. Saigoneer did a great video of this place, check it out.
Where Modern Meets Culture, is M2C Cafe! Again, delicious food and great drinks, M2C is a good cozy spot to work on your personal project or to do low key meetings.
Address: 44B Ly Tu Trong, D1, HCMC | 4B Le Quy Don, D3, HCMC | FB
La Rontonde was a great discovery. It’s not too crowded so it’s perfect to get your work done. After your coffee, I recommend you the mocktail menu. The big window looking at Ham Nghi is lovely and gives La Rotonde a great natural light.
Address: First Floor, 77B Ham Nghi, D1 | FB
Nest / Work Cafe
If you’re a fan of architecture and pretty work spaces, you will have to stop by the new Nest by AIA designed by the great team of The Lab Saigon(FB). Nest is a breath of fresh air in Ho Chi Minh City. A new working place, well situated and stunningly designed. This space inspires for work, new ideas and effectiveness at work. Go to the Bitexco Financial Tower, 2nd Floor. One level above Coffee Bean and you will find the entrance to Nest by AIA & the WORK cafe.
Address: Bitexco Tower, D1, HCMC | Check out my photoblog post of Nest
Cucuta isn’t exactly in the touristy center, but it is worth a visit in that part of town that has a lot of small little shops. Cucuta isn’t crowded and isn’t the usual touristy or crowded coffee shop of Saigon, you go there only upon local recommendation. There you can either take a delicious Ca Phe Sua Da or one of their delicious smoothies or juices. Bonus is that you can enjoy an acoustic live band every Thursday and Sunday that plays Folks, Blues and Country vibes! Stay posted on their Facebook page as they do some special performances time to time.