There are a lot of things to love about Vietnam – the scenery, the people, the food, the culture. But the coffee is seriously up there too. OK, so maybe our coffee obsession tilts the scales a little. But Vietnamese coffee is a totally different experience to cafes in the West and one that you have to delve into when visiting.
Having spent a lot of time exploring Vietnam (and drinking coffee!), we’ve put together this guide on how to order coffee in Vietnam. Benefit from our triumphs – and many mistakes! – so you can enjoy a delicious, coffee-filled Vietnamese experience.
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Coffee is a huge part of Vietnamese life. As the second-biggest producer of coffee in the world, this is hardly surprising.
You’ll see cafes lining the streets throughout cities. All with small chairs and tables facing out into the street so you can watch the world (traffic) go by.
There will be big groups of locals holding court, smoking, playing games, and eating sunflower seeds. All while sipping on intense, chocolatey Robusta coffee usually sweetened with sugar and served hot or cold (depending on the time of year and part of the country you’re in.)
When you order coffee, it will likely be smaller or have more ice than you were expecting or are used to from home. But don’t be fooled – it may be small but it will be mighty. Vietnamese coffees pack a serious punch of caffeine!
Unless you’re in a high-end cafe exclusively for wealthy tourists (I’m looking at you Hoi An), you’ll never pay more than $3 for your coffee. And most often it will be closer to the $1.50 mark.
Being a hot country, refreshing iced coffee is ideal. So you’ll likely only see hot coffee being drunk by locals during winter in the North or the mountains. However, in Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City, it’s almost unheard of for someone to order hot coffee due to the intense tropical climate.
We only had one occasion whilst in the northern mountains of Hà Giang where iced coffee wasn’t an option. But it was December and we were wearing jackets and gloves, so a hot drink was exactly what the doctor ordered!
After ordering (or pointing at) your preferred coffee, be ready to be asked if you want it “Nóng” (hot) or “Đá” (iced).
There isn’t a lot of English spoken in Vietnam, particularly among the older generations and in the rural communities, so it’s good to know what they’re asking you. But in the tourist hotspots, many people will know “hot” or “iced” if you’re really confused.
If you opt for an iced drink then hot coffee may be poured over the ice in your cup. Or it will have been batch-brewed earlier and poured cold from a jug or bottle.
Whilst the tap water isn’t drinkable in Vietnam, most coffee shops you’re likely to stop at will buy their ice. Your coffee will be served in a glass with this ice, a spoon, and sometimes a straw.
In Saigon, if you order a hot coffee, it will come in a glass similar to the iced version. But in Hanoi, you may get a cup with a little tea light to keep it warm.
Cà Phê Đen
The basic unit of all Vietnamese coffee is Cà Phê Đen, or black coffee.
Brewed using a special dripper known as a “phin”, your black coffee will be around the size of a double espresso, very strong, and very bitter.
Almost everyone in Vietnam drinks their cà phê đen with sugar (đường) added. I hate the taste of sweetened coffee when I’m at home, but Vietnamese black coffee really benefits from a little sugar. The sweetness brings out the intense chocolate notes in the beans and balances out the bitter flavors.
Just remember to give your coffee a good stir to evenly distribute the sugar. And enjoy!
Cà Phê Sữa
One of the most common Vietnamese coffees is cà phê sữa though you might also see it listed as cà phê nâu (brown coffee). Either way, this is “coffee with milk”.
But not regular milk:
This is coffee with a hefty amount of sweetened condensed milk sitting at the bottom of the cup.
This rich, decadent, and delicious mix can also be served hot or cold (nóng/ đá). Either way, it requires some serious stirring with a spoon to ensure the milk is properly mixed with the coffee. If you don’t mix it fully, you’ll get a section of bitter coffee followed by insanely sweet milk.
This is my wife’s go-to coffee order in Vietnam. But if the idea of condensed milk puts you off, I urge you to give it a try at least once. You might be surprised by the flavor.
