Like most major cities Ho Chi Minh City has its own thriving cafe scene. From the cheapest street ‘ca phe’ or fresh fruit juice to a wallet-stripping cappuccino amidst high-class upholstery, free wifi and “luxury” aircon, Saigon’s cafes offer some of the best coffees and freshest drinks in Asia.
Coffee was introduced to Vietnam in 1857 by the French and began to develop as a major agricultural export in the decades following the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975. Production skyrocketed at the end of the 20th century with a new 1986 government initiative, and by 2014 Vietnam had topped Brazil as the largest global exporter of Robusta and Arabica beans.
Within the country coffee is also a popular drink, served hot or with ice, and with condensed milk or black. But Vietnam is not only famed for its coffee exports and sugar-rich caffeine hits. Locals of all ages frequent the city’s cafe scene for a juice, smoothies or oddly delicious bubble-tea, to sip at their beverage and chat about life. Cafes in Ho Chi Minh City are about relaxation, conversation and social life.
Given its overwhelming sweetness and buttery tang, drinking Vietnamese coffee can be an upping experience. Black or with condensed milk, hot or cold, ‘ca phe’ is something that every traveler must try when they visit this country. And where better than the streets of busy Saigon?
Roasted in butter and sometimes fish-sauce, Vietnamese coffee is thicker and sweeter than what you’re probably used to. With ice or without, it’s bound to wake you up and keep you buzzing for hours. Grab a coffee to go in the typical miscellaneous plastic cup, or join those smiling local women on their lawn chairs and sip from a glass mug. You can guarantee they’ll be drinking one of these four:
• cà phê sữa đá: “ca-fey-sew-da” - coffee with condensed milk and ice
• cà phê đá (đen): “ca-fey-da” - “den” meaning “black,” this will get you a coffee with ice but no milk. Still sweet though!
• cà phê sữa nóng: “ca-fey-sew-nom” - hot coffee with condensed milk.
• cà phê đen: “ca-fey-den” - just black coffee!
But maybe you’re not a fan of the “high-sugar, hard-hitting caffeine fix” that Vietnamese coffee promises. Is the notion of coffee and milk and sweetness, and potentially ice, just too much for you? Never fear! The cafe scene in Ho Chi Minh City extends well beyond plastic cups and street vendors. The glories of a simple latte are very much available.
Ranging from VND 30,000 to over VND 60,000 depending on where you go, Italian coffee is fast gaining popularity among the Saigonese. From Starbucks to the local chains Highlands Coffee or Trung Nguyen, there are a plethora of air-conditioned coffee houses around this city offering free wifi, delicious drinks, and often cupcakes, biscuits or cookies to go along. There are also many local boutique shops which house some of the best coffee in Ho Chi Minh City for half the price, and you will find the best of these in our listings. From espresso to a condensed milk heart-attack, Saigon has much to offer on the coffee front.
Though coffee is the favorite for street vendors and chains alike, Ho Chi Minh City’s cafes do offer a variety of non-caffeinated drinks. Stop at a street smoothie stall for a delicious blend of fresh fruit, milk and ice, or enjoy some fragrant iced tea with your lunch. Many of the city’s cafes also offer the usual cafe repertoire of tea, soda (either canned or freshly mixed from syrups), rich chocolate milkshakes and fresh juice. Matcha tea is also a popular drink, and is often served as a latte or with fresh milk.