Coffee culture in Vietnam
Tea may be the drink of choice in England, but not so in Vietnam. Everywhere we look we can’t help but notice people drinking coffee. Not grabbing a cup on the go like a frantic Londoner, but sitting, savouring every sip.
Whenever we ask the locals what their weekend plans are, they nearly always say, “…nothing, I’ll just meet up with some friends for coffee.” The culture is a hangover from the French colonisation in the 19th century, but nowadays Vietnam has gained its own reputation and is the largest exporter of coffee after Brazil. Despite being sweetened with thick, sugary condensed milk, Vietnamese coffee is intensely strong. Yet the locals sit – tucked away in small street-side cafes, some with outdoor terraces and others with plastic stools on the street – drinking it for hours, sometimes until 5am.
Visit the cathedral of Notre Dame and you’ll see herds of young people sat on sheets of newspaper, protecting them from the pavement below. Away from their parents, they gather to meet old friends and make new ones, eat snacks and drink cold coffee from the vendors who circle them – shepherd like – on their bikes. This is Cà Phê Bệt – “coffee on the flat ground.” The locals always drink their coffee served with ice. It’s called the “Ca Phe Sua Da”, meaning “ice milk coffee.”
Vietnamese Robusta coffee can cost as little as 5000 dong (15p), but the wealthy favour civet and elephant dung coffee. Apparently the elephant’s gut reaction creates a unique earthy flavour that’s smooth on the palate….it may taste better than Starbucks, but we’re not brave enough to try.