Cafes are everywhere in Hanoi. Some are western-style cafes and cafe chains serving espressos, lattes, macchiatos, mocha coffees and so on for 30,000 to 45,000 Vietnamese dong. That’s a pricey $2 or $3, in a country where a bowl of noodle soup costs a dollar.
Then there are the traditional Vietnamese cafes that are dotted all over Hanoi, and where a coffee costs 12,000 dong or thereabouts (about 75 cents).
These little cafes, usually limited to a handful of tables and chairs, are everywhere. I suspect that one reason there are so many of them is not only the clear popularity of coffee breaks among Hanoians, but also that they would not cost much to set up. Hanoi is a city bursting at the seams with small businesses, and a small cafe serving only drinks would not require too much start-up capital for one of the legion of eager micro-entrepreneurs in this town.
As in the westernised cafes, the coffee in these places also come in a variety of styles. all using industrial-strength filtered coffee. You can practically stick your teaspoon up in it.
The most common are ca phe den nong (hot black coffee), ca phe den da (iced black coffee), ca phe nau nong (hot coffee with sweet condensed milk) and ca phe nau da (iced coffee with condensed milk). A variety of teas, hot and iced, are generally also on the menu, and freshly squeezed fruit juices as well.
When drunk black the coffee tastes comes somewhere between an espresso and a Turkish coffee in flavour – and closer to the Turkish coffee in the caffeine jolt it gives to your body. It is served with the sugar already added, although this is usually at the bottom of the cup so if you don’t stir it’s not too sweet. Sweetened or unsweetened, it’s not for the fainthearted.
My favourite local coffee is called sua chua ca phe, which is a mixture of iced black coffee and yoghurt. It’s not a combination I had encountered before, but it’s delicious.
One coffee I won’t be trying is “weasel” coffee. It’s made from beans that have passed through the digestive system of an animal called the civet. The process is said to improve the flavour but I won’t be testing that theory myself.