The coffee culture of Vietnam is unique and quite interesting. Especially in the Highlands, where it is grown, people tend to gather in the best cafés of Dalat any time of the day.
Dalat, the capital city of the Lam Dong province in Vietnam, is not only known for the fresh vegetables and crazy houses. Dalat lies at an altitude of approximately 1,500 meters above sea level and is therefore famous for its cool climate.
During the French colonial era, Dalat was known as the “Town of Eternal Spring” and many French retreated to the highland valley to escape the sweltering heat of Saigon.
Throughout the year, people tend to gather at streetside kitchens for a hot cup of tea, bean milk and of course coffee. Rolling the hot drink in their cold hands, they exchange smiles and stories.
With excellent coffee produced right on site, it doesn’t make us wonder that Dalat features a special coffee culture and is home to some really nice cafés.
I forgot the name of this small place, if it has one at all, so I just call it Sunshine Café, because in the morning, it’s the perfect place to appreciate some warm rays of sunshine. You cannot miss this excellent small café, and you should not miss it either.
From the city center, follow Trần Quốc Toản street on the left side of the lake until you reach the roundabout where you follow Bùi Thị Xuân to the left. After a short distance, two smaller streets branch off on the left side, and an office of the Sinh Tourist company is to the right side. Right in the middle is our café.
It consists of one small room and a terrace outside. That’s where we were sitting, enjoying the morning sun and a hot glass of cà phê sữa nóng, hot Vietnamese coffee with milk. They serve the glass with the sweet condensed milk and a phin (French coffee filter) that slowly drips the coffee onto the milk. The whole construct is placed in a bowl of hot water to keep it warm, and served with a pot of hot green tea.
We slowly sipped the strong brew and watched the sparse traffic. If you want to dip something in your coffee, just get one of their big and marvelous cookies for VND 12,000.
They’re really good and worth every dong.
Reng Reng Café
Another place that I clearly recommend is Reng Reng Café near the entrance of Elephant Falls. The owner is from the North and he makes outstanding Western-style coffee from the Arabica beans that grow in the Lam Dong province.
The same beans he uses for brewing the coffee, he sells at the shop in bags. So if you want to buy some great coffee from the Highlands, go for it.
Vườn Bích Câu
The third café in our triumvirate of the best cafés in Dalat is located on an island in Xuan Huong Lake, right opposite of Dalat Flower Garden. The name of the place is Vườn Bích Câu, or Bich Garden.
It’s a beautiful landscape garden with a bonsai exhibition and solitary tables on the lawn next to the water. Vườn Bích Câu has a sophisticated, colonial flair, and the staff is very friendly. The café is especially popular among honeymooners and for wedding photography.
Right next to the entrance you can rent a horse carriage that takes newlyweds and families with children around the lake. Sipping your delicious coffee, you can watch the clouds, the water and the occasional swan boat.
These three places are totally different from each other but unified in my heart as the best cafés of Dalat.
Two more thoughts
I’d like to present two more things, that come to my mind when talking about coffee and huddling together with a hot cup in our hands.
First, there is this odd weasel coffee, also called civet coffee. It’s quite famous, because the thought of a civet eating coffee berries, digesting them partially and defecating the actual coffee beans which, enhanced in flavor by the civet’s enzyme, we drink…
The second thing I’d like to mention is Grumpy Milk. It’s not exactly a café, since they don’t serve coffee, but they are open in the evening and serve variations of hot bean milk, corn milk, peanut milk, sesame milk and so on.
If you wonder about the strange name, the place is actually called Sữa Hoa and located in Tăng Bạt Hổ street near the Central Market. However, since the proprietors of Sữa Hoa, which translates to “Flower Milk”, seemed to be in a permanent state of disgruntlement, we renamed it to Grumpy Milk on the first evening.
You actually warm your hands on the cups of hot bean milk and dip a cake into it while watching the street or chatting with your companions. The bean milk is really superb, but the cakes are not. You may want to buy your cakes beforehand at the Lien Hoa bakery in Ba Tháng Hai street.