The Ultimate Buying Guide for Vietnamese Coffee Lovers

By: Mervin Lee

Vietnamese Coffee is known for being some of the best available. The country is the top producer of Robusta in the world. Therefore, it is unsurprising that for travellers and expats in Vietnam, coffee is the top sought after souvenir and most often consumed beverage product.

However, with Ben Thanh Market and other familiar tourist destinations filled with hundreds of potentially dubious brands and nameless packets of coffee grinds roasted and left to stand for months and possibly even years, consumers are rightly apprehensive about the quality of what is on display.

vietnamese coffeeA dazzling display of coffee beans and powder at Ben Thanh Market - by Mervin Lee

We’ve put together a concise and simple to understand guide to help you understand java-science so that you can choose Vietnamese coffee of good quality which, hopefully, agrees with your palate!

Definition of ‘Vietnamese Coffee’ and Relieving the Confusion

Vietnamese Coffee refers to both a style of traditional Vietnamese roast and a style of brew. It is possible to brew Italian-style roasted beans with the ubiquitous Vietnamese phin drip filter, and likewise, also possible to brew traditional Vietnamese-style dark roasts with a foreign device such as a French press.

vietnamese coffeeSaigonese street coffee being mass-brewed using Vietnamese phin drip filters - by Mervin Lee

Traditional Vietnamese techniques involve roasting Robusta coffee beans very dark with additives such as butter, salt, whisky, rice liquor or even sugar and fish-sauce. These additives help to elevate the savouriness and palatability of the notoriously harsh and bitter tasting Robusta beans.

Chemical flavourings and fragrances are often added, with the most common being vanilla and hazelnut, the former an age-old cliché aroma sought after in Vietnamese coffee powder.

Fillers such as roasted corn, soybeans and red beans are common and some recipes call for filler content of up to 50%. Fillers are used to thicken, darken and somewhat sweeten the coffee and they also increase profits. Connoisseurs who are seeking pure coffee should note that it is practically impossible to gauge the purity of coffee in Vietnam based on looking at grinded coffee powder. Diligent people should opt to purchase whole beans at shops before requesting them to be grounded on the spot.

When extracted using the iconic Vietnamese phin drip filter, the espresso-like liquid is then served with or without ice, and preferably with condensed milk to offset it’s bitterness. This popular beverage is known as ca phe sua da, the renowned mascot of Vietnamese coffee.

vietnamese coffeeEnjoying a cup of ca phe sua da on a hot Saigonese day - by Mervin Lee

Advancements in coffee farming has allowed the development of higher quality Robusta and Arabica coffee beans. Globalisation and changing preferences has resulted in a trend of roasting pure, additive-free coffee and subsequently brewing them with a wide range of foreign methods such as Italian-style espresso and paper filter. When these coffees are brewed using a phin, the technique remains Vietnamese.

Thus, the first item that you should procur is a high quality Vietnamese phin drip filter if you desire a strong and traditional Vietnamese brew. The phin works by filtering coffee through 2 layers of tiny holes and allowing the coffee to fall with the help of gravity.

City Pass Guide recommends the Trung Nguyen phins made of quality aluminium and available at all Trung Nguyen coffee shops. For connoisseurs who prefer a non-metal solution, Minh Long offers a series of beautiful porcelain Phins handcrafted in Binh Duong Province.

Roast Levels and Blends

Taste preference differs between individuals. Not everyone enjoys bitter coffee without sugar, and although many people do not appreciate light roasted and acidic coffee, third-wave coffee snobs may insist that such qualities are preferred.

vietnamese coffeeImage source: sc02.alicdn.com

The three-waves of coffee culture was described by Jonathan Gold in his 2008 article “La Mill: The Latest Buzz" for LA Weekly.

“The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet's and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.”

Robusta coffees are generally bitter and harsh in taste, while Arabica coffees are often more acidic, higher in natural sugar content and superior in fragrance. As a general guideline, a medium roasted coffee is a good balance between intensity, acidity, sweetness and fragrance, since ample time has been given for bitter compounds to degrade. Light roasted Arabicas are acidic but preserve the original aroma and flavour compounds, known as ‘origin character’ in third-wave coffee-speak. Dark roasted Arabica coffees are savoury and intense in flavour, having lost most of its acidity through the roasting process and may be bitter if coffee caramels have begun to burn in the roasting process if beans are not roasted with skill and care. French-style roast is an example of very dark roasted coffee.

