16 May 2016
Vietnam Coffee Guide I: Saigon and Hoi An
I had planned to put together a single coffee guide highlighting all of my favourite coffee and cafe discoveries from my recent trip to Vietnam. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover a lot of great places on my two-week trip, so I've decided to split the guide into two parts. This first part covers Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hoi An; part two, which I will post next week, will focus on Hanoi. I also spent two days in Hué but didn't find any particularly good coffee shops.
With the tours I took to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta, I only had a day and a half to spend in central Saigon. I would have liked an extra day to visit some of the other coffee shops on my list and, hopefully, to make some new discoveries. Still, I thought that finding two excellent speciality coffee spots and a further restaurant that serves good coffee was pretty good going. I drank a lot of Vietnamese-style coffee too — mainly cà phê đen đá (iced black coffee) — but mainly from hole-in-the-wall joints while I was on the go.
The Workshop occupies a gorgeous, light-filled space on the top floor of a building just over a block from Nguyen Hué, a pedestrianised street at the heart of district one. It's a bit of a climb to the third floor but once there, you will be rewarded with a calm (and thankfully air-conditioned), industrial-chic haven dedicated to the worship of great coffee. At its centre is a large, 360-degree brew bar that hosts all of the coffee-making kit you can imagine; there are communal benches and smaller tables.
During my visit, there was a single-origin espresso on offer, along with three single-origin filter coffees (one from Vietnam, one from Ethiopia and one from Indonesia), all of which are roasted on site. Naturally, I went for the Vietnamese coffee, which was from My Son's farm in Da Lat. With so many brew methods available, it was hard to choose, but a) the barista suggested that the coffee I had chosen would work well in an Aeropress and b) I thought it might be the last Aeropress-brewed coffee of my trip, so I opted for that.
The coffee was very well prepared and I enjoyed sitting at the bar watching and chatting to the friendly barista. I also tried a cold brew shot — an appealing prospect given the 36-degree heat outside — which had a rich and smooth taste. With a croissant and the two coffees, my bill came to about 250,000 VND (about £7.80). There is also a great-looking egg-centric brunch menu that I would have tried if I had had a bigger appetite.
The Workshop is located at 27 Ngô Đức Kế (third floor), District 1. Facebook.
Klasik Coffee Roasters
Although Klasik Coffee Roasters is only a block or two away from The Workshop, I decided to save it until later in my one full day in central Saigon. Klasik is a slim and stylish cafe close to both Nguyen Hué and the Saigon waterfront. The long, wooden coffee bar has an attractive geometric pattern and hosts the vibrant red La Marzocco. As well as espresso-based drinks and Vietnamese-style coffee, Klasik serves a wide range of hand-brewed filter coffee options. More impressive still, they had 12 coffee varieties on offer; there weren't any Vietnamese beans, but Laos and Yemen both featured.
I wish I had tried the Laos coffee, but the Kenyan Nyeri Gaturiri Peaberry I tried was excellent brewed through the Chemex (75,000 VND (£2.40)). I went back on my last morning to check out the nitro cold brew (50,000 VND (a bargain at £1.60)). I also chatted to the owner about the Saigon speciality coffee scene, which is, by all accounts, close-knit, collegial and burgeoning. Long may that trend continue!
Klasik Coffee Roasters is located at 40 Mạc Thị Bưởi, District 1. Website. Facebook. Instagram.
More of a restaurant and concept store than coffee shop, L'Usine is still worth a stop if you are looking for a decent western-style coffee in the heart of District 1. I went for an early brunch — the Aussie-influenced brunch menu looks great, although I was so hot I only wanted a refreshing Vietnamese salad. I also had a flat white (75,000 VND (£2.40)), which was pretty good, if slightly too hot, and had particularly good latte art. If you aren't in the mood for coffee (and if not, why not?!), they have a big selection of juices, beers and wines.
L'Usine is located at 151 / 1 Dong Khoi (first floor), District 1. A second location has opened at 70 Lê Lợi, District 1, HCMC. Website. Instagram.
I've included in my map three further cafes that came up in my research but that I didn't have time to visit: Bosgaurus Coffee (92 Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, District 2); Mockingbird Cafe (14 Tôn Thất Đạm (fourth floor), District 1); and, in the same building as Mockingbird, Things Cafe (14 Tôn Thất Đạm (first floor, District 1).
