Getting to know Saigon’s best coffees
Coffee existed in Saigon more than 80 years ago, gradually becoming an indispensable cultural lifestyle of the locals. Day and night, it’s common to capture Saigonese drinking coffees from the sidewalk corners to luxury cafes with a cup equal to a day salary of a laborer. Immigration has also made Saigon coffees diverse, some people like iced black coffee, while others prefer coffee with milk, bac siu, or egg coffee; any of which brings certain distinguished features fitting different taste needs, which helps the city rank one of the most popular places to enjoy coffee according to Booking.com.
The following article will focus on the best coffees in Saigon that you should not miss when coming to the city.
Iced black coffee (Ca phe den da)
Considered the “ancestor” of later versions of Vietnamese coffees, iced black coffee has a strong, bitter flavor mixed with a bit of sour and sweet aftertaste. Most people love pure black coffee without sugar or ice to feel its strength and bitterness which can keep them awake the whole day. However, due to the constant hot weather, Saigonese like iced black coffee just to cool them off.
The taste of iced black coffee can vary by bean types, mostly Robusta and Arabica, and also by brewing ways: using filters or traditional method – that is using a cloth bag (also known as ca phe vot) – this type of coffee is made by putting coffee powder in a cloth bag and dipping it in boiling water, then pouring the liquid into a cup. In the past, Saigon residents used to add a little corn powder, a few drops of fish sauce, and a small piece of butter to roasted coffee beans to create a lighter flavor. Today, with the third coffee wave, many people believe that clean coffee must keep its original taste without combining any other flavorings. Either way is fine, what matters is how each person enjoys it.
There are two options for an iced black coffee in Saigon; one is to wait for the coffee to slowly drip from the filter and hang in there for another 3-5 minutes for the coffee to cool down, then add ice and the desired amount of sugar; the other is order a glass of iced black coffee ready to drink.
Iced milk coffee (Ca phe sua da)
If the black coffee is known for being strong and bitter, iced milk coffee is indeed a great variation for those who like their cup of joe a bit sweet. Saigon iced milk coffee with the characteristic aroma and bitterness of coffee accompanied by the fat and sweetness of condensed milk has become the city’s iconic drink, even listed by CNTraveler in the list of top 15 drinks of the world.
How to make iced milk coffee is also quite simple, what you need is a strong coffee dripping from a small metal filter into a glass, below the glass contains a little condensed milk. When the coffee stops dripping, stir well and add ice – once again, ice, since Saigon is always hot. Also, don’t put extra sugar in the glass unless you want it to be cloying.
Several coffee aficionados may not be able to accept such sweetness of iced milk coffee in the first place; however, after a few times, they will easily succumb to that addictive greasy and sweet flavor.
Iced coffee milk (Bac siu)
This drink can easily be confused with iced milk coffee because of the similar brewing method, however, the dose of condensed milk is what makes iced coffee milk, or bac siu, distinctive. There, you will need 70% milk, 25% coffee or less, depending on how sweet you want, and ice. In fact, bac siu tastes best when served hot as to smell the nasty aroma of the coffee, which is opposite to milk coffee that is equally great in both hot and ice types.
Iced coffee milk has appeared in Saigon since the 1950s, brought by the Chinese, and Saigonese accepted and filtered all the good features of that culture to create a refreshing product suitable for the land, and in this case, they added ice to the beverage. In the memories of some people, iced coffee milk is a drink for children who follow their parents into a cafe. Children obviously cannot drink strong black coffee, but the taste of coffee is too alluring. Later, when women began to reach coffee shops more and more, iced coffee milk became a bridge to coffee, or simply a fragrant drink to accompany the person they are hanging out with.
Egg coffee (Ca phe trung)
Egg coffee, or ca phe trung, is a dish originating from Hanoi but is recently being loved by young Saigonese due to the perfect combination of the greasy egg yolks, the sweet condensed milk, sugar, and the bitter Vietnamese black coffee. During the milk shortage in Vietnam during the 1940s, the father of egg coffee replaced the foamed fresh milk in European-style coffee with egg yolks to create this unique drink.
To make a proper cup of egg coffee, you need to beat the egg yolks and sugar evenly until fluffy and creamy. After that, the mixture is poured into a boiling traditional Vietnamese black coffee and covered with a frothy egg. After being poured through the whipped cream foam from the egg, the solid coffee flavor that remains at the bottom of the cup is somewhat stronger. Customers will have an extra spoon to enjoy the creamy foam on top like an appetizer before drinking coffee below. The pale yellow egg coffee comes in a small thick cup to maintain the heat. To keep the drink hot, the barista places the cup in a bowl of warm water.
Coconut coffee (Ca phe dua)
Another interesting variation from Vietnamese black coffee is coconut coffee, which is a unique combination of coconut smoothie and black coffee or Espresso. Using coconut milk instead of pure water will attractively enhance the coffee flavor. That’s why it is said to be between the drink and dessert. The fatty sweetness of coconut does not overwhelm the richness of coffee, nor is it as strong as milk coffee or bitter like black coffee.
The method to make coconut coffee is blending, in which the barista will blend coconut milk, ice, and condensed milk. The finer the mixture, the better the drink will be. Coconut coffee in Saigon is no longer a new thing, but it is still one of the things most people desire because of its refreshment on hot summer days.