As such, the skill of the coffee roaster and the art of blending different types of beans at different roast levels becomes extremely crucial for Italian-style espresso and Vietnamese phin coffee since these styles involve extracting coffee with very little water, resulting in highly concentrated and intense brews. Arabicas may be added to a predominantly Robusta blend to introduce pleasant acidity, aroma and to relieve the blend of dullness. Likewise, Robusta may be added to a predominantly Arabica blend to introduce body and crema for Italian-style espresso.

vietnamese coffeeImage source: i.ytimg.com

Common ratios and names of these ratios at specialty coffee shops in Saigon include 20-80, 50-50 and 80-20, describing the percentage ratio of Arabica to Robusta coffee.

Here is a breakdown of the various types of coffee beans and species that may be found by examining the printed contents information on packaged commercial coffee.

Arabica - The most popular and widely consumed coffee species in the world with countless cultivated varieties. It is known for its nuanced, alluring floral and fruity notes, which vary wildly depending on region and varietal. Arabica is disliked by some due to its acidity, which can be mildly sweet and berry or citrus-like in specialty varieties.

Culi (Peaberry) Arabica - In normal circumstance, a coffee cherry contains two coffee beans. Peaberries, known as culi in Vietnamese coffee-lingo, are coffee beans that have developed into a single spherical bean due to the lack of fertilisation of the other bean. Culi Arabicas are very rare and known for a higher intensity of Arabica’s attributes.

Robusta - The underrated Robusta is known for being bitter and harsh but is the choice for daily indulgence in Southeast Asia due to its natural lack of acidity. Advancements in cultivation and coffee processing has improved it’s flavour drastically.

Culi (Peaberry) Robusta - Culi Robustas are known to be more bitter, but also sweeter, and are said to contain considerably more caffeine.

Liberica and Excelsa - Rare and related species of hardy, tropical coffee plants. Liberica is popular in Malaysia and the Philippines and is liked for its attractive and earthy aroma that is often accompanied by a smokey taste resembling dark chocolate, berries and tropical fruits. Excelsa coffee is similar and is known to be tart and fruity with a lingering finish.

When buying ground coffee, It is critical for a buyer to check for the coffee roast date. Dark roasted coffees oxidize faster and light roasted coffees last longer if kept in airtight mason jars. As a rule of thumb, buy coffee that is as fresh as possible! When buying from shops that are able to grind fresh coffee beans, one should choose the grind size based on the intended brew method (e.g.: coarse for French press, medium-fine for paper filter and fine for espresso).

vietnamese coffeeImage source: caphenguyenchat.vn

If you’re intending on becoming a coffee snob, investing in a coffee grinder and relying on coffee beans may be your best bet if you’re a sucker for freshness.

Common Vietnamese Coffee Terms

Bột - Powder
Nguyên hạt - Unground coffee beans
Hạt Rang - Roasted coffee beans

Cà Phê Nguyên Chất - Pure coffee without additives
Cà Phê Rang Xay - Roasted and ground coffee
Cà Phê Hòa Tan - Instant/dissolvable ground

Cà Phê Mít - Mít means jackfruit in Vietnamese and Cà Phê Mít has nothing to do with the yellow-fleshed tropical fruit and refers to Liberica and Excelsa coffee.
Cà Phê Chồn - Civet coffee. Often known in the western world as weasel coffee. A coffee processed from faeces of civets which consumed coffee cherries. Natural wild civet coffee is very expensive while farmed varieties are more affordable. Most civet coffee in Vietnam is a made with chemical flavouring and/or artificial enzymes.

Video source: Best Ever Food Review Show

Hương - Artificial fragrance
- Butter
Rượu - Liquor

Price List for Some Popular Coffee Shops and Brands in HCMC

The Souvenir Favourites:

Trung Nguyen
20+ Locations around Ho Chi Minh City
VND50,000 - 100,000 for 340g of the popular Sang Tao 1 - 5 ground coffee series featuring various blends

Highlands 
20+ Locations around Ho Chi Minh City
VND40,000 - 75,000 for 200g of ground coffee featuring various blends

The Enthusiast Range:

Mr Viet Coffee 
Available at Annam Gourmet Market at Hai Ba Trung Street or Saigon Center

They have 4 types of coffee beans available in the 250g size:
Đà Lạt VND89,000
Good Morning VND107,000
Arabica VND137,000
Hương chồn VND163,000

The Coffee House 
19 locations around the city
VND100,000 for 250g of The Coffee House’s signature Arabica & Robusta blend

Tractor Coffee 
98 Lê Lai, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, D1

For 250g:
VND60,000 of Robusta
VND120,000 of Specialty Arabica

The Specialty Group:

K’ho Coffee 
K’ho Coffee can be sampled and purchased at Trekker Cafe
21 Nguyễn Văn Tráng, D1 “Journey sandwich & coffee
6 Lê Văn Miến, Thảo Điền, D2 “Soma art coffee
VND125,000 for 250g or VND250,000 for 500g of K’ho Coffee’s excellent specialty beans offered in light, medium and dark roast levels.

