The art of cà phê đá

This is not like the ‘average coffee’ I was told.

I consider myself a coffee drinker, I am impartial to a latte over an espresso and some may argue that a latte isn’t a real coffee, but that is a debate for another day. Today, however shines the spotlight on Vietnamese coffee, otherwise known as cà phê đá.

This certainly was not the first time I had tried as cà phê đá while in Vietnam, but previous coffee breaks had been in a resort or modern café. This day saw me venture to where the locals drank their coffee and where the process has been passed down for centuries within the same family.

Our walking tour of Saigon was an eye opener – scooters racing beside you and drivers tooting their horns, vendors selling their wares – flowers, fresh produce, hand woven baskets and local snacks. TV’s blare from houses where men are gathered around to watch the Italian A league game and children run up to say hello.

We soon arrive at Cheo Leo Quan cafe, a small, unassuming shop consisting of only a few tables and stools and a small kitchen. Newspaper articles and photos frame the walls with their light blue and white tiles and potted plants are perched on small shelves. The hero on the wall however is the secret to brewing the perfect Vietnamese coffee. Soon our group of 10 soon sees the shop full for business.

A table for 10 please

Our guide explains how the café has retained the way of brewing coffee from centuries ago – cloth is used to filter the coffee twice before being placed into a clay pot (if served hot) or another type of clay pot if served cold. Clay pots are often used to cook herbs; however, they also ensure the distinct fragrance of the coffee is retained and means the taste of the coffee does not change. Of course, the sweetness comes from the delicious creamy condensed milk infused with the coffee.

Sweetened condensed milk is what makes cà phê đá unique. Introduced by the French as milk was not widely available, this has now become a staple beverage for the locals. Although it was a steaming hot day, I opted for the hot coffee and I was not disappointed. More commonly the drink is served cold, with ice making for a refreshing treat in the humid weather.

Cheo Leo’s illustration of the perfect cà phê đá

There was something special about sipping this delicious coffee in a quaint shop while watching the locals go about their day and before long, we set off again to explore the alleyways of Saigon.

The alleyways of Saigon

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