Best Craft Beer Breweries in Saigon

By: Mervin Lee

A quick search on the internet will yield fascinating results: the craft beer scene in Ho Chi Minh City is booming in a previously unimaginable way.

Vietnam is en route to becoming the champion of alcohol consumption in Asia, defeated only by the Koreans based on an annual per capita alcohol consumption paper that was published by the Who Health Organisation in 2017. In Vietnam, when it comes to alcohol, beer is king—some people even describe beer as an alternative to soft drinks. The massive popularity of commercial beer in Vietnam has also enabled semi-commercial and non-commercial artisanal brews, otherwise known as craft beer, to flourish.

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: Malt Saigon - by Mervin Lee

Along with the chugging of beer in local beer halls and the downing of rice spirits, people who live in Vietnam are increasingly turning towards the more complex flavours of beer made in craft breweries all over Vietnam. Craft beer is best enjoyed fresh out of the keg. Our extensive list focuses on the best craft breweries in Saigon so that you can enjoy fresh off-the-tap craft beers without having to travel far from home.

This list includes both craft breweries with their very own tap rooms as well as brewers who distribute their beers to venues.

BREWERIES WITH TAPROOMS IN SAIGON

Pasteur Street Brewing Company

Address 1: 144 Pasteur Street, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1   
Address 2: 144/3 Pasteur Street, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1   
Address 3: 29 Thảo Điền, Thảo Điền Ward, District 2  
Address 4: 67 Lê Văn Thiêm, Tân Phong Ward, District 7   
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. daily

One of the Saigon’s greatest craft beer pioneers, Pasteur Street Brewing Company’s brews have achieved shining accolades abroad. The Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout (13% ABV, 55 IBU) made using award-winning MAROU cacao pods achieved the gold award at the World Beer Cup in 2016. Paster Street currently has four tap rooms in Ho Chi Minh City and one tap room in Hanoi and distributes its beers to approximately 150 locations in Vietnam—a testimony to their amazing taste.

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: facebook.com/PasteurStreetBrewing

Other must-try beers: Jasmine IPA (6.5% ABV, 50 IBU), Passion Fruit Wheat Ale (4% ABV, 15 IBU)

East West Brewing Company

Address: 181 - 185 Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Thành Ward, District 1  
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. daily

If drinking a glass of rich, smooth craft beer brewed on location is your thing, East West Brewing Company is an excellent choice. It’s been a few years since it’s inauguration and East West is already distributing its beers to more than 300 venues. The creative brewery also schedules an interesting seasonal brew on a monthly basis. A Christmas Tripel is usually available for the festive season.

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: East West Brewing Company

Must try beers: East West Pale Ale (6% ABV, 32 IBU), Summer Hefeweizen (5.9% ABV, 20 IBU)

Heart of Darkness Craft Brewery

Address: 31D Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1  
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. 12:00 a.m. daily

Run by a self-described “Dark Army” of brewers, Heart of Darkness Craft Brewery has created more than 150 distinct beers since their inauguration in late 2016. In fact, you’ll find their beers well beyond the shores of Vietnam in cities such as Singapore, Tokyo and Taipei. The brewery also hosts special events on a regular basis—trivia night, comedy night…you name it. Starting from 8th November 2018, the brewery will also be offering unique and never-released brews every Thursday for their ‘Fresh Tapped Thursdays’ specials, a major reason to visit again and again!

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: facebook.com/heartofdarknessbrewery

Must try beers: The Kurt’s Insane IPA (7.1 ABV, 102 IBU) is one of the most intense and hoppiest beers in town. Other favourites like the lighter Sacred Fire Golden Ale (4.5% ABV, 28 IBU), which is described by the Dark Army as a “gateway to craft beer” and their Excited Magpie Irish Stout (4.2% ABV, 34 IBU) are a great place to start your craft beer journey.

Belgo - Belgian Craft Beer Brewery

Address: 159A, Nguyễn Văn Thủ, Đa Kao Ward, District 1  
Opening Hours: 10:30 a.m. - 11.00 p.m. daily

Take your first step into Belgo and you’ll be greeted by three replicas of Manneken Pis, Brussels’ infamous urinating little boy. Gert, the resident brewmaster of Belgo, has been brewing with friends in Belgium since the age of 16. His love for beer’s magic component, yeast, has spurred him to create some of the most well-balanced beers in Saigon. The Belgo Blond (5.9% ABV, 19 IBU) is a hit amongst the ladies; it’s secret lies in two different kinds of malt, two varieties of hops and a top-secret herb!

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: Belgo - Belgian Craft Beer Brewery

Must try beers: What our team truly loves at Belgo is the Belgo Black (6.9% ABV, 21 IBU), which shouts chocolate and a lingering bittersweet citrus flavour. The Belgo Royale (7.6% ABV, 24 IBU) with notes of pineapple, peach and banana is also deceivingly easy on the palate. Most of Belgo’s beers are very low on IBU, great for people who love alcohol but can’t stand the bitter!

Winking Seal Beer Co.