Shin Coffee 
13 Nguyễn Thiệp, D1
18 Hồ Huấn Nghiệp, D1

They have 9 types of coffee beans available in the 200g size.
Spirit Of Eakmat - VND300,000
Ethiopia-g1 - VND240,000
VN Phin - VND100,000
Shin Espresso - VND300,000
Khe Sanh Blend - VND100,000
Sơn La Blend - VND180,000
Shin Blend - VND300,000
Đà Lạt Blend - VND150,000
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe - VND240,000

Vietnamese Coffee Republic 
8A/7B2 Thái Văn Lung, D1

Republic Blend - Arabica/Robusta
30-70 VND115,000 for 250g
50-50 VND135,000 for 250g
70-30 VND155,000 for 250g
100 percent Arabica VND185,000 for 250g

The Workshop Coffee 
27 Ngô Đức Kế, Bến Nghé W, D1 (2nd floor)

For 250g:
Vietnamese coffee beans - VND240,000
Foreign coffee beans - VND315,000

A Cafe Specialty Coffee 
15 Huỳnh Khương Ninh, D1

For 250g:
Espresso - VND188,000

Arabica - Robusta Blend:
50-50 : VND90,000
70-30 : VND82,000
30-70 : VND98,000
100 percent Arabica - VND110,000
100 percent Robusta - VND70,000

City Pass Guide highly recommends readers to visit, like and share the Facebook pages of these excellent coffee cafés and suppliers for more information!

Banner Image source: Mervin Lee


Saigon’s Top 10 Hidden Markets

By: J.K. Hobson

Saigon brims with energy, much of which comes from its abundance of commerce, especially the local markets. Some of them, like Ben Thanh, Tan Dinh and Binh Tay markets, are famous tourist attractions that seem to stimulate every sense at once. There are myriad specialised markets in Saigon that eschew the tourist-trapping nature and are a deep part of local life. Much of Saigon is hidden under its rich layers. These hidden markets are rare gems.

Hidden marketsImage source: blisssaigon.com

Lantern/Decorations Market

Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street in Chinatown is the go-to spot for anyone interested in purchasing decorations and especially lanterns. It is especially frequented by locals looking for decorations during the Tet festival. You’ll find artificial peach and apricot blossoms, models of red carp, gold coins, and red envelopes for handing out the traditional “lucky money”. Tasty snacks like sticky rice cake are abundant on the street. In the month leading up to the mid-autumn festival a variety of traditional lamps are available for the holiday of the harvest.

Hidden marketsCrossroads of Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street and Luong Nhu Hoc, District 5 - Image soucre: citipos.vn

Chinese Medicine Market

The Chinese Medicine Market in Cho Lon (Chinatown) is home to over 180 Chinese medicine stores and clinics. Located on Hai Thuong Lan Ong street and the bordering streets of Luong Nhu Hoc, Phan Huy Chu and Trieu Quang Phuc, the area boasts the biggest collection of traditional Chinese medicine in the south of Vietnam. The smell of herbs permeates the air as visitors peruse the aisles. It’s the place to go to procure the ingredients necessary for a time-honoured tradition of medicine.

Hidden marketsHai Thuong Lan Ong street and the bordering streets of Luong Nhu Hoc, Phan Huy Chu, Trieu Quang Phuc, District 5 - Image soucre: kingfucoidan.vn

Motorbike Accessories Market

With over 8 million motorbikes and counting, Saigon is the motorbike capital of the world, so it stands to reason that it would have a dedicated market for motorbike accessories. It’s on Nguyen Chi Thanh street in District 5. Hundreds of stores peddle wholesale and retail parts for Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Piaggio motorbikes, ranging from original expensive parts to cheap Chinese knock-offs.

