An Essential Guide to Vietnamese Coffee
La Sinfonía del Rey Hotel & Spa

Vietnamese Coffee is known for being some of the best available. The country is the top producer of Robusta in the world. Therefore, it is unsurprising that for travellers and expats in Vietnam, coffee is the top sought after souvenir and most often consumed beverage product. However, it is not easy for tourists to find and buy authentic and high-quality coffee beans in Hanoi as in Ben Thanh Market and other familiar tourist destinations, there are hundreds of potentially dubious brands and nameless packets of coffee grinds roasted and left to stand for months and even years. Consumers easily raise doubt about the quality of what is on display and get more and more confused. As a result, we’ve put together a concise and simple-to-understand guide to help you understand the fundamentals of Vietnamese coffee so that you can choose coffee of good quality which, hopefully, matches your taste. 

Coffee in Vietnamese culture 

A rich and flavorful cup of coffee has become a vital part in Vietnamese culture. The delicacy of Vietnamese coffee is revealed through the differences in how Vietnamese enjoy it. They don’t treat coffee as a type of fast beverage for anti-sleeping purpose. Instead, the café culture in Vietnam is demonstrated through the self-reflection while slowly taking a sip of coffee. Moreover, coffee is involved in every corner of Vietnamese society, from reading magazines, listening to music, talking to friends, negotiating with counterparts to mulling over life and people. Nothing is more relaxing than a morning ritual of waiting for water, drop by drop, filter through freshly grinded coffee, while observing hectic Vietnamese life going by. 

Vietnamese people’s taste can be very singular as well: some people might enjoy bitter coffee without sugar while others appreciate light roasted and acidic coffee. Each type of coffee will bring a different feeling to the drinker, depending on its level of bitterness, intensity, acid, sweetness and fragrance. A medium roasted coffee is a good balance between all of those factors. Some people can even predict others’ personality, background and origin simply based on how they prepare their own cup of coffee and their coffee preferences. For example, Southern people usually cover coffee beans with a cloth and cook it in a pot with skill and care. They also prefer iced coffee to hot coffee. On the other hand, Northern people enjoy bitter and highly concentrated phin coffee. 

Traditional Vietnamese roast style and the preparation process

Typical Vietnamese techniques involve roasting Robusta coffee beans with additives such as butter, salt, whisky, rice liquor or even sugar and fish sauce. These additives help to elevate the savouriness and palatability of the notoriously harsh and bitter tasting Robusta beans. Chemical flavourings and fragrances are often added, with the most common being vanilla and hazelnut. Fillers such as roasted corn, soybeans and red beans are common and some recipes call for filler content of up to 50%. Fillers are used to thicken, darken and sweeten the coffee. Connoisseurs who are seeking pure coffee should note that it is practically impossible to gauge the purity of coffee in Vietnam based on looking at grinded coffee powder. They have a tendency to purchase whole beans at shops before requesting them to be grounded on the spot.

When extracted using the iconic Vietnamese aluminum filter (as known as “Vietnamese phin”), the expresso-like liquid is then served with or without ice, and preferably with condensed milk to offset its bitterness. This popular beverage is known as “ca phe sua da”, the renowned mascot of Vietnamese coffee. The first item that you should procure is a high quality Vietnamese phin drip filter if you desire a strong and traditional Vietnamese brew. The phin works by filtering coffee through 2 layers of tiny holes and allowing the coffee to fall with the help of gravity. You can easily purchase a high-quality aluminum phin from Trung Nguyen brand as they are available at all Trung Nguyen coffee shops. 
It is also advisable that the buyer should check for the coffee roast date when buying ground coffee. Dark roasted coffees oxidize faster and light roasted coffees last longer if kept in airtight mason jars. A pro tip is trying to buy coffee that is as fresh as possible. 

Common Vietnamese Coffee Terms

Bột – Powder

Nguyên hạt - Unground coffee beans

Hạt Rang - Roasted coffee beans

Cà Phê Nguyên Chất - Pure coffee without additives

Cà Phê Rang Xay - Roasted and ground coffee

Cà Phê Hòa Tan - Instant/dissolvable ground

Cà Phê Mít - Mít means jackfruit in Vietnamese and Cà Phê Mít has nothing to do with the yellow-fleshed tropical fruit and refers to Liberica and Excelsa coffee.

Cà Phê Chồn - Civet coffee. Often known in the western world as weasel coffee. A coffee processed from faeces of civets which consumed coffee cherries. Natural wild civet coffee is very expensive while farmed varieties are more affordable. Most civet coffee in Vietnam is a made with chemical flavouring and/or artificial enzymes.

Hương - Artificial fragrance

Bơ – Butter

Rượu – Liquor

Hương –Artificial fragrance 

Bơ – Butter

Rượu – Liquor

List of Best Places To Buy Coffee Beans In Hanoi 

Betterday & St Honore (for Fair Trade Coffee)

Address: 114 Xuan Dieu St., Tay Ho District.

Price: $3-$5 for 200gr of Cau Dat coffee, Da Lat coffee, Laos coffee and Son La coffee. 

Illy (from Illy Coffee shops)

Address: 3B Le Thai To St., Hoan Kiem Dis. 

Price: $15 for 125gr of Whole Bean coffee from Arabica 

Punto Italia 

Address: 62 To Ngoc Van St., Quang An. 

Price: $7-$10 for 250gr of Italia Espresso coffee beans

Café Mai 

Address: 96 Le Van Huu St., Hai Ba Trung Dist.

79 Le Van Huu St., Hai Ba Trung Dist.

52 Nguyen Du St., Hai Ba Trung Dist.

75 Tran Nhan Tong St., Hai Ba Trung Dist. 

Price: $20-$80 for 1 kg of Buon Me Thuat, Arabica, Moka, Aliculi. Expresso, Chari and Paris Mai whole bean coffee. 

Huong Mai Café 

Address: 15 Hang Manh, Hoan Kiem Dist.

56 Hang Be, Hoan Kiem Dist.

1 Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem Dist.

49 Lo Su, Hoan Kiem Dist.

57 Cau Go, Hoan Kiem Dist.

Price: $7- $22 for 250gr of Culi Arabica Coffee, Highland Coffee, Moka Coffee, Weasel Coffee. 

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