Delicious Vietnam #10 – Deconstructing Vietnamese Coffee {Hanoi Style}

Perfect looking Vietnamese coffee

Vietnamese iced coffee, the sweetened version loaded with lots of condensed milk, has been the favourite snack of many in the western world. But truly, that weak and sweet coffee is nowhere close to the local version in Hanoi which is so strong, fragrant and almost liquor like. One sip, and the addiction starts.

Vietnamese coffee is brewed using finely ground dark roast coffee. Different blends produce an array of tastes and finishes. Various coffee houses also have their own way of roasting coffee beans. Trung Nguyên, a popular brand, uses cocoa butter and cocoa flavouring in their coffee. The aftertaste is sweet, chocolaty and vanilla like. Chicory is added to certain coffee brands for smoky dimension. I know Mai does. Others are more pure in their approach – just strong black and intense flavours.

The basic coffee menu is quite standard across places. We Hanoians order coffee by color code. Black coffee is well, black (đen). Coffee with condensed milk is called “brown” (nâu). Then, you can have it hot or with ice. For example, đen đá is iced black coffee, and nâu nóng is hot coffee with milk.

Vietnamese coffee

If you are new to Vietnamese coffee, start with iced milk coffee (nâu đá or cà phê sữa đá). This has large portion of condensed milk, and when mixed with black coffee liquid, the result is like coffee and rich chocolate together. It normally serves in tall glass in three layers – condensed milk, hot coffee and crushed ice. To drink, just use the spoon to mix everything together. Delicious!

My personal favourite is nâu nóng (hot milk coffee). Typically, the amount of condensed milk is much less, just enough to bring out the dark coffee flavours. The coffee is smooth and buttery but not milky.

Just like a shot of espresso is not everyone’s favourite, black Vietnamese coffee (cà phê đen) is reserved for the addicted only. Served in a small cup, it is pure black liquid – so dense and dark. The coffee is not bitter (if done well), but very smooth on the palate and has that liquor like effects. Sure, it can be tamed by adding some crushed ice. But still, be warned. The coffee can be really strong.

Hanoi Cafe Corner

Making coffee is a science, and also an art. Traditionally, Vietnamese coffee is made with a small metal French drip filter. It takes good experience to pack the right amount of coffee to create enough pressure so that the speed of coffee drop is not too quick, or too slow. A while back, coffee is served with a filter at the table. However, time changes. It seems that no one has enough time to wait around anymore, so Hanoi cafés opt to brew their coffee in advance. In my recent trip, I asked for a filter, and no one serves that anymore.

At home, I admit using a filter still produces the best Vietnamese coffee, but my dad has good results using coffee pot, the kind you would use on the stove. It’s quick and relatively simple to prepare.

Tastes and addiction aside, Hanoi café culture is something so unique and special, you must experience it once if coffee is your thing. Introduced to the local residents in the early 20th century, coffee has been the favourite of the upper and educated classes although cheaper coffee is available everywhere.

Everyone has their favourite café – either for the décor or the taste. I am of the later crowd. My favourite Hanoi café experience is in small, simply decorated shops around town. Nothing fancy but a few vintage items as decoration. The chair and tables are tiny, packed in small area. Uncomfortable it may seem, I can stay there for hours, alone with a book or chitchat with friends.

A few recommendations – this is not a comprehensive list of cafés in Hanoi, but rather the ones I kinda like. Do try if you ever get a chance to visit Hanoi. :)

+ Café Mai: A childhood favourite. Their original shop was so close to my school, and the fragrance of their roasted coffee beans got me addicted to coffee. Mai’s coffee has a sour finish (if drinking the black varieties). It has several locations, but I frequent their Nguyen Du operation.
+ Café Thọ: Very popular with the young crowd. Great space. The coffee is strong and good. There are several more cafes close by, but this one is a firm favourite of mine.
+ Café Giảng: one of the Big Four café fame that is still around today. After being forced to move out from their original spot in the Old Quarter after years of operation, it is now available at two locations. I like their home-style feel and approach. And because it brings back the memories of the old Hanoi, something I have a heart for.

Vietnamese coffee

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This post is prepared for Delicious Vietnam #10, which is hosted by Mai of Flavour Boulevard. Pls head to her blog for the roundup!

61 Responses to Delicious Vietnam #10 – Deconstructing Vietnamese Coffee {Hanoi Style}

  1. Kalyn says:

    Oh my, that top shot of the iced coffee has me drooling. I've had Vietnamese Iced Coffee in a restaurant here although I'm guessing it's not as good as you get in Vietnam, I love it!