Hidden marketsImage source: spadaforaphoto.com

Thuan Kieu Bird Market

One of the most colourful markets is the lively Thuan Kieu Bird Market, a well-hidden gem at the crossroads of Thuan Kieu, Hong Bang and Chay Van Liem streets in District 5 and nestled under an old tamarind tree. Opening at 6am and closing at 6pm, hundreds of bird cages and birds of many colours, sizes and breeds are displayed. Probably more plentiful and noteworthy than the birds are the stockpiles of insects like locusts, crickets, centipedes, grasshoppers, ticks and termites sold as avian cuisine. Be sure to check the collection of scorpions, snakes and other uncommon creepy-crawlies.

Hidden marketsImage source: scootersaigontour.com

Le Hong Phong Pet Market

Le Hong Phong street is the proverbial place to “see a man about a dog”. It is home to a strip of pet stores. First moved from District 1 to District 5 in 2000, locals refer to it as the Pet Market, and it is is known as the primary place where pets (mostly dogs and cats) of numerous sizes and breeds can be purchased, some of them for thousands of US dollars each. On a more unfortunate note, this is one of the first places that people who are in search of their stolen pets come to in hopes of being reunited with their furred friends.

Second-Hand Items – Binh Thanh

The somewhat poetically-named Market of Unused Things (Ve Chai) in Binh Thanh is the closest thing to a never-ending garage sale. Ve Chai refers to articles that no longer have use. Established in the late aughts, it features used knick-knacks such as watches, Zippo lighters and jewellery. You might even be able to find some vintage vinyl treasures.

ShoppingImage source: thanhnien.vn

Trang Tu Fruit Market – District 5

If you’re looking for affordable fruits and veggies, go to the produce market on Trang Tu street in District 5. Next to the Cho Lon coach station, sellers bring delectable delights directly from the Mekong Delta and other farmlands in Vietnam. Fruits like mangosteen, tamarind, sapote, soursop, dragon fruit and rambutan can be found here. You can peruse and purchase produce without even having to get off your motorbike.

Hidden marketsImage source: media.foody.vn

Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

Ho Thi Ky Flower Market is the premier wholesale flower market in Saigon. It is a mere 500 metres, but along its kiosks, everything necessary to create ornate floral arrangements can be purchased. The array of flowers make it one of Saigon’s most beautiful (and exquisitely-smelling) markets.

Hidden marketsImage source: stacieflinner.com

Electronics Market – District 10

Ly Nam De, Tan Phuoc, Vinh Vien, Ly Thuong Kiet Street in District 10 are where you’ll find the largest conglomeration of electronics shops in Ho Chi Minh City, including items that may be seen as outdated to some but are very well-priced. It features an abundance of smartphones, laptops, adapters, headphones and other electronic accessories, displayed on plastic sheets spread out across the pavement.

Banner Image source: media.dulich24.com.vn


Best Eco Friendly Cosmetics and Skincare in Saigon & Vietnam

By: Laura Nalin

Coconut Religion

Herpas

The Queen

A Banker’s Secret

Stone Hill

The Organik Shop

The Herbal Cup

Skinna

Within the past year, it seems that consumers throughout Vietnam are becoming increasingly interested in spending a little extra on eco-friendly products, in Saigon and elsewhere. A number of restaurants throughout Ho Chi Minh City are now providing metal or bamboo straws, stores are hawking reusable goods. People are collectively beginning to care more and more about the environment, and skincare is no exception to this movement.

As the demand for sustainable consumption continues to rise, so does the public’s desire for environmentally friendly cosmetics. Several Korean outlets throughout town such as Innisfree and Skin Food offer them and, more interestingly, plenty of local companies are making their way into the market, too.

Typically, all kinds of sustainable beauty products are clustered together under the umbrella of being “green,” or “organic,” but the products on this list go above and beyond. Each of these companies based in Vietnam source their formulas sustainably, use all-natural ingredients and offer eco-friendly packaging.

For those of you interested in buying some environmentally friendly cosmetics and skincare products in Saigon and beyond in Vietnam, look no further: here’s a list of some of my favourite brands, as well as a couple that I’m keen on trying.

Coconut Religion

coconutreligion.com

The Coconut Religion brand instantly made a name for itself in both the expat and local communities in Saigon and Vietnam in record time. It has been in operation for just a few months, but this travel-friendly, certified organic, raw cold-pressed coconut oil has become a staple in every recent market and event and also maintains a killer social media presence.