Address: 50 Đặng Thị Nhu, Nguyễn Thái Bình Ward, District 1  
Opening Hours: 3:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. daily

Winking seal needs little introduction. Their adorable mascot and emblem is literally a seal, one eye closed. Most, if not all, beers at Winking Seal Beer Company are irresistibly smooth and stunningly creative. The Năm Năm Năm Cream Ale (5% ABV, 16.3 IBU) is light, floral with hints of fruit…and the low alcohol content makes it great session beer in our opinion. If you’re looking for something even fruitier, we bet you’ll love the Dragon Fruit Pale Ale (4.6 ABV 11 IBU) that’s made with local red-fleshed dragon fruit. The crisp and refreshing tropical fruit aftertaste makes it irresistible.

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: facebook.com/winkingseal

Must try beer: The One Eye Imperial IPA (10.1 ABV, 101 IBU) is possibly one of the most powerful beers found in Ho Chi Minh City. Somewhat syrupy and dangerously drinkable and balanced, don’t over-indulge because this stuff packs a punch.

Rooster Beers

Address: 285 Phạm Ngũ Lão, Phạm Ngũ Lão Ward, District 1 
Opening Hours: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. daily

Founded in 2015 by a group of passionate beer loving friends, Rooster Beers started as a small operation in the outskirts of Can Gio District and has grown to become a favourite of both expats and locals. Rooster Beers tastes great taste because they source the finest American hops and top-grade barley from Belgium malters. Their tap room location in District 1 makes it somewhat too convenient for late night indulgence: smack in the middle of the infamous Pham Ngu Lao backpacker street.

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: facebook.com/roosterbeersvietnam

Must Try Beers: Rooster Beers offers 6 standards on tap: Blonde (5.5% ABV, 18 IBU), Pale (6.0% ABV, 40 IBU), Dark (5.5% ABV, 26 IBU), Wit (4.5% ABV, 10 IBU), IPA (7% ABV, 60 IBU) and Pilsner (5.5% ABV, 18 IBU). We’re certain that they’ve got pretty much every popular style covered!

Biacraft

Address 1: 1 Lê Ngô Cát, Ward 7, District 3  
Address 2: 90 Xuân Thủy, Thảo Điền Ward, District 2  
Address 3: 300 Trường Sa, Ward 7, Phú Nhuận District  
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. daily

Biacraft is unique in a magnanimous manner. They brew their own beer yet also distribute. Biacraft has one of Vietnam’s largest selection of craft beers and ciders. We counted almost 20 different breweries and more than 50 taps. Beyond local brewers, top American brewers such as Stone Brewing and Melvin Brewing are also well represented here. The extensive food menu, which sports hard-to-find items such as SPAM fries and Viennese schnitzel is also interesting.

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: drinkmagazine.asia

Must try beers: Biacraft’s own brews beat everyone else on the list for having the darndest names: The ‘F*cked if I know’ Double IPA (8.8% ABV, 81 IBU) is a potentially deadly combination of fruity flavours and relatively high alcohol content. Fancy something lighter? The ‘Let’s get naked’ Wildberry Wheat Ale (4% ABV, 16 IBU) seems apt.

C-Brewmaster

Address: 57/4 Bùi Viện, Phạm Ngũ Lão Ward, District 1  
Opening Hours: 4:00 p.m. - 12.00 a.m. daily

Led by brewmaster Cuong Nguyen who has experience with brewing for numerous big commercial brands such as Carlsberg and Budweiser, C-Brewmaster’s aim is constant R&D and innovation to create truly Vietnamese flavours with local ingredients such as gooseberry and lemongrass while also utilizing trusted foreign ingredients including American hops and German malt.

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: facebook.com/CBrewmaster

Must try beers: C-Brewmaster’s Vietnamese Imperial Stout (9% ABV, 40 IBU) is a delicious and ultra-strong Dark Ale made with Vietnamese coffee and honey, something we’d prefer sipping with good company instead of binging. The Pho Essence Ale (5.5% ABV, 15 IBU) is an amber pale ale made with Pho spices including ginger, cinnamon and anise. We believe trying it in person will make for a better experience than simply reading about it!

CRAFT BREWERIES IN SAIGON THAT DISTRIBUTE TO BARS

Lac Brewing Co.

The founder of LAC Brewing Co., Lucas Jans, spent 12 years drinking nothing but the freshest IPAs from Oregon before moving to Vietnam. As a result, the brewery has managed to create some of the most unique beers in town. LAC Brewing’s Mango IPA (5.8% ABV, 39 IBU) is made with fresh local mangoes from sunny Phan Thiet making it crisp, citrusy and perfect for the local weather. The Devil’s Lake IPA (6.5% ABV, 55 IBU) is an Oregon-style IPA bursting with tropical fruit flavours and hops that shine above the subdued malts. Their Lava Red (6.6% ABV, 41 IBU) is another impressive IPA with American red-ale genes—piney with a citrusy finish.

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: facebook.com/lacbrewing

We’ve also included the address of their new tap room slated to open in December this year.

