It is no doubt that Vietnamese coffee is the strongest and thickest coffee species out there. From a simple recipe, you can treat yourself with a glass of tasty Vietnamese coffee drink made from a small amount of strong brew coffee added with a few scoops of condensed milk. With or without ice, this glass of coffee delivers the richest flavor to your tongue: from bitter to sweet, sweet to sour, and sour back to sweet! If you didn’t experience that kind of taste, you definitely drank the wrong one!
Now that we all know Vietnamese coffee is the “bestest”, but where and how people enjoy it is another whole different story. Many of us don’t know that there are several different styles for the Vietnamese folks to enjoy these tasty drinks. By the way, if you didn’t know that you need to drink 5 glasses of iced tea before finishing your coffee drink, then you should keep reading!
This is my most favorite place to drink coffee in Vietnam. It is the most convenient, clean, and romantic place to drink coffee with your date. Most of these coffee shops utilize their advantage of having a second floor by arranging a few sets of tables and chairs on the balcony to serve coffee and other types of beverage. The first floor of the shop is usually serving breakfast, to-go foods, or just simply a living area of the owners. Looking out to the balcony, the customers have the opportunity to enjoy their view of busy streets and other sceneries while sipping onto their flavorful glass of coffee. Most of the times, some sort of Trinh Cong Son music or jazz will be playing quietly in the background, very peacefully and relaxed. This is such an ideal place for many poets and musical composers.
When the balcony coffee shops get too crowded, street coffee will be the next destination of the Vietnamese coffee lovers. It’s a place where you can get a quick coffee session with your buddies without having to deal with the wait-lines at the more fancy coffee shops. These types of coffee businesses often operate around the local schools and colleges. Since most of the customers of these coffee places are college students, the prices are usually cheaper than any where else … but look closely for what have been at the bottom of your cup when you’re about to finish!
This type of coffee places is mostly seen in Hanoi and Hue than Saigon. Around the borderline of Ho Tay and Ho Guom (lakes), you can easily spot a handful of people sitting (sometime laying too) around a table with several cups of coffee and other beverages. This is an alternative to coffee on the balcony if you miss viewing the nature’s scenery. Like street coffee businesses, these places don’t do well during the raining season. But during hot summer nights, they could get very crowded as people were trying to catch some fresh breezes blowing from the lake.
This is probably one of the most fancy place to drink your coffee. Many owners of these businesses have invested tons of money into decorating their gigantic gardens. Importing, planting, and taking care of trees and flowers are no jokes. Aside from seeing a lot of trees anf plants here, you will also find birds chirping all day in their cages. The cost of maintaining these gardens have been shifted to each cup of coffee, so you will see the menu to be a little more pricey. In exchange to paying a higher price for the same cup of coffee, you get to sit among the most beautiful plants to relax your mind and breath the fresh air.
Cafe “Tê Mê” – Bikini Coffee Shop
The Vietnamese have brought their coffee drinking custom with them to many places around the world. However, here in the U.S, you would find nothing similar to what I have described above. I risked myself to visit a couple of Vietnamese coffee shops in San Jose to experience what it is really like inside. For the most popular ones, you would see something very “extraordinary”, at least not the kind of things that you usually see at your local Starbucks. Beautiful girls in sexy skimpy lingerie and bikini will be serving you with coffee and iced tea in front of twenty plasma TV screens. The owners of these shops are Vietnamese, the coffee style is Vietnamese, but the girls may not be Vietnamese! To make you more surprised, half of the customers are non-Vietnamese. Talking about service, it would depend on each shop. Some places have friendly waitresses who are willing to chit chat with customers while the girls in other places will put on their cold masks. One thing that I have noticed, as soon as they see your iced tea not on the full mark, they will come by to refill your glass for free. This is why you will see people try to finish at least 4 to 5 glasses of iced tea before they actually finish drinking their coffee. If you still don’t understand, please take a look at the illustrative photos below for a better explanation:
As you can see, it’s the same glass of coffee, but people will drink it differently or taste it differently depends on the environment of where it is served. At least for me, I felt that the coffee that I had in the U.S. contained more milk than it should (somebody please help explaining to me!). Next time, I will close my eyes while drinking it to see if that’s really the case.
What about you, where would you go to drink your coffee?