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When traveling in Vietnam I am more than happy to leave my computer at home, switch off my mobile and delve into the local culture without so much as a second thought about what might or might not be going on back home! I’m even happy to trade in my beloved cheese and pasta and wine for some home made spring rolls and a bowl of hot noodle soup. But if there’s one thing I crave even when I’m in the furthest flung corners of the globe, it’s a good cup of coffee. With this in mind, I put together a little list of some of my favourite spots to grab a ‘cup of joe’ in Hanoi.
Because Vietnam has more than 150 years of experience of growing and brewing coffee, it’s hardly surprising that the locals have learned to make a great cup of coffee. Although many are eager to write off coffee culture in Vietnam as little more than a legacy of the French occupation, it doesn’t take a traveller long to realise that in modern Vietnam the passion for whiling away afternoons in a cafe with a group of friends is nothing short of a national past time. Nowadays, no matter where you are in the country you can be sure that you are never far away from a freshly roasted cup of caffeine-loaded goodness.
1) Ca Phe Xom
This stylish little camera/photography-themed cafe on the edge of the Old Quarter has all the creativity and design that the more well known upscale cafes dotting the city have become known for but without any of the attitude. The majority of the folks in this shop are regulars but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t friendly and welcoming to the odd traveller who works up the courage to pop in. Luckily, despite having regular events and an active Facebook page, Cafe Xom remains relatively unknown and too small to turn in to one of those “seen and be seen” type places that the more affluent generation of Hanoians seem to be craving after so uncontrollably. For one of those, check out Cafe Align below! (8b Hang Tre. Tel: +84 (0)9 7896 0135)
2) Sen Cafe
When in Vietnam, it would be almost criminal to not sit down with the locals for a cup of cà phê sữa đá! This sugary-sweet coffee drink is made in every road side cafe from the Mekong Delta to Ha Long Bay. You could easily grab a cup of the stuff while looking out over Hoan Kiem Lake at the always popular Ca Phe Pho Co or any other building, street stall or restaurant whose sign reads cà phê, but a personal favourite of mine is the ever-crowded but always friendly Sen Cafe.
With a wide assortment of beans to choose from, you can create just the right cup of coffee for you – although there are multiple reasons why I’d recommend avoiding the cà phê Chồn, a brew made from beans that have been picked out of the fecal matter of weasels or civets! (58 Nguyen Huu Huan Street, Tel: +84 (0)4 6675 0677)
4) Cafe Align (Align 3D Graphics Cafe)
The secret, if their every was one, is out. Cafe Align has been featured on CNN as an example of where Vietnam is headed as it progresses ever forward towards economic growth and widespread modernity. While there’s no question that it is Hanoi’s old history and deep-rooted culture that make the city such a wonderful place to visit, this well-designed modern cafe’s bamboo lined entrance way and indoor cherry blossom tend to win over even the most sceptical visitors.
In a lot of places, going to the more upscale places often means missing out on the best of local culture but at Cafe Align a little bit of people watching is all that’s needed to take the pulse of modern Hanoi. (6B Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem District. Tel: +84 (0)4 3923 4231)
4) Reng reng cafe
Given all there is to see in do in Hanoi, it’s sometimes hard to justify sitting down to watch the world pass by; which is why a takeaway coffee from this little chain of pop-up shops never goes amiss. Reng Reng Cafe is immensely popular with the Hanoi’s university students so there’s a strong sense that these street side stalls are here to stay.
If you’ve had your fill of condensed milk in your coffee and are looking for something a bit more European in flavor, you’ll be happy to hear that the young trend-setters who come to Reng Reng are as keen on cappuccinos and espressos as the rest of the country is on its cà phê sữa đá.
5) La Terrasse at the Metropole Hanoi
Although you could easily travel the entire country without ever needing to pay much more than the equivalent of a single US dollar in Vietnam for an excellent cup of coffee, its sometimes nice to splash out on a more extravagant experience. And, if it’s a touch of elegance, style and comfort that you’re after, there are few places that provide it more thoroughly than the Sofitel Metropole Hotel in Hanoi. Even if you aren’t staying here, the staff are incredibly – or perhaps just surprisingly – welcoming to off-the-street visitors wanting to patronise one of the hotel’s excellent bars or restaurants. La Terrasse cafe looks like a piece of Paris in Hanoi but, thanks to all of the other colonial-era buildings in the neighbourhood, it doesn’t feel the least bit out of place. Always one of my favourites, this cafe is the perfect place to while away a few quiet hours in Vietnam’s great capital and if your wallet is feeling a bit heavy don’t worry, you’re likely to leave plenty of Vietnamese Dong behind here. (15 Ngo Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District. Tel: +84 (0) 4 3826 6919)
The above cafes are without a doubt some of my personal favourites but they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s out there. On your next visit to Vietnam I very much hope that you’ll have the opportunity to visit some of the recommendations I’ve given above but, even more than that, I hope you discover some great little cafes of your own!