Craft Breweries in Saigon: A Complete Guide

By: City Pass Guide

Craft brewing is well and truly established in Saigon. To the delight of travellers and expatriates, what once was the preserve of the German and Czech beer houses has now spread into a genuine craft beer culture within the city. Companies like Vespa Adventures even provide regular craft beer tours.

Beer drinking is not one of those things where everyone finds one they like and sticks to it. Of course, some have their favourites to which they will continually return. But for the vast majority it’s a case of sampling all the different brews and comparing flavours. The time of day, your mood, what you are eating and even the weather all come into play. This is a great time to be in Vietnam and a terrific time to check out all the different breweries.

Before we get to the actual brewers, a special mention must go to Gert Keersmaekers. Gert’s name came up time and again when I was interviewing the brewers. He has a background in IT and started off in the IT industry here in Saigon. Bored with the lager scene, he decided to home brew. Then started to import beer ingredients, coincidentally at the same time as the other guys started brewing. He began manufacturing beer brewing systems here. From 35-litre home brew kits, that have a footprint of only one square metre, to 8,000 litre systems.

So with impeccable timing just as craft brewing in Saigon took off, so did Gert. He now has 12 employees and a new 600 square metre factory. The order books are completely full. Gert seems to be the common denominator among all the brewers in Saigon. His company Craft Brewer Vietnam makes kegerators and glycol systems, which are starting to show up all over the city.

So who are the people behind the Craft brewing in Saigon?

Platinum Beers

Platinium Beer

Michael Comerton hails from Belfast and came to Saigon in 2008 to set up a brewery. He was looking for investors at a time when he only had Heineken as the main foreign competitor. Initial concerns were allayed by the lack of craft brewing in Saigon. Michael went to Australia and spent ten years brewing and setting up a few brewpubs for James Squire. From 2004 to 2007, he ran Matilda Bay Brewing company, Australia’s original craft brewer. Michael then started brewing for other companies under licence and also started selling to supermarkets. He then decided to launch Platinum in 2014.

Platinum was the first producer of craft beer in Ho Chi Minh City after the German and Czech instigators. Their Platinum Pale Ale has been a constant good seller and is available in more than 50 outlets throughout the city now, and as of June, they are selling in Hanoi as well. In August 2014 Michael’s brother decided to join him from Brazil where he was working, and is now Head of Hoperations at Platinum. Later, the pale ale was introduced to its new stable mate, Platinum Golden Ale, which is also selling consistently well.

The brothers’ future aim is to develop a range of beers for the market, to bring more flavours and choices to their customers. Platinum Beers are made using 100% natural ingredients. The brew length is now 10,000 litres and they are keeping busy at their Cu Chi brewery, as well as their cool District 1 headquarters. This includes a great venue for training and events.

Platinum classics are:

Platinum Pale Ale 4.5% ABV

This is where it all began for the brewery and this light-tasting hoppy beer has become well established in Saigon. It has a rich sparkling golden colour and a clean fresh taste.

Platinum Golden Ale 4.6% ABV

This has a distinctive golden-red colour, and maintains a refreshing flavour. The bitterness is balanced by the fullness of the malt. A great beer to enjoy with your pizza.

Pasteur Street Brewing Company

Pasteur Street

The guys at Pasteur Street Brewery have established themselves very quickly, in many people’s eyes, as the leader of the pack when it comes to craft brewing in Saigon.

Universally acclaimed, they go from strength to strength. It was started by two Americans: John Reid who has a background in hospitality, and who had worked in restaurants, a German beer-house and a deli in America, and Alex Violette, who was the brewer at Upslope Brewing Company, in Boulder, Colorado. In the early days they got, and they acknowledge this, a lot of help from friends, and now produce over 70 different beers, rotating them whilst they keep their top sellers as permanent fixtures at their tasting room on Pasteur.

This business really has grown organically, though at such a rate it has taken many by surprise.

Their top selling beers are:

Jasmine IPA, 6.5% ABV

This is a medium bodied IPA with a nice hint of jasmine, which is added after fermentation. Using Citra hops, adds a lovely finish to a beer that has a good floral aroma. It has a bitter but well balanced flavour.

Passion Fruit Wheat Ale 5.5% ABV

This fresh tasting gem is bursting with flavour, Strong on the tangy sweet taste of passionfruit, this is a light-bodied, rather mild beer that is very easy to drink.