The Coconut Religion founder, Maggie Shen, is an Australian genius who not only sources the products from the fertile Mekong Delta region, but has made sure that the product stays thick and creamy despite the tropical heat. How cool is that? The ‘jungle to jar’ products have gained a cult following for a reason. The products come carefully packaged in all-natural fabric and I recently purchased her lavender coconut oil as well as the lip balm. Take my money, Coconut Religion.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: Coconut Religion

The Queen

The Queen on Facebook

I attended a workshop at The Hive, in District 2 of Ho Chi Minh City, that promoted eco-friendly products last year. At that workshop, I and several other attendees created our own organic lipsticks using beeswax, organic argan oil, Vitamin E, coconut oil and natural pigments. I’ve been a fan of lipstick for most of my life, but I’ve become turned off at the thought of animal testing.

I wear my lipstick from The Queen daily; it’s not as thick as standard brands, but I enjoy that. While I’m not sure this brand has taken off quite yet throughout town, I stand behind the quality and thought that goes into the process to create such environmentally friendly cosmetics.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: The Queen

Stone Hill

stonehill.vn

Another local brand in Vietnam making a name for itself is Stone Hill, an innovative business that produces natural products from Vietnamese cocoa plants. The company sources all of its cocoa from its own farm in Dong Nai Province, all of which is grown to quality standards and helps make the Stone Hill soaps and skincare products stand head and shoulders above less sustainable options.

I have a jar of Stone Hill’s cocoa butter, and I swear by it as it’s one of the only products that makes my chronically dry skin feel silky smooth. In addition to my favourite product, Stone Hill also offers cocoa-based scrubs, scented body butter, hand cream and a handful of scented soaps. Definitely check this one out if your skin needs some nourishment!

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: Stone Hill

The Herbal Cup

The Herbal Cup on Facebook

I haven’t tried any of these products yet, but The Herbal Cup, based in Ho Chi Minh City, has certainly been on my radar. One of the more interesting things about this company is that it provides a free consultation to decide which of its products are most suitable for your skin.

Each of the environmentally friendly skincare confections include organic ingredients such as gac fruit oil, centella, tomato, sesame and the ever-popular tea tree leaves. Consumers have the option from a number of creations such as scrubs, masks, lipsticks, cleansing gels and body lotions. Everything is locally sourced, so there will be no regrets after purchase.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: The Herbal Cup

Herpas

Herpas on Facebook

The plant-based products created by Herpas’ owner Ha Truc Le were originally intended to encourage Vietnamese consumers to purchase locally-made products. Truc’s concoctions are formulated through her extensive knowledge of natural healing properties, which is what makes Herpas such an interesting, environmentally friendly cosmetics and skincare line. Her lotions, scrubs and oils are intended to lock in moisture and reduce the effects of ageing, ideal for the amount of toxic chemicals our skin is exposed to here.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: Herpas

A Banker’s Secret

A Banker's Secret on FB

Have you ever read stories about people who were living traditional lifestyles, working in high-income positions who ended up quitting their job to follow their passion? That’s precisely what Quynh, the founder of A Banker’s Secret did. Before catalysing the concept of A Banker’s Secret, Quynh was working as, well, you guessed it: a banker. She spent her free time creating handmade scented soaps for her loved ones, and soon realised that’s what she would rather be doing full-time.

Quynh quit her job in 2012, and has embarked on an exciting journey since, turning her labour of love into a thriving environmentally friendly cosmetics and skincare company in Vietnam. Although she simply sold just scented soaps at the start, Quynh now offers masks, scrubs, essential oils, cream oils and pomade as well.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: A Banker’s Secret

The Organik Shop

organik.vn

Located in the heart of Saigon’s District 2, on the busy Thao Dien Street, sits this store, which is known for carrying some of the highest quality, environmentally friendly cosmetics and skincare in Vietnam. Not only that, but it’s a one-stop-shop for those of you who are also keen on revamping your entire lifestyle into a more sustainable, eco-friendly, non-toxic one; there are plenty of food, household and skincare items available for your ethical shopping needs.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: The Organik Shop

Skinna

Skinna on Facebook

I think it’s safe to say that many people across the globe would agree that grandmothers encompass some sort of mystical wisdom. More interestingly, Skinna was derived from that notion. Over a decade ago, Christine Ho was talking to her grandmother when she realised the matriarch of her family had some pretty interesting beauty secrets up her sleeve. Ho’s grandmother provided some ancient Vietnamese beauty tips that were passed down from the Hue royal lineage; some of the holistic recommendations include household ingredients such as eggs and turmeric as natural exfoliants.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: Skinna

Each of Skinna’s products cater to varying skin types and conditions. Items sold include lipstick, serums, creams, cleansing products, sheet masks and body wash, making Skinna one of the most prosperous environmentally friendly cosmetics and skincare providers in Saigon and Vietnam!

