Pick Your Poison: A Guide to HCMC's Speciality Bar Scene

By: City Pass Guide

In addition to the wealth of craft beer bars, sports bars, girlie bars, outside drinking dens and beer clubs, Ho Chi Minh City plays host to a superb array of speciality bars. These are the bars that have captured people’s hearts for serving up speciality drinks or offering something a little bit different.

Always more upscale, these bars and restaurants cater to many of the more well-heeled expats in town and the ever-increasing Vietnamese middle class, who like to work hard and play hard. While some are in high-end hotels, some call high-rise towers home and others are in smaller, quirkier venues. They all have one thing in common, though – they truly excel.

Level 23 Nightspot and Wine Bar

Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers, 88 Dong Khoi, D1
+84 28 3827 2828
12 p.m. to 12 a.m.

Situated on the 23rd floor at the top of the prestigious 5-star Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers, the open-air section of this bar offers wonderful views over the famous Nguyen Hue promenade. It’s a light, airy space with opulent decor and lovely lighting. The extensive wine list holds such delights as Penfolds and Koonunga Hill Riesling.

Aged six months in oak barrels, the Altos De Plata from the Argentinian border near Chile has a delightfully fresh, full taste. The Nederburg is a superb South African Shiraz with rich chocolatey notes, firmly suited to accompany a good cigar. The Chilean Casillero Del Diablo Pinot Noir is supremely smokey – a very good wine.

However, this 23rd storey treat reaches new levels with the new Iconic Mojitos. Eight superb flavours grace the menu, leaving guests with the enviable task of choosing the right one for their palate. They are all wonderful:

Classic: Bursts with citrus and rum flavours and just the right amount of mint.

Bitter: With added Angostura bitters, it has a lovely freshness and just a hint of bitterness.

Peach and Strawberry: Served with superb fresh fruit and an amazing hit of strawberry goodness, this one is very popular with the ladies.

Raspberry: This is quite simply an explosion of fresh raspberry flavour. Plus, the mint is well-balanced and the rum provides just the right hit.

Mangojito: My favourite fruit. I was worried that this might disappoint, but thankfully it absolutely did not. This has such a fantastic blend of flavours; nothing dominates and all shine through.

Spicy: A punch of chilli and a kick of alcohol – what a combination!

Passion Fruit: If you like passion fruit you will love this. I was quite surprised at how well this iconic tropical fruit lends itself to the classic Cuban drink.

Bubble: A classic mojito completed with one part sparkling wine, this one creeps up on you. It’s strong on alcohol and flavour.

Better yet, groups can indulge in XXL versions of these superb Mojitos: they come in a classic ice bucket with a number of straws to suit the group.

A special mention has to be made of the molecular cocktails that will be making an entrance in 2017. Look out for the fabulous bubble-fuelled gin and tonic!

The Champagne Corner

The Caravelle Hotel, 19 Cong Truong Lam Son, D1
+84 28 3823 4999
7 a.m. to midnight

The Champagne Corner is on the ground floor of the 5-star Caravelle Hotel, on the corner adjacent to the Opera House. The large window facing Dong Khoi has bubbles constantly running through it to represent, of course, the bubbly. Contracted to Moët & Chandon and renewing their relationship next year, this is a lovely high-class corner of the downstairs area. The live lounge music creates a lovely ambiance and a truly delightful space in which to enjoy a glass of champagne for breakfast, lunch, after work or into the evening.

Cafe De L’Opera is the main bar here with Tapas Kitchen serving classic Spanish food with a Vietnamese twist. In the Champagne Corner, though, each glass is served with a complimentary small plate of exquisite food: smoked salmon with potatoes and caviar, oysters, and anything else that the chef feels like creating.

Just a little more than an amuse-bouche, it is always the perfect accompaniment to the main attraction – the champagne. The well-thought-out drinks menu has eight different champagnes and six champagne cocktails. This was the first champagne bar in the city, and it shows in the fact that they have completely nailed it. 