Toasted Coconut Porter 6.5% ABV

For those who like the darker side of beerdom, this is an absolute cracker. Rich and dark in both colour and taste, it is packed with caramel, coffee and chocolate flavours. The toasted coconut is a master stroke adding the finish.

Spice Island Saison 7% ABV

Pasteur Street uses fresh lemongrass and world class Phu Quoc pepper to arrive at this amazing, fresh tasting beer. This Belgian farmhouse style beer has the typical cloudy golden colour, and bursts onto the tongue.

Biacraft

(including Quan Ut Ut)

Biacraft

Mark Gustafson had been brewing for 15 years and looked into brewing here a long time ago, originally planning to open a barbecue restaurant with craft beers. He joined forces with Tim Scott and Alvin Deforges. They quickly discovered the negatives of trying to brew in the city; i.e. you are not allowed to. By June 2014 they were selling Platinum on draft at Quan Ut Ut. After much jumping over hurdles, they brewed 300 bottles of beers. After the soft opening Mark was selling 30 bottles per night. He realised he had to limit the beer.

By January 2015 Mark was craft brewing in Saigon on a larger scale. But they couldn’t keep up. At this time Pasteur Street had opened. Now there were Platinum, Pasteur Street, and Fuzzy Logic all selling craft beer in Saigon. By August 2015 they opened the Biacraft bar in District 2. Fuzzy Logic brewed for them under licence. Biacraft opened with six beers: two Platinums, two from Pasteur Street, one from Fuzzy Logic and one from their own stock.

It all took off from here. BiaCraft now has Lucas from Lac brewing a double IPA under licence, and Phat Rooster brews four for them: a pale ale, a blonde, an amber and an IPA. More is to come. The Biacraft venue opened at 1 Le Ngo Cat in District 3, it is even bigger. This bar has 30 taps!

Their top selling beers are:

BiaCraft Blonde 5.2%

A light spicy blonde with good floral aromas. This is very easy to drink and the taste is well balanced with a hint of maltiness.

BiaCraft Pale Ale 5.4%

The Cascade hops provide the citrus finish to this excellent hoppy and sweet pale ale. They achieve a great balance between the hops and the malt.

Biacraft IPA 7.0%

Strong hoppy aromas with citrus and tropical fruit tones backing it up. Elements of other fruits in this quite complex IPA, including grapefruit and passionfruit.

Fuzzy Logic

Fuzzy Logic

Max Crawford and Colin O’Keefe are former teachers turned brewers. Max had moved to the States and started brewing as a hobby. A friend’s parents owned a brew pub in New Mexico, so he took a job as an assistant brewer. He also worked as a beer and wine consultant at a store, making beer as a hobby in his garage. He then returned to Vietnam, intending to open a pub.

Sadly, his funding fell through and a conversation with Colin turned into a business plan to start craft brewing in Saigon. This was about three years ago.

Back then just to build one brewing kit involved travelling all over the city, desperately searching for parts. Fuzzy Logic’s main brewery is in Hoc Mon to the north of the airport. This is a large brewing facility and they contract and monitor their brews from here. Most brews in Vietnam are lagers, whereas West Coast American Pale Ales are more hoppy and therefore the systems need to be different.

At the start they brewed five kegs and took them to a rock gig and sold out in no time. They had a little system brewing 50 litres at a time to try out different styles, which have been sold through Biacraft and at festivals. The brewery’s rise to stardom was meteoric, with an article appearing in the Wall Street Journal. Now they brew 4,000 litres in each batch, with the potential to increase significantly. They are now selling from 15 locations in HCMC and have got into their first venue in Hanoi. They are currently selling 750 litres per week.

Fuzzy Logic Pale Ale is their flagship beer:

Fuzzy Logic Pale Ale 5.4% ABV

Instantly recognisable by its deep amber colour, it has an aroma of citrus and grapefruit and is delightfully hoppy due to the Simcoe and Cascade hops, both classic American hops.

Lạc Brewing Company

Lac Testing Room

The name means lost in Vietnamese, and was inspired by the lost civilisation of Vietnam. Lucas Jans hails from Portland, Oregon, and was inspired by the huge rise in craft beers there. He moved to Saigon working in the IT industry and as with all the other brewers here, simply wanted to be able to get the good stuff in Saigon.