Banner Image source: nyscc.org


Hanoia Boutique is Now Open in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

Hanoia, a high-end lacquer producer, has just launched its first boutique in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday July 3 in Ao Dai House (107 Dong Khoi, District 1).

hanoiaImage source: hanoialacquer

The store features exquisite lacquerware, including luxurious and elegant home decor, fine and fashionable jewellery, which combine both contemporary inspirations and traditional Vietnamese craftsmanship. As part of their grand opening, Hanoia boutique will offer special gifts for the early buyers.

Hanoia is the first haute-lacquer house in Vietnam, and its products are recognized by many luxury fashion boutiques around the world. Established in 1997 in an old lacquer village in Binh Duong province, Hanoia specialises in fusing traditional Vietnamese lacquerware with contemporary designs.

hanoiaImage source: hanoialacquer

Hanoia started when a group of European designers teamed up with the most qualified craftsmen from Hanoi, the Vietnamese lacquer capital, to revive a Vietnamese craft that was in danger of being lost. With the love of colours, effects and patterns evoking a sense of nostalgia, they work towards crafting a unique experience in a quality and detail-oriented process using ancestral techniques.

Hanoia owns two workshops in the north and the south of Vietnam with 300 artisans from traditional lacquer-producing villages and talented designers from Europe. Pursuing a philosophy based on innovation, the use of materials, effects, colours and shapes, Hanoia has continuously launched new and unique product lines.

hanoia

Image source: hanoialacquer

Hanoia has quickly gained a following from local and foreign artists, and fine art enthusiasts living in Hanoi, along with visitors from all over the world.

Contact:

Add: Ao Dai House – 107 Dong Khoi, Q.1, Ho Chi Minh city

Tel: +84 28 3827 9383

Website: www.hanoia.com | FB: facebook.com/hanoialacquer

Banner image source: hanoialacquer

 


Leather de Luxe

By: Molly Headley

Sidestep Dong Khoi and put down that Burberry bag—whether it’s the real deal or a knock-off.

There’s a new trend in Vietnamese leather accessories and it doesn’t involve paying an outrageous mark-up for a designer name or settling on a copy that will fall apart before you even get it home.

These savvy brands based in HCMC are seeking to change the image of Vietnam-made leather accessories by focusing on the attention to detail and one of a kind customisation that was previously only seen in European luxury houses.

JR Rostaing: The French Savoir Faire in Vietnam

The Brand Story

Maison Rostaing, a family-run leather manufacturer, set up shop in France back in 1789, but the company’s story in Vietnam began more recently when heir to the business Jacques Rostaing decided to bring his family’s knowledge, what the French call savoir faire, to HCMC by founding a tannery in 1994. Since then the tannery has treated and crafted top of the line leather products for many elite French fashion brands.

LeatherImage source: JR Rostaing

In September 2017, the company decided to launch their own product line called JR Rostaing.

Walk into the JR Rostaing boutique and you’ll be met with rows of perfectly crafted handbags and accessories. The leather ranges from the opulent—ostrich, stingray, snake and crocodile skins—to the eco-conscious, leather that is tanned using only tree bark and no chemicals.

Karine Rostaing, customer liaison, has been in Vietnam for 24 years. She interviewed with #iAMHCMC in French about how the market for luxury products has changed. Some people buy a bag just for the brand—they’ll buy a plastic bag if it’s made by a prestigious brand, Rostaing explained. Other brands use leather that is not a good quality and then they spray paint it so that the leather looks perfect. But now more and more people are looking for a high-end bag that looks beautiful and lasts.

The Leather

The animal skins used to make the products primarily come from Europe and are then transported to Vietnam where they are treated in the tannery. Then the leathers are designed, crafted and stitched by skilled artisans. Every haute couture bag the leather artisan makes is lined with a one-of-a-kind French silk scarf and all crocodile skin handbags have an embossed serial number inside the bag, which is the international governmental customs method for proving the origin of the leather. These exclusive touches lift the bag to status symbol level.

LeatherImage source: JR Rostaing

Bespoke

Everything in the store can be customised and tailor made. A sunglasses case might set you back VND1 million, while a custom bag depends entirely on the type of leather and the details. The only limit is your imagination and of course your budget.