Upcoming tap room location: 172 Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Thành Ward, District 1

Places to try their beer in the meantime:

Ong Cao Craft Beer - 240 Bùi Viện, Phạm Ngũ Lão Ward, District 1  
Malt Saigon - 46 Mạc Thị Bưởi, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1  
Biacraft - 1 Lê Ngô Cát, Ward 7, District 3

Platinum Beer

Established by Belfast-born Michael Comerton with 20-years of beer industry experience, Platinum Beer is now one of Saigon’s most accessible craft beer brands. Its beers appeal to a wide range of consumers and are found in many food and beverage venues in Saigon. Platinum’s Golden Ale (4.6% ABV, 18 IBU) is made with lightly-toasted wheat and malted barley, resulting in an extremely refreshing taste, low bitterness and hints of caramel and tangerine. Their East Sea Summer Ale (4.6% ABV, 26 IBU) is also a favourite—refreshing herbal mouthfeel and citrus zest, perfect with seafood and grilled meats!

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: facebook.com/PlatinumBia

We’ve also included the address of their new tap room that will be opening shortly.

Upcoming tap room location: 61 Phùng Khắc Khoan, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1

Places to try their beer:

Saigon Grill - Top floor terrace, 91 Pasteur, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1   
Thóc Grill & Craft Beer -101 Đề Thám, Cô Giang Ward, District 1   
Quan Ut Ut - 60 Trường Sa, P. 17, Bình Thạnh District

Tê Tê Craft Beer

Started by a group of advertorial experts who are immensely passionate about beer, Tê Tê Craft beer has become one of the most recognisable local brands in Ho Chi Minh City. Tê Tê currently offers 3 distinct beers: their signature Belgian-style White Ale (5.5% ABV, 19 IBU), a citrusy Electric IPA (5.8% ABV, 45 IBU) and a recently introduced Irish-inspired Mellow Red (5.2% ABV, 25 IBU) that is both smooth and earthy with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, something that’s swiftly becoming the talk of the town.

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: facebook.com/tetecraftbeer

Places to try their beer:

Ong Cao Craft Beer - 240 Bùi Viện, Phạm Ngũ Lão Ward, District 1  
Biacraft Artisan Ales - 1 Lê Ngô Cát, Ward 7, District 3  
Malt Saigon - 46 Mạc Thị Bưởi, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1

Mad Dragon

This nano-sized brewery has been concocting delicious beers since 2017 and is featured on the guest taps of many craft beer venues in Saigon. They are also a mainstay at Saigon Outcast’s Craft Beer festival that is organized several times every year. Mad Dragon’s Citra Majak American Pale Ale (5.8% ABV, 23 IBU) sports great balance of malt while delivering both citrus and floral aroma notes thanks to the addition of Citra hops, one of the most sought after in the market and known for its intense fragrance and flavour. The American Wheat Beer (7.1% ABV, 17 IBU) is a Belgian Abbey-inspired (monastic beer) American Wheat Ale brewed with honey malts, coriander and sweet orange peel making it irresistible, though tread lightly because it packs a punch!

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: Mad Dragon - by Mervin Lee

Places to try their beer:

Malt Saigon - 46 Mạc Thị Bưởi, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1  
Malt South - Green View, 35 Nguyễn Lương Bằng, Tân Phú Ward, District 7  
Saigon Craft - 68 Lý Long Tường, Tân Phong Ward, District 7   
Urban Basement - 135 - 137 Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Thành Ward, District 1

Fuzzy Logic

One of the first craft breweries in Saigon, Fuzzy Logic was launched in 2012 by two American expats who recognized the lack of non-commercial beer choices in Ho Chi Minh City. Fuzzy Logic currently brews a total of five different beers and plans to expand to 12 styles in the near future. The Fuzzy Logic Pale Ale (5.4% ABV, 32 IBU) is a vibrant and hoppy American Pale Ale (APA) that combines hints of grapefruit with toasty malt flavours. The Celestial Blonde (4.7% ABV, 25 IBU) is also a hit among craft beer fans, refreshing, fragrant and ridiculously sessionable. For something really special, try their Hibiscus IPA (6.8% ABV, 55 IBU) that is brewed using fresh Hibiscus flowers, the stunning red hue is completely natural!

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: facebook.com/fuzzylogicbrewing

Places to try their beer:

Rogue Saigon - Floor 2, 13 Pasteur, Nguyễn Thái Bình Ward, District 1  
Biacraft - 1 Lê Ngô Cát, Ward 7, District 3   
Malt South - Green View, 35 Nguyễn Lương Bằng, Tân Phú Ward, District 7

Mekong Brewing Co.

These guys brew for an admirable cause. A percentage of Mekong Brewing Co’s profits goes to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for the conservation of endangered Asian elephants and rhinos. All fruits and spices used to make their signature beers are grown locally, a match made in heaven when paired with international hops and fresh grains. The Blue Elephant IPA (7.1% ABV, 70 IBU) is malty and hoppy with an amazingly dry finish, something that is considered truly American. The Albino Rhino Double IPA (9% ABV, 82 IBU) also pays tribute to beautiful land mammals while satisfying even the pickiest of IPA connoisseurs. Ultra-hoppy with hints of pine and citrus that actively permeate your olfactory system, this tough gun finishes dry just like its gentle trunked brother.

Mekong Brewing Co. also plans to showcase a limited edition Saison and Christmas Ale for Saigon Outcast’s Beerfest on 8th December 2018. Stay tuned!

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: Mekong Brewing Co.

