Don’t Rush to Get Caffeinated in Hanoi

In the heart of a bustling city, a peaceful oasis can be found in the early morning sun, with cool air and a steaming cup of coffee as companions.

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Hanoi offers a unique experience where you can discover a variety of activities and culinary delights simply by strolling along the sidewalk. Among these street dishes, coffee, known as “Ca phe” in Vietnamese, holds a special place.

A mesmerizing taste of tradition

Having a cup of coffee on a sidewalk cafeteria is a hobby of many Hanoians. Photo: Railway Cafe

In the late 19th century, coffee was introduced to Vietnam by the French and cultivated in various provinces and cities. Hanoi became a hub for coffee production, serving the needs of both French expatriates and the homeland.

While coffee was a luxury drink in France, Hanoians quickly developed a taste for the aromatic beverage with its slightly bitter aftertaste. Coffee-drinking soon became a beloved local habit.

When it comes to enjoying coffee in Hanoi, the preference of the locals is strongly influenced by their love for sidewalk cafes and observing street life. For Hanoians, the view offered by a cafe is just as important as the quality of the drinks and service.

This is why most cafes in the city follow a half-indoor, half-outdoor style. Whether you’re exploring the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake, West Lake, or Thien Quang Lake, you are bound to come across small coffee shops with chairs and tables arranged on the sidewalk.

These cups of Ca phe trung or egg coffee are ready to be served at Ca Phe Giang, a famous cafeteria in Hanoi’s Old Quarter Area. Photo: Dia chi an uong

Customers often choose to sit by windows or on terraces, as these areas provide the closest connection with the street.

Despite the invasion of modern coffee chains with their trendy designs and decorations aimed at attracting young customers, true coffee enthusiasts in Hanoi still prefer the vintage charm of sidewalk cafes such as Cafe Lam, Cafe Giang, or Cafe Huan – establishments that have maintained their nostalgic appeal over the years.

Unique Hanoian coffee traditions

According to Taste Atlas, a culinary website, Vietnam offers four out of the nine most popular Southeast Asian coffees. These include Ca phe trung (egg coffee), Ca phe da (iced coffee), Ca phe sua (milk coffee), and Sua chua ca phe (yogurt coffee).

Among these options, Ca phe trung stands out as the most remarkable and increasingly favored choice among Hanoians.

Even Vietnamese people from other regions find the concept of egg coffee strange when they first hear about it. However, their initial surprise and curiosity quickly give way to enchantment as they experience the unique buttery flavor and fragrance of this remarkable beverage.

Opened by Nguyen Van Giang in 1946, when he was a bartender for the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi 5-star hotel, Giang Ca phe is also the birthplace of egg coffee in Vietnam. Photo: Giang Dinh

The iconic Ca Phe Giang is the birthplace of Ca phe trung and is associated with the renowned Giang family, which has a long-standing tradition of selling coffee in the capital.

Invented by Nguyen Van Giang in 1946, the recipe for Ca phe trung has remained virtually unchanged for decades, with the main ingredients being egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder, sweetened condensed milk, butter, and cheese.

For Giang Dinh, a resident of Ho Chi Minh City, enjoying a cup of hot Ca phe trung at Cafe Giang is a must whenever she visits Hanoi. “I am deeply in love with Café Giang’s egg coffee, and I don’t mind traveling so far for this specialty. The wonderful rich taste of Giang’s egg coffee can’t be found anywhere else in the world,” she told The Hanoi Times.

The owner of Cafe Giang explained that preparing a delicious cup of egg coffee requires skillful hands and meticulous attention to several steps. First, egg yolks are beaten with a bit of honey or sugar until they become creamy and fragrant. Then, hot freshly brewed coffee is added until the cream floats to the top. Finally, a sprinkle of coffee powder enhances the visual appeal.

When savoring this distinctive drink, it is recommended to use a spoon to scoop up the coffee at the bottom of the cup and enjoy it with the creamy egg mixture. Don’t forget to inhale the aroma before taking a sip.

The funky space of Cong Ca Phe in the West Lake, Hanoi. Photo: Dia chi an uong

The combination of the bitter coffee and the sweet egg cream, along with the lingering aroma of the foam, creates a unique and unforgettable taste experience.

Ca phe trung has become one of the top choices for street food enthusiasts in Hanoi and a favorite among tourists, particularly those from Japan, China, and South Korea. The cup of black coffee topped with the captivating yellow layer of egg cream has become an icon of Hanoi’s cuisine.

In addition to egg coffee, Hanoi also boasts Ca phe cot dua, or coconut milk coffee, which is a creation of the famous Cong Ca Phe and has been a popular drink among both locals and tourists for over a decade.

The recipe for this delectable beverage is simple yet meticulous. Fresh milk, condensed milk, and coconut milk are blended in specific proportions until creamy. The filtered coffee is then poured into a shaker or whisked until bubbles form.

The space of Ca phe Pho co (Old Street Cafe) in Hanoi’s downtown. Photo: Ca phe Pho co

Finally, the coffee is poured into the coconut cream, creating a mouth-watering cup of coconut coffee. Typically served with ice, Ca phe cot dua offers a refreshing and aromatic experience that continues to attract more fans, making it a must-have on the menu of Hanoi’s coffee shops.

Recently, Hanoians have embraced Ca phe muoi, or salted coffee, a unique specialty introduced by the people of Hue City. Made with coffee, salty cream, and a touch of condensed milk, this drink offers a strong flavor that has gained popularity through social media.

Despite the emergence of new variations, the majority of coffee lovers in Hanoi still hold a deep affection for Den da (iced black coffee), Nau da (iced brown coffee), Den nong (hot black coffee), and Nau nong (hot brown coffee).

Sometimes, watching the coffee slowly drip into the cup is a way to appreciate the slow-paced lifestyle of the city, in line with the motto “In Hanoi, don’t hurry.” So, when you find yourself on a Hanoi street, why not take a moment to savor a freshly brewed cup of coffee and enjoy the moment?

A cup of Ca phe muoi, or salted coffee, is served in Ms.Hong’s sidewalk cafeteria in Hanoi’s Old Quarter Area