Goodbye Ca Phe Phin

By: Nat Paolone

What’s the deal with all these cafes everywhere? Seems we are seeing another 5-10 new cafes opening every time we blink. Do people have more leisure time to hang out and sip coffee and browse Facebook?

Let’s have a look and dive into this nouveau coffee culture blooming in Vietnam, and particularly in Saigon. It used to be: relax and take a sip of traditional Vietnamese coffee, filter sitting on your cup with thick black liquid slowly creeping down as it brews. It may not be the purest form of coffee in the world but it does wake you up! For decades this has been the local standard brew. Then by the early 2000s we began to see some espresso machines around, often reserved for the 5 stars and high-end hangouts. Classy Italian coffees started to be seen, the beginning of the Italian espresso style cafe culture.

Coffee

Established coffee chains, sprawling multiple locations, arrived on the scene. They often appear first in emerging markets, introducing espressobased beverages. Locals then study their style and open their own versions, often pulling off a decent rendition.

One cafe owner suggests the multinationals are not doing so well, contrasting specialty cafes working side by side with the others of their kind to facilitate the growth of the market.

“If we can get along with competitors… if we work together, we can [succeed].”

You may notice the trending signs on cafes proclaiming 100% Cafe Nguyen Chat (Pure Coffee), as the demand for quality coffee grows. Local quality is steadily increasing as farmers, roasters and retailers learn the techniques of brewing, combined with discerning customers aware of the profit-before-quality template. Still, the general consensus is that less than 5% of Saigonese actually seek out pure coffee houses, although the trend is growing. More and more Vietnamese cafes are 100% espresso-based, no longer using the traditional “Phin Ca Phe” for brewing.

So what’s going on? I asked some locals, including specialty cafe owners, customers, and regular cafe owners for their opinions. Let’s take a look what they had to say.

“The coffee market is slowly maturing to accept new specialty coffees,” says Dung, a local cafe owner, as he sips a high grade Kenyan drip.

Kim, a young barista perfecting her latte art at a high-end downtown cafe, believes many Vietnamese are not so concerned whether the coffee is 100% pure, or dry processed, fair traded or even pooped out from our friendly civet cat (Cafe Chon), they just want good coffee!

“If it’s good, they’ll drink it.”

Khoa, a passionate roaster in District 3, describes the cafe explosion as a trendy, follow-the-flock phenomenon. New businesses are trying to cash in on the beans, but few are successful – around 50% in his humble opinion.

“Specialty cafes will prevail as many owners have stakes in local coffee farms helping drive the industry.”

He predicts that the brewing methods of Chemex, Syphon, V60, and his specialty cold-drip will excel.

“Cold drip extracts maximum flavour from the beans in four hours.”

Son, a local cafe owner in Dong Nai Province believes in the past few years Vietnamese have begun seeking pure additive-free coffee. His small roadside cafe between Saigon and Vung Tau is blooming with locals, seeking this virginal brew for an intoxicating quickie. Even here, many customers are seeking pure coffee, lending to his growing success.

Coffee 3

Not only are cafes sprouting exponentially, many are roasting coffee on-site, adding to the ambiance of cafe culture.

“The smell of freshly roasted coffee is evocative, intoxicating and all-round delicious.” - James Hoffman, 2007 World Barista Champion.

Specialty coffee is in its infancy stages, priming the current generation’s palates to build on this coffee knowledge. This new education and awareness of local quality coffee from bean to cup is exciting, especially for a country that produces the most Robusta in the world. This may help kickstart high-end Arabica trade, improving Vietnam’s coffee ranking worldwide.

Despite the renaissance, Saigon remains the epicenter of “pure” cafe culture. Once outside this former pearl of the orient you’ll be very lucky to find “just coffee” in your cup. Espresso-based coffee increases the odds, but there are no guarantees.


The Library: Prohibition-era Nightlife Right in the Heart of Saigon

By: Zody Huynh

Laidback Beats with Playful Accents.

The Man Behind the Bar.

After a long 10-hour work day full of crying, kicking and screaming, from me, not my students, I just wanted to kick back and relax in bed. My boyfriend was witness to how emotionally draining the week had been for me and suggested that I may sleep better after a drink or two. He had to convince me, not because I didn’t want a drink, but sometimes the nightlife in Saigon on a Saturday night is just too much of the things you don’t want: the chaos, the crowds, excessively loud music. It really is just too much. 

Shri Saigon

But I gave in. Dressed up in my leather jacket and gold-studded peep-toe heels. My partner and I made our way to The Library: a once-a-month pop-up bar at the top of SHRI Restaurant & Lounge

Upon arriving to Centec Tower on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai in District 3, we were quietly escorted through the quiet lobby of this business building to the elevators and up to the 23rd floor. I really wasn’t sure what to expect once the elevator doors opened. Would it be complete madness with strobe lights shooting from every corner of the room? Would people be drunkenly stumbling across the floor? The elevator door opened. It’s calm, casual, with a bit of muffled music in the distance. 

Understated Swank

As we walked past SHRI Restaurant & Lounge two charming, dapper, clean-cut men dressed neatly and polished with suspenders guide us towards a looming wall of bookshelves filled with ancient tomes. Slide open the sides of the unassuming bookcase wall and you are lead into... The Library, Saigon’s most interesting speakeasy.

Shri Saigon

Hear me out. Before you get annoyed of the numerous self-proclaimed speakeasy pop-ups sprawling around the city, The Library offers something truly special. It brings a proper understated coolness without the pretentious crowd, and thankfully, The Library isn’t annoying the way you may encounter a speakeasy elsewhere in the world. You don’t need to do a secret entrance ritual like clap 4 times-snap-shimmy-and give a drop of your first-born’s blood. 