  2. Barbara says:

    I've been making hot Vietnamese coffee this week since you tweeted from Hanoi. I use the strongest Nespresso pod. They are very addictive.

  3. Soma says:

    What a wonderful post. Your photographs here could keep me on this page for DAYS!! Sensational. I would love to taste the black coffee. I do not like milky coffee, esp. if it is hot. The layered one looks immensely beautiful tho'.

  4. Chi Anh @ Door To My Kitchen says:

    Love this post! Finally a comprehensive write up on Vietnamese coffee. Even to me, it's always been a mystery to why Vietnamese people love coffee so much. Too bad I can't have it as it gives me the gastric and insomnia everytime. But I can almost taste it through your writing :)

  5. Peter G @ Souvlaki For The Soul says:

    As an avid coffee drinker I'm ashamed to admit I've never tried Vietnamese coffee! (although I have read a lot about it!). I have an Italian stoveteop coffee pot that I could experiment with…thank you Anh. This was a wonderful and informative post!

  6. Hannah says:

    I love this post! I've never had Vietnamese coffee but I'm sure I'd like it, for while I usually drink my coffee straight, I did once fall in love with a coffee jelly served with sweetened cream in Japan. And I have a soft spot for ridiculously sweet Starbucks plain-coffee frappucinos (hold the flavourings, though. I just like the sweet milky icy coffee!)

  7. Indonesia Eats says:

    I love Vietnamese coffee beside kopi tubruk of course :)

  8. kewpie says:

    viet coffee!!! i love!! condense milk is so decadent!!! welcome back home too, anh!

  9. Phuoc'n Delicious says:

    BRILLIANT!! Thanks for your coffee guide Anh, can't wait to check them out soon. I think I will overdose on ca phe sua da!! <3

  10. Vanille says:

    I like how you have captured the atmosphere around this social act of having a cup of coffee !

  11. penny aka jeroxie says:

    Beautiful post. It is a skill to get that French filter right… I can't never make the way it is suppose to be :P

  12. Sanjeeta kk says:

    What a lovely presentation and love the coffee guide.

  13. Another Outspoken Female says:

    Beautiful shots :)

  14. Ravenous Couple says:

    fantastic post and way to capture the cafe scene

  15. Rosa's Yummy Yums says:

    A delightful drink! So refreshing and delicious.

  16. Sarah Wu says:

    I never had viet coffe but now I sure want to try. Beautiful photos.

  17. ChichaJo says:

    Oh how this post brings back memories of Hanoi and the coffee I had there with Q! I loved it and you are so right, it was almost like a liquor and so so so good! So one of the best coffees I have ever had in my life is actually thanks to you and Q! :)

  18. Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen says:

    I've had Vietnamese coffee before, but only the Americanized version I'm afraid, I would love to be able to taste the real thing one day! Beautiful cafe shots, I especially like the one with the couple mixing their coffee.

  19. Sanjana says:

    That's probably the best looking coffee I've ever laid eyes on. And your photos are just divine- they capture each and every moment. Looking forward to reading more of your posts. Thank you for your comment on my blog and for following me on Twitter, too!

  20. Happy Cook says:

    I have neve rhad coffee like this, but how i wish I had them rightnow, looks so so good.

  21. Bryan says:

    Thanks for the post, I've only had iced milk coffee and iced black coffee in vietnam. But the hot milk coffee sounds really good!b amazing pics!

  22. shaz says:

    How wonderful, love the photo of the people stirring their coffee. I really need to visit Hanoi one day. I'll take your cafe list with me :)

  23. Bart says:

    Mmmm… Just had one, Half Trung Nguyên, Half Mêhycô .. VN coffee is the best in the world! Not a good idea before bed :)

  24. La Table De Nana says:

    Have I ever told you I love your photos? each one tells a story.It's not STILL.:)Truly..they speak.

  25. Faith says:

    Great post, Anh! I would love to try my hand at making Vietnamese coffee at home. Lovely pictures too!

  26. Kulsum@JourneyKitchenw says:

    Love love love this post Anh! Love the pictures too

  27. Little Corner of Mine says:

    I loved Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, oh so good!

  28. Julia says:

    Love the post and your beautiful pics Anh! But why didn't you mention the Asian Palm Civet? That coffee is the BEST of Vietnam and people need not be afraid:)

  29. tigerfish says:

    There is so much about coffee to learn about. I only tried one kind of Viet. coffee – the "drip" type – any name for that?

  30. Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! says:

    Mmm havn't had an iced coffee in ages! Dad still uses a filter at home too though it's been ages since he's had a Vietnamese coffee at home, because of time they go with instant coffee these days.