Address: 100 Vo Thi Sau, D1

Cincinati / Ne-Yuh: Vietnamese Brands for International Tastes

The Brand Story

The doorway that leads into the Cincinati and Ne-Yuh boutique in D1 feels like a secret passage into a vintage leather working studio. Walk inside and the narrow storefront opens up into a bright shop where customers are met with an array of handbags and accessories meticulously arranged by colour and style. From the M.O.O.N. bag, which is crafted into a zen circle to a mini bag called the Saigon Chic clutch, which could have been inspired by the iconic woven bags from Italian luxury house Bottega Veneta, each piece showcases the beauty of the leather with tones ranging from deep jewel tints, brushed metallic finishes, or soft beige leathers.

LeatherImage source: Ne-Yuh

As a child Huyen Nguyen, the brand’s founder and designer, had a prized possession: a backpack. At this time, backpacks were still scarce in Vietnam and Nguyen knew how special it was. With her line of meticulously-designed leather goods, Nguyen has brought to life that feeling of owning something rare.

Nguyen began her family-run business in 2008, when she opened her first factory manufacturing leather bags. Every piece that comes out of the factory is entirely handmade by artisans. Nguyen has since launched two distinct leather brands.

Cincinati was the first brand to be created and initially focused on a more masculine aesthetic. Ne-Yuh launched in 2014 and embraces femininity and innovative shapes. Nguyen’s companies have risen to the top of Vietnam-made leather goods because of their ability to engage both domestic and international markets—50 percent of their business is for export—as well as being an ambassador for the fashion and lifestyle of a new generation of Vietnamese businesses.

The Leather

Some brands use leather composite, which involves taking leather fibres and gluing them together then coating the resulting sheet of leather with varnish. In contrast, Nguyen’s factory uses only whole leather from India or Italy, which has a softer texture and also ages beautifully.

Bespoke

“We are proud to say that all products are made in Vietnam”, Ngon Huynh, export sales director said. “There are very talented artisans here. That’s why all the foreign customers come in.”

“However, the Vietnamese market is different. The Vietnamese people like things that are from abroad. You have to market things differently to them if you’re a Vietnamese brand.”

LeatherImage source: Ne-Yuh

One of the ways that Cincinati and Ne-Yuh do that is through customisation. In their D1 boutique, there is a “Build a Bag” workshop. Clients can make an appointment with the store and come in to choose their leather, accessories and style. Initials can be added anywhere on the bag. One new concept is the his & her wallets or satchel bags. A couple can select matching styles and then personalise the pieces with each other’s initials.

Address: 60-62 Mac Thi Buoi, D1

Desino: Youthful Elegance

The Brand Story

Ten years ago Huy Nguyen, general manager of Desino, had an idea.

A technical engineer with a flair for fashion Nguyen had a taste for quality, yet he had a hard time finding what he wanted. “Either the product was right but the price was too high or the price was right but the quality was low”, Nguyen said.

LeatherImage source: Desino

Instead of waiting around for the market to change, Nguyen found a leather producer that was willing to create products to serve his vision, and Desino was thus born.

The Leather

Using the overstock of the leather created for top luxury brands, Desino is able to make bags out of the highest quality leather but at a reasonable price. The products range from candy-coloured tote bags to buttery beige leather satchels.

“We are not aiming to be the artisanal brand. We are aiming for excellent quality with a more commercial purpose”, Nguyen said. “People who want to buy something for daily use can come to us. People who want identity come to us. We can add on all the personal touches.”

Bespoke

People can use a classic bag as a base and then build on top of that with whatever details they desire. An in-house artist can custom paint any product to the client’s specifications. According to Nguyen, Desino’s clients go wild for a cross-body bag that can be customised with painted graffiti-like slogans, beaded skulls, birds or anything they can dream up.

LeatherImage source: Desino

“Right now luxury is all about identity”, Nguyen said. “Everyone can have the same quality. Everyone can choose to say ‘the more expensive the better’. But we give them something that they can create.”

Address: 10 Nguyen Thiep, D1

Banner Image source: Ne-Yuh


D1 Tattoo Studio Makes Indispensable Art

By: City Pass Guide

Before you take a seat in the chair to get inked at Spade Art Tattoo Studio, before you meet with the artists to draft your one-of-a-kind image, you’ll have to answer to an important first question: why?