He discovered Quan Ut Ut and was happily drinking them out of product. One day in August 2014, boss Mark Gustavson was injured in a motorbike accident. Lucas began helping out with all the heavy lifting, got more interested in brewing and learnt how to brew there. He started his own craft brewing in Saigon in January 2016. Loving the American IPAs, it was no surprise what his first beer was. Starting off with his Session IPA he added the Devil’s Lake IPA in July 2015. LAC has opened their great looking tasting room on Nguyen Duc Canh in Phu My Hung.

Their two beers are:

Summer IPA 4.9% ABV

A crisp, refreshing beer that, as its name suggests, can be enjoyed in volume. It does though remain an IPA at heart. A light brown, it’s balance between malts and hops, and brings out a citrus aroma with raisin and pine notes.

Devil’s Lake IPA 6.5%

Devil's Lake is an Oregon style IPA. Big on hops it has a pleasing light gold colour and a blueberry, grapefruit and crisp citrus finish.

Tê Tê

Te Te Beers

Tê Tê consists of four founders. Michael Rowland hails from The United States. Spaniard Ruben Martinez and Tobias Briffa from Malta ran Astro Pig, a creative agency, before getting involved with the brewery. Ruben’s brother Luis had experience at a craft brewery in Spain. Luis eventually settled in HCMC, originally hoping to brew for one of the already established breweries, but when he realised that the other three made their own beer, and that it was actually pretty damn good, he got on board. This was in March 2015. The whole year was spent building the brewery and the brand. They started craft brewing in Saigon with 15 litre brews and now make 450 litre brews, making 1,800 litres per month.

The brewery is in Binh Duong, which is out through D9 by Thu Duc. They started off with equipment built by the guys themselves. Now they have a new custom built brewery. Their beer is currently being sold from 17 venues in HCMC, one in Mui Ne and one in Hanoi.

They currently offer just one beer. The four guys are driven and incredibly keen to perfect the product, the company, the distribution, etc. before moving forward.

Tê Tê White Craft Beer 5.6% ABV

This is a fine Belgian style white beer of a cloudy pale yellow appearance that has a real tangy flavour propped up with delicious citrus and fruit notes. It’s a really good session beer and ideally suited to Saigon’s climate.

Phat Rooster

Phat Rooster

This company began craft brewing in Saigon at the start of 2015. Mike Sakkers, who hails from California, graduated in nutritional biochemistry and also worked as an underwater welder. He found himself in Vietnam and, missing great beer, strolled into Quan Ut Ut and was thrilled to find a proper IPA. He met Jeremy Willies, who had just opened Chipotle (now Sanchos) on Bui Vien. He came on board as a partner and handled the marketing. The third partner Joshua Puckett started as an enthusiastic customer he later met Mike and Jeremy and is now the main brewer. Josh is in charge of developing new styles of craft beer.

The first system was making 150 litres at a time, selling originally from Chipotle on Bui Vien. Now they have moved to brewing every other day using a much larger system and selling through Biacraft who having tried the beer, liked it, and started selling it from their D2 outlet. The relationship between the two companies continued to grow. Phat Rooster now brews many BiaCraft’s Beers using their recipes under licence. Meanwhile their own recipes are selling extremely well from about 10 outlets around the city.

The company later set up a 400-square-metre factory in Can Gio directly south of Ho Chi Minh City.

The Phat Rooster official tasting room is Sancho’s Mexican bar and restaurant 207 Bui Vien.

Top sellers are:

Phat Rooster Saigon Blonde 5.5%

This one’s aimed specifically at the palate of session drinking expats and the Vietnamese. This is a an excellent sessions beer, full of light flavours and flowery aromas.

Phat Rooster IPA 6.7%

A truly great American style IPA, bursting with hoppy flavours and holding up against any that I have tasted. Rated on other sites as being only 5.6%, but this is incorrect.

Three on a Bike

Three on a bike

The brewery is very much the new kid on the block, having launched in July 2016. It is the brainchild of Kiwi Lauren Schumacher, and Andy Pazmany and Martin Brinkac from Slovakia. Lauren used to run a craft beer bar in New Zealand and moved to Saigon, met Andy, who has studied molecular biology, and Martin, who was in the F&B industry. When they first arrived, they were all disappointed at the lack of great craft brewing in Saigon.

They decided to start brewing as a hobby, then began to take it more seriously. The three friends were in a taxi on their way to Pasteur Street’s first birthday party when the conversation turned to opening a brewery. It was in the cab that Three on a Bike was born! They launched with two beers, both IPAs, brewing from very small premises. They brew in 50 litre batches and have achieved excellent results very quickly. They have kicked off with these two IPAs and both are very good indeed.

