Drinking Vietnamese cap he is not an experience to be rushed. This is not the grab and go coffee that we are all used to buying at train stations before boarding the 7.32am commuting train.
Far from it. The coffee literally drips through the small filter (called a phin) drop by drop and to brew even an espresso size cup takes a while and then some! The black coffee is pretty strong; the brown (cap he nau in Hué and further north and cap he sua in the south) is mixed with sweetened condensed milk which actually tastes much nicer than it sounds (and is strangely moreish).
And while you are trying out the local brew, how about egg coffee or cap he trung? Apparently this came about during the French-Vietnam war in the 1940s when there was a shortage of milk and some bright spark came up with the idea of using an egg yolk as a substitute (personally I’m not sure what would have been so bad about drinking black coffee but obviously some resourceful individual had other ideas).
L: Egg Coffee; R: Brown Vietnamese coffee (both before stirring!)
Actually it was quite tasty although I suspect that it is not something that would be that easy (or quick) to replicate at home. Apparently it has taken some time to “perfect” the recipe and to remove the “over-eggy” flavor which all sounds a little circular! In any event, like the wise decision of leaving local spirits where you first encounter them (come on, surely by now we have all learnt that ouzo and retsina do not taste the same once you’ve left the idyllic Greek islands and that schnapps really should stay firmly put in the Alps), I think I will happily leave egg coffee here in Vietnam. While I’m happy to have tried it, let’s just say that I am not a total convert!
For the less adventurous or those seeking their home comforts of lattes and cappuccinos and other western treats, fear not: these are widely available. Just like in the west, in the main towns and tourist areas, there are quite a few coffee shops (both home brands plus even Starbucks in Ho Chi Minh city) which all have AC which is a plus as well as pretty good toilets usually. Western style coffee but also at western prices, sometimes as much as £2 a pop (which is often more than the price of a main course in a local restaurant in Vietnam!).
On that note, another pricing anomaly in SE Asia is that quite often the beer is much cheaper than juices, fizzy drinks or even bottled water: this all makes it just that little harder to be good…..! What a shame.