Places to try their beer:

Rogue Saigon - Floor 2 13 Pasteur, Nguyễn Thái Bình Ward, District 1  
Saigon Craft - 68 Lý Long Tường, Tân Phong Ward, District 7  
Biacraft - 1 Lê Ngô Cát, Ward 7, District 3

Dong Son Craft Beer

This brewery only produces one style of beer but they sure know how to do it well. The Dong Son Golden Ale (4.6% ABV, 27 IBU) is the brainchild of its founder Dzung Phan, who decided that it was apt to combine traditional brewing methods with both German and Australian malts. Cascade hops add a tropical fruit scent to Dong Son’s Golden Ale while the pleasant aroma of Columbus hops is reminiscent of pine, something we consider warm and homely. A beer that appeals to both locals and foreigners and engineered to be a perfect pairing for Vietnamese food.

Best Craft Beer Breweries in SaigonImage source: facebook.com/dongsoncraftbeer

Places to try their beer:

Rehab Station - 27/6 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Đa Kao Ward, District 1  
Quan Lao Tru - 14 Song Hành, Thảo Điền Ward, District 2  
Ong Cao Craft Beer - 240 Bùi Viện, Phạm Ngũ Lão Ward, District 1

Banner Image source: Pasteur Street Brewing Company


Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

By: Uyen Vu

Whether it is sunny or rainy, hot or cold, or you’re busy or laid-back, young or old, it is always a good idea to refresh yourself with a cup of pearl milk tea, also known as bubble tea. Pearl milk tea is a tea-based drink invented in Taiwan – a delicious mixture of tea, milk, chewy tapioca balls (the ‘pearls’) and/or fruit jelly.
Below are our hand-picked bubble tea shops among those that are currently popular in Saigon.

1. Phuc Long

The Phuc Long brand has become very popular over the last few years. It was founded in the 1960s in Bao Loc, Lam Dong province, which is famous for its tea. The official name is Phuc Long Tea & Coffee but it is mainly known for its milk tea. You won’t find the common pearl toppings of the Taiwanese milk-tea style that is so popular in Vietnam. Don’t be disappointed because you will get addicted to it with just a little sip.

Phuc Long Tea & Coffee - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Phuc Long has a reputation for high quality coffee and milk tea. Its patrons are mostly young professionals or middle-aged people because it generally charges a higher price for premium ingredients. The three busiest shops are on Mac Thi Buoi, Nguyen Huy and in Crescent Mall. The one in Crescent Mall is spacious and well-decorated, while the other two have quite limited space and may get cramped and noisy on the weekend.
Address 1: 63 Mac Thi Buoi Str., D1
Address 2: 39 Nguyen Hue Str., D1
Price range: 35.000–40.000VND/cup
Address 3: Ground Floor, Crescent Mall, Ton Dat Tien Str., D7
Price range: 45.000–60.000VND/cup

2. Chatime

A famous bubble tea brand in Taiwan, the country that gave birth to pearl milk tea back in 1980s, Chatime im/mediately attracted lots of fans when it was introduced to Vietnam. With over 70 choices, anyone can find a mixture they like.

Chatime Vietnam - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Chatime’s bubble tea flavours range from strongly aromatic bubble tea to refreshing fruit, from “oriental pop tea” to modern smoothies, or as exotic as QQ Jelly (a combination of traditional ‘pearls’ and coconut jelly). The most popular topping is, of course, its home-made pearl. Chatime’s bubble tea is generally sweet but you can ask the staff to customize the sweetness to your taste.
Unfortunately Chatime is a bit expensive for student market it is trying to attract.
Address 1: Floor B2-17, Vincom B, D1
Address 2: 98 Le Thanh Ton Str., D1
Price range: 38.000–48.000VND/cup

3. Tien Huong

Tien Huong emerged on the market only two years ago but already has a number of shops across Saigon. It has quickly become a favourite among Saigon youth.

Tien Huong - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

The flagship drink on Tien Huong’s menu is fresh milk tea with tapioca. The pronounced flavour of the tea with the sweetness of milk makes this drink really delicious. Unlike other places, Tien Huong only makes the tea when you order. Your order takes a bit longer to be processed but it’s worth the wait.
The drawback is that Tien Huong shops are often small and you may have a hard time finding a seat.
Address 1: 175B Cach Mang Thang 8 Str., Ward 5, D3
Address 2: 789 Tran Hung Dao, Ward 1, D5
Price range: 22.000–32.000VND/cup

4. Hot & Cold

Hot & Cold is probably the pioneer milk tea shop when it comes to letting customers customize their drink. The process is easy, quick and intuitive. After choosing your favourite milk tea, you proceed to pick the toppings, flavour and pudding. The two most popular combos here are Combo Hawaii Cocktail and Combo Milk Smoothie.

Hot & Cold Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Besides milk tea, you could try a variety of skewers, such as prawn tempura, four-color shrimp-ball stuffed with taro, surimi, crab ball stuffed with green sticky rice, and swirl fries. Most Hot & Cold shops are decorated colorfully and have big, air-conditioned spaces. They are also among the cheapest in town and have become popular among teens.
The only downside is that waiters/waitresses are really slow and sometimes quite rude to customers.
Address: 100 Tran Hung Dao Str., D1
Price range: 14.000–30.000VND/cup


Can Vietnam Produce Quality Coffee?