  31. john@heneedsfood says:

    The first time I tried this magical drink was in Hue, Vietnam 17 years ago. I've been hooked since. Life without it is a bland life indeed.

  32. Tangled Noodle says:

    A gorgeous and informative post! How I'd love a nâu nóng right now. 8-)

  33. Tanvi@Sinfully Spicy says:

    I can drink any coffee with condensed milk…what stunning pictures Anh!Thanks for all the info..it was such a nice read.

  34. Juliana says:

    Great pictures…love them all specially the first ice coffee one…yummie!

  35. Julia @Mélanger says:

    I'm not surprised that the coffee we know here is not authentic. Thanks for sharing the great information here – including some places to visit if in the area. I would love to get to that part of the world one day!

  36. pickyin @ LifeIsGreat says:

    This is a beautiful post Anh! I love Vietnamese coffee and have only tried the ones in restaurants in KL and SG.

  37. Monet says:

    These photographs were just stunning! They need to be in a magazine. Can you believe I've never tried Vietnamese coffee before? After seeing your post, I want to find some right now! Thanks for sharing, sweet thing. Many blessing to you as the week unfolds.

  38. Arwen from Hoglet K says:

    The three layers do look great, and I love the idea of coffee flavoured with cocoa butter.

  39. Kris Ngoei says:

    I must say I would have to include Vietnam in my next holiday list. Frankly speaking, who could really resist that three layer iced coffee, not only pretty to look at but also tempting for the taste…

  40. Min {Honest Vanilla} says:

    Just about time to indulge in this for the weekend :)

  41. Amy @ cookbookmaniac says:

    Gorgeous photos Anh! I can't live without a good strong shot of coffee, sweetened with some condensed milk, first thing on a Saturday morning. It tells my body its the weekend and to enjoy it. Nice one!

  42. Sasa says:

    I love the pictures at the cafe of the 2 hands! Beautiful. I also *love* Vietnamese coffee – I made cupcakes that flavour once even ^_^

  43. Hannah says:

    Oh, such a treat, there is just nothing else like Vietnamese coffee! I've only had it one, but still miss it dearly… I wish there was a common vegan version available.

  44. Prerna@IndianSimmer says:

    LOVE IT!! What a wonderful post Anh. Now I feel like having coffee and its midnight here :-)

  45. Vivienne says:

    omg that photo of the couple both stiring their coffee! amazing!!

  46. maameemoomoo - a ½ food blog says:

    Love your post babe!

  47. cookingpractice says:

    though Italy is the land of famous coffee, but i still love Vietnamese cà phê s

  48. Figs, Bay, Wine says:

    Oh my. Our coffee place doesn't open for another 2 hours and you've given me the worst craving. I'm sending this on to my brother who lived in Vietnam for over 10 years and still talks about the coffee.

  49. mycookinghut says:

    Pretty! Even though I don't drink coffee but it looks really yum!

  50. Dolly says:

    for the love of vietnamese coffee..

  51. Aparna says:

    Love this post and especially the pictures.And I'm going to be making this soon.

  52. Lisa says:

    I don't drink much coffee these days, but I could go for a mug of this. Lovely post.

  53. Kankana says:

    first time in your blog and these photos looks amazing .. i wish someday i can improve on my photography skills

  54. vietfoodrecipes says:

    Now they add foam to the top of the coffee cup. Beautiful and tasty.

  55. Jo says:

    I love Vietnamese coffee and it is pretty close to what we get in Malaysia as well. When I was in Hanoi a year and half ago, I would have a cuppa every night, sitting on low stools and watching the world go away. Blissful!

  56. Lea says:

    It looks great, that is definitely something to try out!

  57. utecht says:

    Back in 2008 I've been to most the places mentioned. Hanoi is similar to Vienna or Trieste – a city with a great coffeehouse tradition.

  58. betty says:

    i LUV LUV LUV vietnamese coffee! condensed milk ftw :O)

  59. Delicious Vietnam #10 – Deconstructing Vietnamese Coffee {Hanoi Style} | Anh's Food Blog Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  60. Flori says:

    I would love to try vietnamese coffee. I bet it would taste wonderful as it comes from one of the countries with a lot of coffee culture on it.

  61. Jo says:

    I tried Vietnamese coffee in Hanoi this year, and hooked since then. In the UK, it is possible to buy Vietnam coffee and even that metal filter, so I am doing the old fashion way. I have tried many different coffees around the world, and probably this comes to the top of the list. I use my Lavazza coffee machine only if I have to make many cups for visiting friends and decaf coffee, but my first cup in the morning is Vietnamese coffee. What do you think of Indochine Estate? Personally I like the taste of Trung Nguyên #5.

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