Whiskey & Wares

196 De Tham, Cau Ong Lanh, D1
+84 163 279 4179
4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. (soon to start opening earlier)

I simply love this place, which is nothing more than a small hole in the wall just over the road from Pham Ngu Lao – it just rocks. The name comes from the fact that it sells whisky, artwork, trinkets and the like. The atmosphere in Whiskey & Wares is one of friendship and fun. An eclectic clientele are making this their local spot, and while the bar serves a few of the city’s finest craft beers, it is the 30 or so top-drawer whiskies that capture the heart. The owner and bartender, Derek, is a superb host and is building something really special here. The bar has started moving into the cocktail market, and how! These are not your usual cocktails, with Cilantro Coco (weird and truly wonderful) and Lemongrass Collins popping out of the menu.

It is, however, the whiskies that truly make this place. Auchentoshan Three Wood, that wonderful 12-year-old Speyside The Balvenie DoubleWood, Macallan and 16-year-old Lagavulin sit happily on the shelves alongside the top Japanese bottles of Hibiki and Yamazaki. Knob Creek, the superb Maker’s Mark and the celebrated Woodford Reserve (I really don’t get the popularity of this) represent the bourbons, while the reliable Jameson occupies the Irish contingent. This bar is one of the great hidden gems of Saigon.

The Saigon Cigar Club

24th Floor, AB Tower, 76 Le Lai, Pham Ngu Lao, D1
+84 90 242 6976
5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

As one would expect from a bar that is situated on the 24th floor of one of the city’s prestigious towers, The Saigon Cigar Club is somewhat exclusive. Large comfortable leather seats, rich woodwork, subdued lighting and soft lounge music is the order of the day at The Saigon Cigar Club. Offering spectacular views of the west side of the cIty, the floor-to-ceiling windows are a huge plus. With the air of an old colonial gentleman’s club.

This is a wonderful addition to the speciality bars of Ho Chi Minh City. After two-and-a-half years at this location, it’s now firmly established in the city. The club’s own house cigars are hand-rolled in-house by a Cuban woman who used to work at the Cohiba factory, rolling some of the most respected cigars in the world. All other cigars are imported from Cuba, including vintage cigars which have been aged for at least 10 years. This is serious cigar territory.

Members can rent their own humidor at the club to ensure perfect conditions, whilst being linked to Sorae ensures superb drinks and food.

Sorae Restaurant Lounge

24th and 25th floors, AB Tower, 76A Le Lai Street, D 1
+84 28 3827 2372
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dinner & Lounge: 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Well known as a top Japanese restaurant, Sorae has been carving out a niche and drawing a loyal clientele to its iconic two-floor venue for over two years. The sushi here is arguably the best in the city. However, not quite as well-known is the fact that it has developed four beautiful speciality bars at the same time: whisky, wine, sake and beer are all superbly represented at four separate stations: sake and beer on the 24th floor, wine and whisky on the 25th.

The whisky menu is well done, covering single malt scotches and Japanese and American classics. They have chosen wisely to bring a balance of styles and flavours to their patrons.

Stroll across the mezzanine level from the whisky bar and the vibe in the wine bar is altogether younger and more vibrant. This is a fun environment, with large windows looking out over three aspects of the city. Soft house music provides a cool ambiance and the cellar is incredibly well-stocked.

For sake connoisseurs, Sorae has a superb variety to choose from at their bar. Unlike the other bars, you don’t take a seat – it’s more of a serving station for Sorae’s diners.

Le Padam - Cheese & Wine Bar

230 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien, D2
+84 9 0704 6281
8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (closed Tuesdays)

The concept here is of a French wine bar from cities like Paris or Lyon, where people can gather to drink a bottle of wine and eat a plate of cheese before going to a restaurant. As often happens in France, one wine leads to another and eventually the restaurant gets forgotten. The decor and the space is reminiscent of a French country town shop. With large wooden benches and a good-sized bar area, this is definitely a place for friends to gather and relax.