“I think tattoo is not fashion”, Quoc “Seven” Nguyen said alluding to the seriousness of putting a permanent image on a person’s body. Whether it’s fashionable, whether the image is in vogue or not, is irrelevant, the 36-year-old tattoo artist contends. Nguyen argued that the most important part of tattoo work is understanding the customer, and what purpose the tattoo serves for them.

“We want to know why you want this tattoo”, the studio’s customer liaison Dean Parker said.

tattoo studio

It’s a time-intensive and, frankly, less profitable strategy than a typical tattoo process, which usually involves little more than walking in with an image on paper and walking out with it somewhere on your body.

This, Nguyen said, is among the reasons his business is called a “studio” rather than a “tattoo parlour”.

“Many people know how to do tattoos, but don’t know how to do art”, Nguyen said.

Done with Finesse, Not Speed

Spade Art Tattoo Studio’s collaborative, client-centred tattoo drafting approach is a contrast to the high-metabolism, attention-light way that people typically consume creative work—marketing and commercial communications teams produce images tailored to an ad campaign that will be seen for as long the message is relevant before it becomes junk. A former commercial artist, it’s a system Nguyen knows very well.

tattoo studio

Before becoming a tattoo artist, Nguyen spent his days working in a sector known for devouring creative people: advertising.

His more than 10 years creating advertising work included stints at a number of highly-visible firms such as Cheil Worldwide, Dentsu, Y&R, J. Walter Thompson where he was comic artist, visualizer, designer, and then art director. He serves clients such as Panasonic, Samsung, Pepsi ect...

Despite his being a capable commercial artist, Nguyen said it was creatively defeating to see his body of work become trash after it outlived its usefulness.

Inspired by the serious tattoo scene in he saw in Thailand five years ago, Nguyen decided to leave the advertising profession and strike out on his own as a tattoo artist. Four years ago, he founded Spade Art Tattoo Shop in downtown District 1.

Quoc used to host the Saigon International Tattoo Convention in 2016 where gathers the tattoo artists in Vietnam and globally, namely Jess Yen, Tomo Ikarashi, and Josh Lin.

Almost as if in response to the advertising world’s large scale, commodified production and reproduction of single, standard images, Nguyen has trained his staff to work with clients to produce one-of-kind work. The tattoo you get at Spade Art Tattoo Studio will be an individualised, image unique to your body.

Nguyen and his staff have produced hundreds tattoos in this manner so far.

tattoo studio

In the Chair

Spade Art Tattoo Studio sits on the first floor of a building overlooking shady Le Anh Xuan street. Newly inked clients at Spade Art Tattoo Studio can sit on the tattoo studio’s small balcony and get some fresh air while they cool down from their ink session.

Client’s who’ve reviewed the tattoo studio on Facebook find the ambience comfortable and even laud the music selection. The staff is consistently described as friendly, knowledgeable, gentle when needle comes to skin and—most importantly—good.

The reviews praise not just the Vietnamese artist’s ability to communicate in English, but their genuine interest in understanding what the tattoo means for the client and designing one-of-a-kind, original and deeply personal work based off that.

tattoo studio

Nguyen reported the greatest share of the studio’s customers are foreigners.

Together Nguyen and his staff, fellow creatives that he prefers to refer to as family rather than employees, have about 16 years of combined experience creating tattoos.

Through his work at Spade Art Tattoo Studio, Nguyen has gained stature within the Saigon tattoo community with almost no advertising. The positive experiences the studio’s clients have had beget new business.

Phuoc Truong, a tattoo artist with three years of experience, said he decided to join Spade Art Tattoo Studio because Nguyen treats him like a brother and leads as a peer. More than just just doing tattoos and collecting payments, Truong said the tattoo studio’s staff and clients have grown into a community of art makers and those who have committed to keeping some on their bodies forever.

Truong works with another artist at Spade Art Tattoo Studio also named Phuc Truong who has 6 year-experience in tattoo industry, has chosen tattoo as his career and wishes to convince his parents about his choice and will make it success.

“They are together, they’re there to share and learn, build something for customers,” Tran said translating Truong’s comments made in Vietnamese.

Contact:

Spade Art Tattoo Studio | 1st Floor, 41 Le Anh Xuan, D1, HCMC

Phone: +84 947 777 891 | Website: http://spadeart.tattoo/

Email: spadeartstudio@gmail.com | Facebook: /spadearttattoo.studio/

Image source: Spade Art Tattoo Studio

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