By: City Pass Guide

Meet The Expert: Interview With a Coffee Master

On a sunny Thursday in August, we went to The Workshop, an artisan coffee shop on Ngo Duc Ke street in Saigon’s District 1, to meet with Dung, a true expert on coffee in Vietnam. The Workshop is located in the same part of the street as Tandoor, but well hidden. Only a blue sign by the entrance indicates that a pearl of worldwide artisan coffee culture can be found upstairs.

The Workshop is nicely decorated with wooden elements. It appears like a mix of modern designer café and coffee science museum, the tools of trade exhibited in shelves along the walls. In the center there is the bar, where the trained staff performs the brewing process in front of your eyes. There is original artwork on the walls and we instantly felt at home. We met Dung in the conference room adjacent to the spacious guest area. We introduced ourselves and he immediately started talking about coffee.

Dung Tuan Nguyen’s first experience with coffee was when he was two years old. His mother gave him coffee and the rest of the night he spend walking around the bed - to the very displeasure of his father who had to get up early. He really started drinking coffee when he was 12 or 13 years old. By the time he was in high school, he used the delicious brew to survive his tests.

As a trained architect it was hard to find good work in Vietnam, so he switched between project management and hotel consultancy, until he found his passion in coffee.

Working in the coffee business makes Dung feel good, and doing something that changes the fundamental thoughts people have about coffee is fun. His passion for the bean and the confident conversation that comes right to the point shows he knows as much about coffee as the second man.

[Answers are paraphrased for purposes of brevity and readability.]

City Pass: What makes coffee so attractive to people?

Dung: There are several things that make us love coffee. First the reaction of our body and mind to the caffeine. It makes us alert, excites us and makes the brain work better. Second, the cafés became an intellectual and social place for doing business or politics. And third, it tastes good and smells even better. Alone the smell of coffee makes people happy, even those who don’t drink coffee.

City Pass: Tell us about the significance of coffee in Vietnam.

Dung: Since the French introduced the coffee plant around 150 years ago, Vietnam became the second biggest producer in the world, right after Brazil. The country is number one in growing robusta. Since 1993, the government focuses on mass production, so many arabica plantations got destroyed and replaced. Today, 99.9% of the coffee grown in Vietnam is robusta and catimor, but the quality is rather poor.

Unroasted Coffee Beans

City Pass: What is the difference between robusta and arabica?

Dung: Apart from the great difference in taste and the shape of the beans, the trees are very distinct. The arabica tree has 22 pairs of chromosomes, while the robusta tree has only 11 pairs. Robusta is, as the name already indicates, very robust and grows in lower altitudes. Arabica trees need much more attention and care. One hectare of arabica trees yields about seven tons of coffee, while the same area planted with robusta gives three times as much, but of low quality.

City Pass: What is the main constraint associated with the production of more arabica coffee in Vietnam?

Dung: People don’t care about the quality of the coffee. There is not much commitment from the buyer’s side, since they want a high production and a cheaper price. You have to go directly to the farmer and work with him. Just staying in the city and ordering the beans you want remotely is a bourgeois attitude. There are a lot of wealthy farmers in Cau Dat, but many coffee farmers of other regions of Da Lat, like Lang Biang for example, are poor and have to borrow from loan sharks to survive. At harvest time they collect every cherry to pay the interest. Farmers in debt are very common. If you really help them and be transparent about what you do, they trust you and are willing to enter a long-term relationship.

City Pass: How is coffee, especially more sophisticated specialities, perceived in Vietnam?

Dung: In Vietnam, coffee has to be thick, black and bitter. That pretty much sums it up. But I am not trying to convert hardcore traditional coffee drinkers. I rather target people who love to drink good coffee, people overseas, people who usually don’t drink coffee and expats.

Syphon Coffee Maker

City Pass: What is the greatest weakness of Vietnamese coffee?

Dung: One of the greatest weaknesses of the country is that Vietnam doesn’t have an international brand, not even international recognition when it comes to coffee despite being the second largest exporter in the world. The big brands in Vietnam just screw the people. They just want to get the cheap coffee and are obsessed with tons, even if they say they care. It is the same as with rice.

City Pass: How is the opportunity to create a brand around Vietnam?

Dung: We are at an age where quality and moral production becomes more important. In order to do that you have to be an authentic person, passionate and have a love for what you do. We have to do things properly.

City Pass: What is the most important aspect in your work with farmers and customers?

Dung: Transparency. Everything has to be done transparent. If you offer a single-source product, it is pointless if you can’t name the farm where the coffee comes from. Several companies claim to source locally and sustainably, but they don’t disclose the origin. It really is all a matter of transparency and trust.

City Pass: Tell us something about the taste of coffee.

Dung: Dark roasted coffee usually tastes bitter and burned. When you roast light, you bring out the specific types, which we divide into seven general categories: Floral, fruity, herbal, honey/molasses, acidic/wine-ish. There is a lot of fruitiness in Kenyan and Colombian beans, while coffee from Laos, Panama and Ethiopia is more floral. Vietnamese coffee is more fruity than floral. Check out the taste wheel at scaa.org to get a better idea of the flavors.