The decor and indeed the toilets are quirky, and this bar does not take itself too seriously: it has fun and coerces the clientele to do the same. With large chalkboards advertising the deals, a minimalist approach to everything and friendly faces to welcome you, it is a worthy addition to the District 2 bar scene. All the cheeses are imported by the bar directly from France and all the bread is baked in-house. The wines are all bought in Vietnam and, surprisingly, there are more Spanish choices than French. The top seller is an elegant, velvety Hacienda Rioja.

The Gin House

28/3A Ton That Tung, Ben Thanh, D1
+84 9 1951 3264
5 p.m. to 4 a.m.

This is a really nice, small venue in a typical old Vietnamese side street. Its location provides it with a certain degree of exotic anonymity, and I have to say, I like it. A small, well-stocked bar with about 10 bar stools, half a dozen high tables and one low table provide the Gin House’s locals with a good choice of seating.

The award-winning bartender has crafted 13 gin-infused house cocktails for your indulgence, and is ready to pour you one of their 24 stocked gins, including some true rarities to Vietnam like Ungava from Canada and Larios 12 from Spain. To add to this assortment, 18 gin infusions are on hand for you to experiment with, including flavours like lavender and butterfly pea, and lemon sorbet and cardamom.

Aperitivo Bar

80 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, D2
+84 9 0862 4070
Hours: 9 a.m. till late (closed Mondays)

The Italian owner, Attilio, has created a classic here. This is unlike anything else in the city, really. Starting out as a single shop unit, its success soon saw its size double. This is a bar that offers great gins, whiskies and wines to the expat-heavy clientele. It has a great ambience – laid-back and very Continental.

The food is exceptional, including a terrific panini and other Mediterranean goodies. Gins include such delights as The Botanist, Hendrick’s and my own personal favourite, Monkey 47. Aperitivo is a great place to grab a snack during the day, and it draws a great crowd in the evenings and into the night. Simply put, this bar has quickly developed into a firm favourite among the locals.

Cuba la Casa del Mojito

91 Pasteur, Ben Nghe, D1
+84 28 3822 7099
Hours: 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily 

Cuba la Casa del Mojito creates an immediate impact from the second you walk in and the joyous Latin music greets your ears – I loved it! There are dance classes twice a week (salsa on Mondays and bachata on Thursdays), when they remove the tables and create a great space for people to learn.

Their classic mojito is one of the best I’ve ever had: it included a superb hit of three-year-old Havana Club rum, a terrific balance, not too much mint and just the right amount of soda. Not to mention the Canchanchara, a truly amazing mix of Brugal Anejo dark rum from the Dominican Republic, mixed with honey and lime. Wow!

The first Cuban chef in Vietnam has created a wonderfully authentic menu of traditional and modern takes on incredible Cuban food. These are great party plates to share with friends – superb tapas and a-la-carte mains. The best part is, this restaurant really does have the feel of Cuba. The clientele is probably split 50-50 between locals and expats, except for the dance nights, when the locals really come into their own.

It has plush bar stools and high tables near the door, changing to restaurant tables as

you move through the bar, and ends with luxurious Chesterfields as you get to the rear of the space. This is a very well thought-out concept, and one of my favourites.

Skewers Restaurant

9 Thai Van Lung, D1
+84 28 3822 4798
11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Skewers has been in operation for 16 years, opening in July 2000. The kitchen prepares Mediterranean comfort food and the restaurant creates a very warm atmosphere. The lovely decor is augmented by creative lighting and a very good wine list: it carries approximately 200 labels and has been listed in Wine Spectator. It is, however, the terrific scotch list that catches the eye. This must be the largest collection of single malts in the city, with more than 50 bottles of the golden drop. Any bar that stocks Auchentoshan Three Wood is more than alright by me. Bruichladdich Octomore is another serious contender, a peaty Islay malt that you will not find every day.

In addition to the restaurant on Thai Van Lung, Skewers also operates the Saigon Single Malt Club at its sister restaurant, The Elbow Room on Pasteur. This meeting takes place on the third Thursday of each month and has been running for over a decade.

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.


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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