BEST CAFES – VIETNAMESE COFFEE
In Hoi An coffee hotspots for expats abound: Mia Cafe, Dingo Deli, Hoi An Roastery and more – but what are the best cafes for Vietnamese coffee? Where do the Vietnamese go and why? Why are some cafes more popular than others?
This was a question I posed to former Hoi An Now staffer, Miss Ha. Her insightful descriptions of why Vietnamese like certain places will inform, make you laugh and, most importantly, inspire you to try some. So come, join me on the Hoi An ‘Ca Phe Viet Trail’.
But first let’s look at the big picture …
WHAT DO VIETNAMESE PEOPLE LOOK FOR IN A CAFE?
HEART STOPPING COFFEE: Next is the taste of the coffee – and of course, it’s subjective. But mostly Vietnamese like a heart-stopping brew that will see you still bouncing off walls 24 hours after your first sip (God help those Latte drinkers).
NOT MUCH DONG: And finally the price; it has to be cheap – of course.
Apart from wifi and a good coffee, the Vietnamese people go to coffee shops to gossip. People who gossip are called: ‘Ba Tam’. Unlike we Western types who pretend to disdain such behaviour, the Vietnamese openly embrace a bit of gossip in the full light of day. But it is all meant to be sweet-natured. The Vietnamese are a communal and inclusive society and deeply interested in each other. A bit of ‘tam’ is a way of bringing people together because a bit of gossip enables you to connect with people and also get to know people you don’t know that well.
CA PHE COC
Throughout Vietnam you’ll find coffee shops of all styles, prices and sizes but if you want to see the ‘real’ coffee culture of Vietnam look no further than your street corner.
Along every sidewalk or corner are the ubiquitous Ca Phe Coc street coffee vendors. These are make-shift affairs involving nothing more than a dozen or so tiny, plastic, red chairs and tables precariously perched on the side-walk by some busy road. The seriously good coffee is cheap and the experience: quintessential Vietnam. It’s here Vietnamese – young and old, rich and poor – can smoke, shout, gossip, play cards, street watch or simply get lost in thought and just ‘be themselves’ and er… shout.
BEST CAFES - VIETNAMESE
In and Close to Hoi An Old Town
Still relatively unknown by foreigners, there is something ‘other-worldly’ about U Café. A place of stillness, the only noise you’ll hear is the hum of a honey bee hovering over vines or the soft lilt of a wind-chime tickled by the breeze. According to my guide and colleague Ha, one of the best ways to unwind is to dangle your feet in the pond, let the fish nibble away and lose yourself in the view and solitude whilst sipping on one of their delicious Green Mocha teas. U Cafe is community-minded, with disadvantaged youth and women the waitstaff and, while everything is divine, it’s the organic teas that really swing.
Hours: 8am – 9pm (closed Tuesday)
Add: 120 Huyen Tran Cong Chua Street (Hoai Riverside Road)
Cocobana Tea Room & Gardens $$$
Located in a 200-year old Ancient house, the simply breathtaking Cocobana combines unique, impressive traditional Vietnamese architecture with artistic colorful displays of authentic artefacts from all parts of the country. Still water ponds, antique ceramics, swirling incense, lilting music and titillating tea menus – everywhere you turn, Cocobana is a feast for the senses. It’s a magnet for ‘Song Ao’ – Vietnam’s young, middle-class who like to post pictures of beautiful things on Facebook to create a persona of intellectualism. Outside, inside, upstairs this is one of the most beautiful places in Hoi An. According to Ha, nothing is more stunning than the second-floor views between 2pm – 4pm when the sun reflects off the Old Town’s yellow walls and lights up the green, moss-covered rooftops. Pricey but a must visit. Try the organic lychee tea!
Hours: 9am – 6pm (closed Monday)
Add: 16 Nguyen Thai Hoc
Gu Go (Google) Café $
With its tiny chairs spilling on to a busy street, cheap, strong coffee and loud Vietnamese smoking locals, Gu Go Café is your typical ca phe coc. It takes its name from Google ‘and, as with Google, where you can find out everything that’s going on in the world’, Ha told me ‘at Gu Go Cafe you can find out everything that’s going on in Hoi An.’ Often friends will say: ‘Hey, do you want to go to Gu Go and “tam” (gossip)?’ The casual nature of Ca Phe Coc is also a bonus for locals: ‘We Vietnamese’, Ha continued, ‘are loud and here you can shout and be yourself – farmers, businessmen, managers, laborers all come here and feel equal’. So if you’re a rumbustious, nosy voyeur then come join the locals. But if you value your privacy, avoid it at all cost.