Bohemian Bastard 5.5%

Full of hoppy goodness, the flavour provides an instant hit. American hops provide the bitterness and let’s face it, this beer has one of the best names ever.

Kosmonavt 5.5%

Slightly sweeter than its brother, due to temperature differences in the brewing process. If anything this is even easier to drink. A really good IPA.

East West Brewing Company

East West Brewing Company

This brewery has a big venue in the heart of D1. I met up with Steve Gutierrez and Shawn Scott, two of the men behind this exciting venture. They have brought over Sean Thommen as head brewer. He’s been brewing in the city of Portland, Oregon, for the 10 years. Portland is, of course, regarded as one of the top cities in the U.S. for craft beer. Their outlet on Ly Tu Trong has 1,300 square metres, and offers a 180-square-metre restaurant, as well as a beautifully designed 60-square-metre tasting room that has a custom designed multi-level brewing system. The rest of the space houses their state of the art brewing system, kitchen and back of house.

Winking Seal Beer Company

Winking Seal Company

Mark Nerney and Brian Kekitch met through work in Singapore, when Brian worked in a TV company, Fremantle Media. They visited Saigon in June 2015 and saw the rising tide of craft beer first hand. The third partner is Ben Fazioli who knew Mark back in Denver, previously. Brian had been a homebrewer since 2008. They decided to move here and develop their business plan. Brian arrived here in April 2016, Ben came in July, Mark is still in Singapore but visits every weekend. They have a factory in Kizuna, to the south of the city.

They opened a taproom on Dang Thi Nhu in District 1 in late 2016. The company name comes from Mark’s childhood toy, which is an old stuffed seal, called Sealy, who lost his eye after many years of love. They opened with six of their own beers in the taproom: an IPA, a light session beer, a seasonal beer, a dark beer, a wheat beer and a Belgian style beer.

The Belgian Beer Brewery

Belgian Beer Brewery

Gauthier Lagasse and his partner Francois Schwennicke are two Belgians that have a real love for their national beers. They have been busy working towards their new idea of bringing authentic Belgian beers to Saigon. Indeed, their brewing equipment, brew masters (Pascal and Peter), recipes and most of the ingredients are coming straight from Belgium, in order to brew in the pure Belgian tradition. This enables them to offer true Belgian style beers to the local beer lovers.

The brewing is being done in Long An, but they have also opened a pub and restaurant in D1. While their own Belgian style beers is served on tap, a large choice of Belgian imported beers is available in bottles. The Belgian Beer Brewery has a base of standard beers as they rotate new regular creations. The beer is paired with typical Belgian food; their menu finds the right balance between Vietnamese dishes and Belgian specialities like: mussels and fries; stews; and waffles. The main goal of this truly unique pub is to provide a friendly place to enjoy beers of great quality with a “Belgian Twist”. The pub’s decor is described by Gauthier as “a mix of the absurd and the humorous; Belgium being the home of Surrealism and comic books.”

Heart of Darkness

Heart of the Darkness

Australian-born Brit owner John Pemberton moved to New York in his 20s, where his passion for craft beer was born. Duane Morton (head brewer) is a Kiwi, who lived in the UK for a long time, and has always been interested in beer, home brewing as a student. He moved back to New Zealand in 2010 and decided to train as a brewer. He worked in four breweries in New Zealand and came out here after successfully applying for the job at the Heart of Darkness brewery. John has two other silent but extremely active and supportive partners who have been working hard behind the scenes.

Missing U.S. craft beer, John taught himself to home brew on a homemade 60-litre kit during his eight years in China. John then moved to Vietnam as IKEA’s country manager, and got a custom electric brew system here in Saigon. Now they are the proud owners of a 1,000-square-metre brewery in the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park in Binh Duong.

They have a magnificent 300-square-metre taproom on Ly Tu Trong close to the junction with Hai Ba Trung. They have partnered with one of the premier restaurants in town: Pizza 4P’s. So you can enjoy their craft beer selection paired with some of the best pizzas to be had in town.

The bar is designed to pay tribute to U.S. craft breweries, as well as Saigon at the turn of the 20th century, while still retaining an essence of the book by Joseph Conrad, from which they take their name. Their beer range is extensive and frequently rotated. Their philosophy is about the journey of exploration into the world of craft beer. As both John and Duane are vegetarian, so are the beers; they use extracts from seaweed and not isinglass to clarify the beer.

The future of craft brewing in Saigon looks to be in good hands.

 


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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