Chemex Coffee Maker

City Pass: How to create a perfect cup?

Dung: Nothing is perfect. Working with artisan coffee is a world of trying and experimenting. In the past, people thought dark roasted beans make the best coffee. The community of speciality coffee lovers discovered that roasting light brings out the best flavors. We always try new things.

But to make a good cup of coffee, you need great beans, filtered water and the right temperature.

However, the most important piece of equipment is the grinder. Invest in your grinder. You can buy a decent machine for around VND 700,000 up to VND 2,500,000. Electric grinders may be even pricier. The coffee should be ground evenly and not like dust or sand.

Conclusion:

If you crave to taste Dung’s expertise firsthand, I recommend visiting The Workshop in 27 Ngo Duc Ke, Ben Nghe, District 1 ( on the 2nd floor) yourself. Pick one of the three beans they have on the menu, combine it with your favorite brewing method and you’re ready to go.

The Workshop - Speciality Coffee in Saigon


A Chat with Cafe RuNam

By: Aleksandr Smechov


Citypassguide.com sat down with Chris Ngo, Cafe RuNam’s Chief Operating Officer, to discuss how Cafe RuNam is slowly changing locals’ minds about the concept of “pure” Vietnamese coffee. Through a meticulous selection process where only a minor percentage of beans make it through inspections, Cafe RuNam is all about consistent quality and traditional taste. It even took their Italian roastmaster months to achieve the perfect blends of Arabica and Robusta beans for the brand.


Citpassguide.com: What does “RuNam” mean?

Chris: Ru is understood as a lullaby song for a child, Nam stands for Vietnam, of course, since this is a Vietnamese brand. RuNam is “the lullaby of Vietnam”, the spiritual baby to be flourished with love, care and affection, bringing the best Vietnamese coffee to the world.

CPG: Who is behind Cafe RuNam?

Chris: Mr. Nguyen Quoc Khanh and his wife Mrs. Ly Q. K. Trinh. Mr. Khanh, Chairman of AA Corporation, an established construction company specializing in premium interior design, is taking care of the basic construction and designs of RuNam restaurants while Mrs. Trinh is the soul of the brand, a perfectionist. Her personal touch and exaggerated expectations are shown in the little details of our cafes.

CPG: How do you roast your beans?

Chris: We have our own roasting facility and coffee testing lab located in Binh Duong province. Our Italian Roastmaster has been researching for suitable roasting methods for Vietnamese coffee blends. There are several blends of Cafe RuNam differentiated by the percentage of arabica and robusta in the mix and roasting timing according to specific temperature adjustment. There are also many different types of each bean, so the entire process of finding the right method of roasting this mix was much more complex than simply roasting one type of bean. The difference of a perfectly roasted coffee and a burned coffee is the matter of seconds.

CPG: How are you bringing “pure” coffee to Vietnam?

Chris: What locals often drink in streetside cafes is not necessarily coffee. So introducing a pure coffee, without additives or artificial flavors like caramel, soybeans, corns was a crazy idea at first. From the locals’ perception, this is not real coffee, but we patiently change that perception by introducing the highest quality blends from our homemade production, from highly selected fresh green beans to monitoring the roasting process to crafting each coffee cup under consistent training procedures, as well as regular system audits from RuNam barista artists. Therefore we believe the culinary marriage of Vietnamese coffee beans with Italian roasting techniques works well. As a result, we currently have a large number of loyal customers and fans who love our coffee and the soul behind it.

CPG: Do you have additives in your coffee?

Chris: No. We use 100% coffee beans. That is the most challenging factor we’ve faced in the first several months of preparations before introducing our blends to the market. In the beginning, most Vietnamese coffee drinkers didn’t like the taste. This is something really new for them. We started to explain to our customers the reasons behind the taste and how it’s different with what they usually have. If they still don’t like it we can change the beverage or give them their money back.

CPG: Do you have a secret ratio for your blends of arabica and robusta?

Chris: Actually, this depends on the roastmaster. Depending on the season and the beans and the taste, he decides what is best suitable according to our blend guidelines and standard SOPs.

CPG: Do you import any coffee beans?

Chris: No. We use 100% Vietnamese beans. Although it’s very difficult to find good arabica here in Vietnam. The coffee growing conditions in the highlands is challenging for producing good arabica. Our roasting master has to occasionally sample different sources of beans from different plantations in order to keep up the quality and consistency of the coffee blends.

CPG: What are your best sellers?

Chris: Our ca phe sua da, ca phe da and cappuccino. These three have been the favorite of our customers. We received numerous compliments for our coffee drink menu. I have been tasting different Vietnamese coffee or cappuccinos whenever I travel or during my free time, I couldn’t find anything like it. The ambassador of Italy came to Vietnam in early 2015, and she first came to Cafe RuNam to have a cup of cappuccino, which was recommended to her by the previous ambassador. She loves it.

CPG: How did you personally get into coffee?

