The nitty gritty of velvety Vietnamese coffee

Bet you didn’t know Vietnam is the second biggest coffee exporter in the world? Coffee was slow to catch on in Vietnam, and the Vietnamese developed a taste for coffee with buttery undertones. They didn’t mind breadcrumbs in the dregs either.
There’s obviously a lot I don’t know about Vietnamese coffee. In the capital of Hanoi, in the country’s north, I’m in a coffee house with a couple of other travel writers, getting down to the nitty gritty with my culinary tour guide Daniel Hoyer. Hoyer takes us to Cafe Tho at 117 Trien Viet Vung Street which has been a cafe for 29 years and was a former French colonial home.

It’s dilapidated now, but the coffee is first class.  In 1857 the French introduced coffee to their South-East Asian colony. “The French dunked their buttered baguettes into their coffee and the servants, who were the Vietnamese, would taste the dregs back in the kitchen. It was forbidden for them to drink coffee, so they did it on the sly. They developed a taste for coffee with a buttery aftertaste,” explains Daniel.

The Vietnamese prefer coffee made in a drip filter, and they serve it with sweetened condensed milk. Italians like Vietnamese coffee because it foams more easily,  Daniel says, and has chocolate undertones.  Our coffee is prepared in single servings in single-cup filter/brewers known as phin. It is served black with condensed milk to stir in, for 12,000 dong (50c) a cup. It’s velvety smooth and there’s no bitter aftertaste. I am instantly addicted. It’s also very good served as iced coffee.

Vietnam now exports an estimated 1.13 million tonnes annually. It is the second largest producer after Brazil, accounting for 14.3 per cent of the world market share. Robusta beans were traditionally grown, but Arabica has been added to the mix.

The centre of Hanoi is about 30-40 minutes from the airport. Expect to pay about 350,000 dong ($A18). There are lots of cab companies and Hanoi taxis are notorious for bad service. Negotiate the fare before you put a foot in the door. Hanoi Taxis is one of the the most reliable. French is widely spoken, if English fails.

For foodie tours, contact Daniel Hoyer, Hoang Minh Travel Company: 5 Hang Bac, Tel (84) 73066996
His book Culinary Vietnam is available at
For tours of Hanoi, call Exotissimo World Travel, 24 Tran Nhat Duat Street, tel (84) 3828 2150. Their guides speak excellent English.

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