Cà Phê Sữa Tươi
If coffee with condensed milk isn’t your jam, then you can look for cà phê sữa tươi (coffee with fresh milk) on the menus of cafes.
This isn’t as common throughout Vietnam as condensed milk coffee so there’s no guarantee you’ll find it. But it’s becoming easier to get hold of as more tourists are asking for it and there’s greater access to reliable refrigeration.
The milk won’t be steamed or textured, it’s just added to the black coffee like it would be if they were using condensed milk.
Cà Phê Bạc Xỉu
If you like a very milky coffee, and I mean very milky, then you want to find cà phê bạc xỉu.
This literally translates as “silver coffee”, but it’s for people with a low caffeine tolerance.
It can be made with condensed or fresh milk so you may want to use Google Translate to confirm which they’ll use before you order your coffee.
Cà Phê Trứng
Probably the most famous Vietnamese coffee is Cà Phê Trứng aka Egg Coffee.
This consists of either hot or cold black coffee topped with whipped egg yolk and condensed milk.
If you’ve not come across it before, I imagine your first instinct was ‘eww’ – mine certainly was! But it gives a sweet, rich, and decadent dessert-like topping to your coffee and is absolutely amazing.
It’s generally served hot with the cup sitting in a little bowl of hot water to keep the coffee under the egg topping warm. However, iced versions do exist and will usually come in a bigger cup though it’s just the ice taking up the extra room, not extra coffee.
Cà Phê Muối
My personal favorite coffee to order in Vietnam is salt coffee: cà phê muối.
Now salt and coffee may not sound like the best combination. But hear me out…
The sweetened black coffee is topped with a salted cream. So you get rich cream, a hint of salt, and sweet coffee – the blend is just heavenly. The Vietnamese seriously know what they’re doing when it comes to flavor so I’ve learned not to question it.
It’s much more common in Central Vietnam than in the North or South as it was supposedly invented in Huế. But you’ll find lots of cafés all over Vietnam offering the drink. Sometimes you’ll even find it at stalls on the side of the road.
Sometimes all the ingredients will be pre-mixed together or beautifully layered. It just depends on the individual cafe’s preference.
If you’re worried about how to order coffee in Vietnam because it’s a tonal language, I’m right there with you. Despite all the time I’ve spent in the country, I still can’t nail the pronunciation of “muối“. But. whilst I do sometimes get strange looks, I’ve always ended up with the right thing!
Cà Phê Cốt Dừa
Coconut coffee (cà phê cốt dừa) is the one drink you’re likely to see in a form you’re used to:
Many cafes in Vietnam will serve this as “ice blended” so it will look like a frappe or Starbucks Frappuccino crossed with an ice cream.
But it is still possible to get a hot coconut coffee if that’s your preference. So you don’t have to go full dessert mode at 8 in the morning.
Coconut coffee blends rich, Vietnamese coffee, coconut milk or cream, shaved coconut, and condensed milk. Sometimes it also has whipped cream on top to make it look really Western.
It’s decadent, delicious, and feels like you’re drinking a tropical coffee cocktail (minus the alcohol.)
You’ll want to give it a good stir as it will most likely have been made to look pretty. Otherwise, you’ll likely get a sip of straight coffee or straight coconut cream to start.
The more modern cafes or those aimed at tourists are likely to have an espresso machine and a menu with all the café classics you’re used to back home.
This is pretty common in the big cities but you may struggle once you hit the countryside.
You’ll not find the same diversity of options (no espresso tonic or magic coffee, I’m afraid). Nor will there be the same level of flavored syrups and toppings you usually find in the big chain stores (though there are 92 Starbucks stores at the time of writing this.)
However, you can still get a latte or cappuccino if that’s what you’re craving.
Knowing how to order coffee in Vietnam doesn’t have to be scary or a list of words you don’t understand. By using the guide to help you know what to look for, you can enjoy the unique coffee style of the world’s second largest coffee growing country.
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