If you ever find yourself in Hanoi, you may hear fellow travellers rave about a rather unexpected indulgence: a cup of decadent, milky coffee. Often prepared in small portions, and served at all hours of the day, this sign of hospitality for many Vietnamese households is a local treat you won’t want to miss.
It’s a mix between an eggnog-tasting blend of heated, whipped egg yolks and sugar; the South East Asian secret ingredient found in many popular drinks, condensed milk; and locally-grown, dark roast Vietnamese beans, often prepared in a slow drip brew method.
Sometimes, even butter and cheese are added! Its sweet, rich taste and frothy feel, will get you instantly addicted. Like many others, I was also a skeptic at first, who puts raw eggs in their coffee, yet after my first sip, I proceeded to order many more cups throughout my stay. In fact, egg coffee become my staple caffeinated drink without even realizing it.
You mean I haven’t been drinking egg coffee all my life?
Coffee production is not often what you’d associate with Vietnam. You’d probably think of a tasty bowl of pho, or the beautiful landscape of Halong Bay, perhaps even the Vietnam War, but coffee? Would it even cross your mind that Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world, right after Brazil?
Coffee was first introduced in Vietnam by French missionaries in the mid 1800s, with the first plantation being set up a few decades later. The Vietnam highlands were seen as a viable, fertile spot due to their moderate altitude and a cool, humid climate. Now a multi-million dollar industry, the robusta beans are exported worldwide. Chances are, you’ll find them roasted in your local coffee shop!
Yet, the history of the egg coffee speciality follows an even more interesting story. The man often credited for pioneering this recipe is Nguyen Van Giang. Back in the forties, while working as a Bartender for the famous Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, he decided to use condensed milk instead of the usual fresh option, as a response of the dairy shortage caused by the French War. His creation was so popular, that he decided to open up his own shop, Cafe Giang, still around today in the Old Quarter. Besides boasting founding rights, the shop claims that their secret, a perfect mix of just the right ingredient quantities, are what makes the Giang egg coffee like nothing you’ve ever tasted. You’ll just have to visit and be your own judge!
While walking down the bustling streets of the Old Quarter you may notice, in the most inconspicuous corners, hidden behind a row of dusty motorcycles, a group of locals sitting on tiny, plastic stools, socializing over a cup of egg coffee. They will have infectious, warm laughs, talk rather vigorously, and won’t be afraid to share a welcoming smile if you happen to look their way. Coffee culture is now engrained in Vietnamese society, transgressing social classes and uniting people of all ages, locals and visitors alike. Don’t be afraid to join them at a nearby table, mention Cà Phê Trứng, and rejoice in the caffeine-induced cultural journey of this beloved past time. Perhaps, the next time someone will mention Vietnam, you’ll now think about this decadent, frothy, caffeinated drink, as not just as a culinary indulgence, but a national symbol, engrained in the fabric of Vietnamese society, just as much as the bowl of pho served next door, or the traffic jam forming under the jumbled electrical wiring at the nearby intersection.
© Vietcetera | Lee Jolliffe, Coffee Culture, Destinations and Tourism