Chris: I got to learn about coffee when I was with KFC Singapore when we started to launch KFC breakfast. Before joining Cafe RuNam I was the Training and Development Manager for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I was sent overseas for barista training. I was a barista judge for some competitions. I was trained again with the RuNam roastmaster. The company sponsored me, some key managers and key baristas for Espresso Italiano Experience Seminar by International Institute of Coffee Tasters (IICT – Italy branch) to get myself ready for Cafe RuNam.

CPG: Have you created a signature Cafe RuNam coffee drink?

Chris: We have Madam RuNam, an iced latte with condensed milk and some secret ingredients. Also Sand Dune: a very unique coffee alcohol drink with Kahlua, Bailey's and some in-house ingredients. Besides those, we have many delicious in-house creations coming soon.

CPG: Who are your customers?

Chris: Café RuNam’s customers are comprised of following target groups: affluent local residents, middle to upper class tourists, local business people, the young at heart.

This depends on our store locations. In the South, it’s mostly Vietnamese and Việt Kiều. In the Center, it’s mostly tourists. And in the North, it’s like in the South - mostly Vietnamese and Việt Kiều.

CPG: Have you started exporting your beans?

Chris: Yes, we already have partner restaurants in several countries. However, the production at the moment is pretty tight since getting quality beans is difficult right now. We have a list of potential domestic and international customers who proposed to be partners with Cafe RuNam, but we’re not ready for this at the moment.

CPG: What’s the future of RuNam?

Chris: We’re in the process of spreading our brands to all the big cities in Vietnam where our main target customers are located. We already have our focus on the premium coffee market. Therefore selecting distribution partners or cafes needs a proper process of brand evaluation. We send barista trainers to the partner facility to train them on brewing, crafting and displaying coffee products according to Cafe RuNam standards. For long term, we plan to bring the best of Vietnamese coffee to the world.

CPG: How many cups of coffee do you drink every day?

Chris: About four to nine cups [laughs]. On some days I can’t even open my eyes without going to work getting a coffee. And when I’m on holiday, well, those are hell. I try to drink other brands, but nothing comes close to what I want. I usually have cappuccinos, ca phe sua das, espressos. I must have two to three cups of cappuccino and/or cafe sua da a day, at least! That’s just my life. Do you want another cup of coffee?

CPG: How do you educate yourself about coffee?

Chris: I read about it. I research about it. I sign up for quality coffee courses. I practice crafting coffee whenever I can. Recently, I started writing about it. Besides coffee knowledge, my writing also includes how coffee became a part of my life, my search for answers about the coffee industry and culture, and how coffee got me where I am standing today. I share what I write with my team. I may publish it one day when I am ready for the fame it may get me. For now, I want to stay focus flourishing my spiritual RuNam baby.

CPG: Do you like to drink any other coffee in town?

Chris: I actually check around every day to try different coffee. If I know any new coffee shop that just opened I check out their coffees. Traveling to any new city, I try the coffee there. Coffee is mostly my life, having a good cup of coffee everywhere I go, for me, is a way of indulging in life.

CPG: Anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered?

Chris: We are promoting not just coffee but Vietnam’s traditional aspects to our customers. One of the distinguishing symbols of Cafe RuNam is the art of the coffee filter (phin). For the foreign friends, if you come in a small group, and you want to learn more about the coffee phin making process, we have well-trained barista artists (or you could simply ask for me, I am usually based in Ho Chi Minh City) to personally present the uniqueness of the Vietnamese coffee filter culture for you and your guests.


Meet the Expert: GM of Starbucks

By: City Pass Guide

We went to Starbucks on 76 Le Lai street, Ben Thanh, to meet and interview Patricia Marques, General Manager of Starbucks Vietnam about living in Vietnam, opening new markets and the strengths of Vietnamese coffee beans.

CityPassGuide.com: How long have you been in Vietnam and what holds you, personally, here?

I arrived five years ago, and just three days later I knew that I wanted to stay here. I lived in many countries before and for me it’s easy to adapt to other cultures. However, Vietnam instantly felt like Latin America. The traffic, the chaos and the reason behind this chaos, it really feels like home.

CityPassGuide.com: What is your greatest pet peeve in Vietnam?

At work? Punctuality is really an issue.

CityPassGuide.com: You brought Starbucks to Vietnam?

I have been here for five years, but yes, I started the Starbucks Vietnam adventure almost three years ago. Myself, I started my career around 11 years ago as a barista in San Mateo, California. At that time, Starbucks had “only” 400 stores worldwide.

CityPassGuide.com: What draws Starbucks to Vietnam?

The Maxims Group in Hong Kong and Macao had a license for Starbucks in Vietnam and we felt the market was ready. In most other Asian countries we had already opened branches; Vietnam, as the second largest exporter of coffee in the world, was the next logical step.

CityPassGuide.com: What were the main obstacles of expanding to Vietnam?

Believe it or not, establishing a big brand faces obstacles in every country around the world. In Vietnam the issues were just of a different nature, that’s what made it our unique Vietnamese experience. But in a way it was easier to establish the business in an existing coffee culture like Vietnam. In other Asian countries you need to convert the tea drinkers first, but here you are just another player.

CityPassGuide.com: Speaking of other players, Highlands Coffee, Phuc Long and others have Vietnamese coffee on the menu, why not Starbucks?