Laidback Beats with Playful Accents

I don’t know about most people, but I find it difficult to enjoy the nightlife here simply because I just can’t stand VinaHouse with the speakers about 30 decibels too high. To give you an idea of what 30 decibels too high is like, according to WikiHow, 90 decibels is “likely to cause hearing damage after lengthy exposure” and 120 is “usually immediately painful,” which is exactly what happens every time I’m socially obligated to show up at another Saigon dance club. The repetitive, intense beats quickly become a little tedious and leaves me weary. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for everything, but living in Vietnam has had me yearning for something different. 

Shri Saigon

At The Library, there is a subtle swagger that fills the air between the music, the people, and the ice clanking against the steel bar shakers. It’s like walking into the type of room where you might find Rick James, Snoop Dogg and Seth Rogan casually sitting in the corner chatting away, or Jimi Hendrix and Freddie Mercury comfortably lounging on the deep, crimson red velvet sofa, which lines the side of the bar. I imagine Amy Winehouse smoking her cigarette between sips of her Rickstasy cocktail as she’s listening to Dizzy Gillespie chime in with his musical improvisation.

Shri Saigon

The Library, like the celebs imagined behind this place, is a whimsical, light marrying of hip hop funk, and jazz, yet somehow still very sultry. And the men setting the tone for tonight’s pop up event? Juan Anthony’s impromptu trumpet notes dances and add layers to Miroslav Sakazov a.k.a. MAD BEAR on the turntable with bottles of Macallan lining the wall behind him. It had people dancing and bopping with a carefree atmosphere. No one was concerned about anyone else or the fact that there is a random oversized stuffed bear in the room, or random lights strung across the ceiling. It’s no nonsense, nonsense fun. 

Libations

Drink menus were discreetly disguised on the cover of hardbound books and offered an intriguing collection of cocktails. Seven signature drinks were featured on their menu like Raspberry Martini - a raspberry vodka mixed with raspberry liqueur and raspberry puree, or a Classic Bramble - gin, fresh lemon juice, and sugar syrup laced with crème de cassis.

After people-watching, we decided to make our way to the bar where two gentlemen, Thomas and Paolo, known for their years of experience as bartenders in one of the world’s most prime hot spots, were shaking it up and slinging cocktails for guests. Paolo and Thomas worked parallel in London at well-known bars such as LAB, Hoxton, Pony, Embassy, Sketch, Kingly Club, 10 Rooms, Momo’, and Kosmopol, among many others. 

Shri Saigon

You’ve heard it all over the place. Mixology. Mixologist. But do not mistaken The Library to be one of those places that over-promise and underdeliver. Thomas and Paolo were manning the bar like the kind of bartenders you’d find long before hipsters coined the term “mixologist.” With 7 special cocktails listed on their menu priced at around VND 150,000 a glass, I aligned myself in front of Thomas, who happens to be General Manager of SHRI Restaurant & Lounge, and asked him to mix me something off the menu. With the kindest smile, “lets make you a Pornstar Martini.” Amused. I nodded for him to proceed. 

He added each bespoke ingredient and shook two steel tumblers effortlessly, while having a very honest and frank conversation about his vision for SHRI and, specifically The Library. We’re asking him questions. He’s grabbing a bottle. He asks his staff to grab another bottle of vodka. He’s answering us. He’s answering them. Yet, he has everything under cool control despite having so much action going on around him. And within a few minutes, he sets in front of me a beautiful soft pink-hued martini and a shot of sparkling wine, which Thomas explains releases that perfect blend of vanilla vodka and passion fruit puree. 

The Man Behind the Bar

Thomas was nothing short of entertaining. He had a certain swagger about himself that made you curious how this man, who carried himself so neatly and was so well-travelled, made Saigon his home. His impressive background in developing multiple establishments in the food and beverage industry around the world like Bali and Dubai, where it earned him accolades and respect amongst his peers. So what brings him to a place like Saigon, why Saigon? Aside from having familial connections from his Swedish-Vietnamese background, “Saigon is an exciting, vibrant place full of potential to experiment and play with different ideas,” he shares enthusiastically. There’s more ahead for SHRI that we can look forward to! 

Shri Saigon

So what’s a girl to do when she’s confronted with one of the greats in the business? She asks for an old-fashioned, of course. Would he disappoint me as I’ve been so underwhelmed by mistakenly expecting a proper old-fashioned in Saigon previously? “The problem is that people take shortcuts for a drink that requires time with things like simple syrup, which makes the drink lose a bit of that texture in an old-fashioned,” he divulges as he muddles the bitters against the cube of sugar until it dissolves. I’m not sure what voodoo spirit left his fingers and made its way into my glass, but it is easily the best old-fashioned I’ve ever had. It is uncomplicated in its presentation, but greets my senses with the intoxicating air of tingling orange zests before I sip on that Kentucky straight bourbon. Is there anything better? 

The Secret to Atmospheric Magic

So what makes this mysterious monthly pop-up event work so well? “It’s all about having the right mix: a DJ, live artist, and a performer,” Rebecca Morris, Event Producer of The Library informs me. As someone who has lived in Saigon for many years and witnessed this city develop and progress into what it is now, Rebecca can testify to the gap in Saigon’s nightlife that The Library fills. In the past, The Library has hosted live musicians featuring sounds from the flute, violin, upright bass, and accordion just to name a few and have had live performances or acts such as tarot card readers, magicians, drag queens, and bop readers. Indeed, it does create a place unlike any other. 

Shri Saigon

If you’re looking for something different, The Library is hosting its next event on Saturday 14th December 2019 from 9 PM – 1 AM

72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Centec Tower, 23d floor. 

The event will feature an illusionist who plays with levitation. Just look for the lads in suspenders by the bookcase.

Image source: Shri Restaurant and Lounge


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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