Hours: 6am – 9pm (7 days)
Add: cnr Phan Chau Trinh Street & Nguyen Hue
Cafe Hoi An Historic $$
Set in the grounds of the iconic Hoi An Hotel, Café Hoi An Historic sits back from the street shaded by foliage and trees. Private, with wide open spaces, this cool, garden setting is a popular place for business meetings and for middle-aged people who want to talk without any ‘Ba Tams’ in earshot. On Sundays it’s popular with Vietnamese families who like to catch up on personal issues and family matters while the kids run around.
Add: 10 Tran Hung Dao St
Le Fe Cafeteria $$
Nestling down a small alleyway, asleep under the dust of time you’ll find Le Fe Cafétéria. Against a backdrop of flaking paint antiquated telephones, gramophones, vintage shop signs, antique TVs, even old motorbikes have pride of place. The retro furniture for Ha evoked a poignant passing of time, of things gone forever. Le Fe Cafétéria is a venue for Hoi An’s young, ‘thinking’ Vietnamese; those sensitive intellectuals who sit by the dripping coffee and get lost in the deep and meaningful lyrics of Trinh Cong Son. Aside from beer, alcohol mixes and coffee there’s an eclectic list: orange with salted plum, lemon with menthol, blueberry, guava, and smoothies.
Hours: 6:30am – 10:30pm | 7 days
Add: 69/3 Phan Châu Trinh
Uy Viet Café $
With its highly visible sprawling bench overlooking busy Cua Dai Road, wide, open and spacious Uy Viet Café is hard to miss. A scene for young Vietnamese, it offers loud music, great views, terrific coffee, a venue for card games, a catch up with friends or an opportunity to simply stare at the street. Shaded by trees right on the corner of Cua Dai & Pham Hong Thai with a bench that spans three shop fronts, it’s a wonderful retreat from the heat in summer. The Uy Viet Café chain is famous for its unique coffee – thick viscous, smooth and strong with hints of coconut and chocolate. Apart from standard Vietnamese coffee they also sell Americano, Cappuccino, Lattes and Espressos (Vietnamese-style) along with Café Liqueurs.
Hours: 7am – 10pm | 7 days
Add: 580 Cua Dai
Long Coffee $
Long Coffee is ‘The Men’s Café’ which is not surprising is it, with a name like that? So if you haven’t got a long dangly bit you may find it a tad overwhelming walking into this testosterone-ridden, male domain. In the morning it’s packed to the rafters with men from all walks of life: builders, lawyers, laborers and public servants all come here to talk their secret men’s business and drink their men’s coffee. Long Coffee’s brew is famous for its manliness, strong, thick and viscous – this mush is not for the faint-hearted. Any females audacious enough to visit should prepare for the rank smell of men and their glaring, staring, bewildered eyes; their shocked silence testament to this Men Only zone.
Hours: 6am – 10pm
Add: 218 Ly Thuong Kiet Street
Tinh Thuong Café $
Wanna join the army? Well Tinh Thuong café is right across from the recruiting office! This large, shady, open coffee shop is where all the taxis stop on the corner of Le Loi and Tran Hung Dao. Don’t worry, the screen of trees reduces the noise to the background and it is a cool place to enjoy coffee on a hot day. Tinh Thuong only serves Vietnamese coffee — Trung Nguyen, one of the best Vietnamese blends. The staff are friendly and speak some English. Tinh Thuong is located close to the tourist information centre and Old Town, yet far enough away to get local prices.
Hours: 6am – 10pm
Add: Corner of Le Loi and Tran Huong Dao
Between Hoi An Old Town and the Beach
Moc Lan Cafe $
Just around the corner from the Hoi An Now office, away from the concrete and beeping horns, is ‘Moc Lan’, one of Hoi An’s most picturesque cafes. Massively popular with Vietnamese (and those expats ‘in the know’), this wonderful little haven, overlooking the Thu Bon River, is a perfect spot to unwind. Tables are tiered so everyone gets the best view of the river, colourful umbrellas hang from trees, bikes adorned with flowers are mounted on walls along with displays of brightly painted Vietnamese Non Hats. Bring your kids here, your dogs, come with friends or alone, this quiet, family-friendly café is a feast for the eyes and nectar for the soul. And it is cheap! You can expect a typical Vietnamese menu, ca phe den for 10,000 vnd, ca phe sua da for 12,000. And expect a strong cup of coffee — I was positively buzzed after just a few sips. The café also offers a few sweet snacks, though availability varies by day. Moc Lan only serves Vietnamese coffee (sorry, no espresso here). Be sure to try their lime ‘snow’ (though on the menu it is written lemon), a blend of ice, lime, and coconut juice. The taste is vaguely reminiscent of key-lime pie and can be enjoyed for 18,000 vnd.
Hours: 6:30am — 10pm
Add: 121/2, Nguyen Duy Hieu