The Espresso Station
The Espresso Station was my first port of call on arriving in Hoi An. Unfortunately, it was closed for several days, but I did manage to visit on the last morning of my stay. The cafe is a couple of blocks north of the heart of Hoi An's Old Town and is hidden away down a small alley (look for the 'but first, coffee' sign) but is well worth seeking out. There is a lovely courtyard garden at the front and a few small tables in the cosy cafe.
I took a seat at the petite coffee bar, where I chatted to the owner/barista Trung, whose intense passion for great coffee comes through in every cup. I ordered an iced V60 pourover, which Trung prepared using a single-origin Papandayan coffee from Indonesia (70,000 VND (£2.20)). The coffee was one of the best of my trip: I could really taste some of the more subtle and delicate flavour notes. I didn't have time to have a macchiato too, sadly, but Trung's latte art is also rather good. The Espresso Station is a great place for speciality coffee made by coffee-lovers for coffee-lovers.
The Espresso Station is located at 28/2 Trần Hưng Đạo. Facebook. Instagram.
I was happy to discover that Mia Coffee was located less than a block from my Hoi An hotel, an easy 10-minute stroll from the Old Town. I stopped by several times during my visit and it was always busy. The cafe has a relaxed atmosphere and is popular with both tourists and locals. They roast their own coffee in the little roaster in the corner of the cafe and serve Vietnamese-style coffee and espresso-based drinks, as well as juices, smoothies, breakfast and lunch.
On my first visit, I had a piccolo (35,000 VND (£1.10)) and a black Vietnamese-style drip coffee (30,000 VND (£1)). I had a few mediocre Vietnamese coffees during my trip — I suspect that the widespread use of Robusta coffee may have had a role in this — but Mia Coffee made me a really smooth and flavoursome drip coffee. The piccolo was very good too, as was the iced latte (40,000 VND (£1.25) I had to try to cool myself down before cycling out to the beach. The staff are really friendly and Mia Coffee is a great little neighbourhood coffee spot.
Mia Coffee is located at 20 Phan Bội Châu. Facebook.
I discovered Rosie's Cafe, which was opened by two young women — My and Thuy — about a month ago, when they posted a comment on my Instragram. I probably wouldn't have found their cafe otherwise — it's located slightly west of the Old Town, just west of the Japanese Covered Bridge, and is tucked away down a quiet alley. I'm glad I did, though, because My and Thuy have created a really lovely cafe. The two friends love coffee and have always wanted to start their own business together. The result is Rosie's Cafe, which is named for the heroine of one of their favourite films (Love, Rosie), who inspired them both to follow their dreams. They have set up Rosie's Cafe essentially by themselves and are already doing a great job.
Rosie's Cafe serves Vietnamese-style coffee (20–25,000 VND) and cold brew (50,000 VND (£1.60)), which they brew for eight hours in a siphon using coffee from Cau Dat in the Vietnamese highlands. The cold brew, which was really delicious, comes served in an Instagram-ready bottle designed by a friend of the girls from Indonesia. There are also cold-pressed juices and snacks and sweet treats on the menu. The cafe itself is tastefully decorated — you feel as though you are in the living room of someone cool — and there's a small courtyard at the back.
Rosie's is still very new so if you are in Hoi An and looking for cold brew, do consider stopping by. The coffee is good and I also found My and Thuy's story very inspiring.
Rosie's Cafe is located at 8/6 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (it's a little tricky to find, but cross to the west of the Japanese Covered Bridge and then walk along Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai until you see a sign for the Nguyen Tuong Family Chapel and then turn right; the cafe is down the alley on the right-hand side). Facebook. Instagram.
Hoi An Roastery
There are several Hoi An Roastery cafes in the Old Town and I visited the Tran Phu location a couple of times. They serve pourovers, French press, siphon and espresso-based drinks as well as Vietnamese-style coffee, using coffee they roast at their roastery. The pourovers I tried (45,000 VND (£1.40)), made using coffee from Da Lat, were both pretty good, although the serving size was very small — closer to the standard Vietnamese-style coffee serving than a standard pourover; I wonder if grind size was an issue. Regardless, for a quick and decent coffee stop in the Old Town, you will rarely be more than a few minutes' walk from a Hoi An Roastery. They sell beans too.
Hoi An Roastery is located at 135 Trần Phú; there are also a few other locations, including 57 Lê Lợi. Website. Facebook.
While I was in Hoi An, there were two national holidays and several of the cafes I wanted to check out were closed for the weekend. I had been looking forward to visiting Reaching Out Teahouse (103 Nguyen Thai Hoc) in particular but wasn't able to; Not Just Another Milla has a beautiful review of this cafe.