First, we have. There are in fact two Vietnamese-style items on the menu. Asian Dolce Latte and Dolce Misto are inspired by ca phe sua da, done the Starbucks way. But adapting completely to the Vietnamese taste would take away our uniqueness. Many of our customers are used to Starbucks from other countries. When they come to Vietnam, they want to visit a Starbucks.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the most popular beverage in Vietnam?

From the cold section it’s the Green Tea Frappuccino. Especially people who are not used to drinking coffee are drawn towards this beverage. Among the hot drinks, it’s definitely the Latte.

CityPassGuide.com: Are there differences in consumption between the South and the North?

Definitely. First, in the North we have seasons and the consumption changes between winter and summer. In Saigon, there is no winter, so most of the hot drinks and drip coffees are consumed by foreigners.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the ratio of foreign customers?

Low, actually less than 5 percent.

CityPassGuide.com: How is Starbucks contributing to a sustainable development in Vietnam?

I believe we are an innovator. We have a very clear career path and already there are four or five stores in Ho Chi Minh City that are managed by Vietnamese former baristas. Also we build all our stores with respect to local material, with local construction partners and local artists.

CityPassGuide.com: How much coffee do you actually source in Vietnam?

Let me explain how our coffee works. There is the Starbucks Coffee Company who sources coffee all over the world, also in Vietnam. They roast, blend, package and distribute the product to all shops. Since we opened Starbucks Vietnam, they listened to us and pay closer attention to Vietnamese arabica beans.

CityPassGuide.com: What are the chances of Vietnamese coffee beans on the international market?

Vietnam sits in a golden chair, especially since it’s the largest producer of robusta beans worldwide. If we work with the farmers, we can especially push for arabica, the potential is enormous there.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the best coffee region for arabica in Vietnam?

Da Lat. The region has exactly what the arabica plants like and the cherries are especially beautiful, an important criteria for excellent coffee.

CityPassGuide.com: How much coffee do you drink per day?

One cup, drip coffee.


Top 5 Sports Bars in HCMC

By: Phuong Tran

 

Finding the 5 best sports bars in Ho Chi Minh City was not an easy task as the options are almost endless. We visited as much as we could on one liver and deliver you below our top 5 picks.

You can watch in those pubs almost all the typical international sporting events. They are usually packed on big soccer nights when Premier League, Champion's' League or World Cup matches are screened. Other popular events include the Olympic Games, UFC Fighting, Australian Football (AFL), Basketball (NBA), American Football (NFL) and Hockey (NFL).

You should note that each nationality usually favors its own sports bar. Phatty's for instance is usually most popular with Australians.

 

1) Pacharan

Pacharan is a restaurant first, but it is popular for watching sports in Saigon as well, especially with the Iberic fans. Located directly opposite the Park Hyatt Hotel in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, Pacharan Spanish restaurant is spread over four floors. Feast on dishes such as tender chorizo, marinated anchovies, chillied gambas, bean stew, parsley and garlic-sauteed baby mushrooms, white-wine clams and marinated pork skewers.

Or try authentic paella for a real taste of Spain while supporting La Roja. .

97 Hai Ba Trung, D1 HCMC

2) Papagayo Restaurant & Bar

This French Mediterranean restaurant serves pizza and onion soup, and a special discount on Tiger draught and Heineken just for the World Cup. Open for all matches until 3am.

18 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien, D2 HCMC


3) Red Bar

Red Bar is one of the most popular bar in the city and it is always a good choice when it comes to sport. Network or simply mix and mingle at Red Bar Saigon. The international menu is ever-changing, from fish and chips to chateaubriand.


The craziest thing about Red Bar? Its Happy Hour is the longest in HCMC and goes from 9am to 9pm every day! It’s also one of the only smoke-free bars in town. So, if you are Dutch or a non-smoker, Red bar is your home for watching sports in Saigon.

70-72 Ngo Duc Ke, D1 HCMC

4) Boomarang Bistro Saigon

If you are in District 7, don’t worry, you are not too far from the fun. In fact, there’s a fabulous bar in the Crescent named Boomarang where you can enjoy authentic Australian cuisine, and of course, shout your favourite football team’s name.

CR-2 3-4 107 Tôn Dật Tiên, PMH D7, HCMC

5) Phatty's

The premier hub for Aussie expats, Phatty's serves a selection of tempting Aussie burgers and BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwiches, gourmet chicken fillets and succulent steaks. When a big event is on, Phatty’s does not hesitate to pull all-nighters.

46 Ton That Thiep, D1, HCMC

Further Suggestions for the best sports bars in Saigon:


- Chill Sky Bar26th & 27th Floor Rooftop, AB Tower, 76A Le Lai, D1 HCMC

- The Alps (German), 54 Pasteur, Ward Ben Nghe, D1, HCMC

- The Cube Bar, 31B Ly Tu Trong, D1, HCMC

- Lotte Legend Saigon, 2A-4A Ton Duc Thang, Ben Nghe Ward, D1, HCMC

- The Orient Bar, 24 Ngo Van Nam, D1, HCMC

- Game On - Sports Pub Saigon - 115 Hồ Tùng Mậu, Bến Nghé, District 1, HCMC

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