Coffee in Vietnam is no joke. Really. Ca phe, as the Vietnamese call it, can seem to be the very oil that keeps the country moving. And in Saigon (AKA Ho Chi Minh City), there are not only hundreds of cafes, but also coffee vendors lining the streets with pop-up tables and little plastic stools where business folks and locals will enjoy a glass of iced coffee at any time of day. However, the absolute best spot to enjoy a coffee in Saigon, is from up on high.
With cool French colonial architecture throughout the city, there are balconies aplenty, as well as wide verandas and ample rooftops (or at the very least, a big open window), from which to sit and sip your coffee while gazing down upon the city. With the ever present heat pulling sweat and the hectic traffic and bustle of the street level, getting up high will give you a reprieve both from the heat and the motion of endless crowds. As a breeze blows away your troubles and your tired feet have a moment to relax, you can sip on your iced ca phe from your perch in a vintage café above it all.
Indeed, Saigon often feels like a see saw between diving into the rush of street life and dipping back into an old building where the air is cooler and the light is dim and you can tuck yourself away with a book or a friend (and of course a coffee). The café life of Saigon is as much about the architecture and character of the cafes as it is about the coffee.
Ideally, you’ll have a hotel with a rooftop, or a veranda (which, lucky for you, is not unlikely), so you can begin your morning right: with a strong brew, balanced high up among potted plants and a good dose of perspective with a view, before even setting foot onto the fast paced pavement for the day.
A little background on the coffee, so you know what you’re getting yourself into: Initially introduced by French colonists, the Vietnamese have developed a passion for coffee, as well as a truly unique style of imbibing this nearly holy brew. Appreciating a robust, very strong cup, the Vietnamese make their coffee via a small French drip filter (called a phin) which fits on top of a cup.
The result is about the quantity of a shot or two of espresso, but much stronger, and is sweetened with condensed milk, which will have been added to the cup ahead of time (you’ll have to stir to discover it sitting at the bottom, below the coffee). The strength of the ca phe is such that the sweetness of the milk only emphasizes the bitterness and complex flavors—often even tasting salty.
Typically served over ice, be sure to specify if you want it hot (or without milk or sugar, for that matter). Also be sure to try the egg coffee, the yogurt coffee or a coconut coffee if you get the chance! None of these concoctions is quite what it sounds like, and each is a delectable treat. Generally, you’ll also be served iced green tea to go with your coffee, which is rather pleasant touch.
Discovering both the incredible flavor of the Vietnamese coffee, as well as the narrow balconies, wide roof tops and vintage cafes from which to enjoy it, is a great pleasure when visiting Saigon. So drink deep, and enjoy!