Last Updated on August 25, 2022 by smiling-coffee-snob
You probably know that Vietnam has a distinctive coffee culture, but once you step foot in the country you’ll be amazed by how extensive it is. In every town and city there are coffee shops everywhere. There are coffee shops next door to other coffee shops and across the street from even more coffee shops. I’ve never seen anything like it. Coffee is everywhere.
In Ho Chi Minh City, this excess of coffee is even more extreme with shopping malls and other multi-story buildings that have multiple stores one on top of the other.
With that being said, these are not specialty coffee shops. Vietnam primarily grows Robusta coffee beans, which are known for their intense bitterness. Most people counteract this bitterness by condensed milk to make what’s known as ca phe sua da, the most common form of Vietnamese coffee.
Modern Vietnamese Coffee
While traditional Vietnamese coffee beans are Robusta that’s not particularly high-quality this is changing in a number of different ways. The first change is the growth of Arabica beans. While Arabica still makes up only a small percentage of Vietnam’s coffee, this percentage is increasing and quality is improving. This is leading to a growing specialty coffee movement both in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam as a whole.
The other change is the improvement of Robusta beans. Robusta’s reputation amongst specialty coffee drinkers is so bad that high-quality Robusta is a hard sell, but there is a movement toward improving the quality. While it still has the characteristic bitterness, specialty Robusta has a distinctive taste that stands out from what you normally get.
Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City: Coffee chains you should try
While I’m clearly biased toward specialty coffee and that’s the primary emphasis of this guide, there are some local chains that are a great way to try something more traditional. I’ve chosen the two that stood out most to me. Each one has locations all across the city, so you can probably find one close to where you are staying.
Also, if you want to try a higher-quality Robusta, many specialty shops will have something available. I’d recommend getting a traditional phin (Vietnam’s metal coffee filter) with ice and condensed milk on the side. This way you can taste the coffee beans straight and then sweeten it up if the bitterness is too strong.
The coffeehouse is the smaller of the two chains, but the interiors are fantastic and they make killer Vietnamese coffee.
My favorite location is right near the central city and has two floors with plenty of plugs and seating. There’s a minimal vibe to the design with lots of wood and natural light.
Their iced Vietnamese coffee isn’t on the level of the specialty shops, but it’s still really good. They stand out for their coffee ice cubes they put on top to keep thing from getting too watered down.
This is like Vietnam’s version of Starbucks with tons of locations around the city.
The atmosphere doesn’t have the same charm as The Coffeehouse, but they’re great places to hang out for a while or to work on your computer.
Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City: Specialty coffee shops
Like I mentioned in my introduction to coffee in Vietnam, the specialty coffee scene is still pretty small and Robusta beans are still the main type of coffee grown and served in most of the country.
However, quality is improving and more Arabica is being planted. These are the places that are leading the emerging specialty coffee scene in Ho Chi Minh City.
One of the most versatile specialty coffee shops is the Workshop. Walk up a large staircase a few floors up and you’ll find some of the city best coffee.
Their menu features both local and imported coffee beans, and you can choose from many different brewing methods… Siphon, Chemex, V60, Kalita Wave, Woodneck. They do almost everything.
This is a great place to try a pour over with local beans. Their single-origin Vietnamese beans were some of the best I tried so I recommend you try some for yourself while you’re here.
43 Factory Coffee Roaster
One of the latest additions to the Saigon specialty coffee scene is 43 Factory. They take an entirely different approach to the other places that I recommend here. First off, they focus exclusively on imported coffee, rather than Vietnamese coffee. Second, they are obsessed with every detail of quality coffee roasting and brewing. Third, they emphasize light roasts, which is still unusual in Vietnam (and something many Vietnamese people don’t like).
This all makes 43 Factory clearly stand out from the other coffee roasters in Vietnam. They meticulously source top notch coffee beans from around the world and go so far as to choose the perfect water minerals and brewing style for each coffee bean. So, while this isn’t the place to try Vietnamese coffee beans, it’s an excellent place for specialty coffee.
96B Cafe and Roastery
While 43 Factory exclusively roasts specialty coffee from regions outside of Vietnam, 96B does both. However, while they have both local and imported beans, the Vietnamese beans are what really stood out to me. In fact, they had some of the most unique options that I’ve tried in Vietnam.
When I was there, I got to try a unique hybrid of both Vietnamese and Ethiopian coffees that was processed with a unique strain of yeast to bring out the best flavors from the coffee. Beyond that, they also had a naturally processed Liberica coffee, as well as one of the best Robusta’s in Vietnam. Definitely worth a trip to try whatever offerings they have when you are there.
VCR Coffee Roastery (Vietnam Coffee Republic)
Another great Vietnam-focused coffee roaster is VCR (Vietnam Coffee Republic). They have a wide range of coffee options served inside a well-designed cafe. When I was there, they had a lot of new things in the works. They were making a cold-brew bar, sort of like what you find with beer, and have a rotating option for pour over coffee.
They also do a solid traditional coffee phin, which is what I tried, plus they have all the usual espresso drinks, too.
Another specialty coffee shop is Saigon Coffee Roastery. It’s hidden in the middle of a large industrial type of building. Just head to the back of the building and up a set of stairs and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful (and delicious) cup of coffee.
There is a mix of hand made wooden kitchen gear and freshly roasted coffee beans from both Vietnam and abroad. It’s a great place to try a pour over, but they seem pretty good at latte art, too.
Most of Vietnam’s specialty Arabica beans come from around Da Lat, which is where La Viet is from. They grow their own beans, roast them in-house and sell them in a few different roasts profiles that range from light to extremely dark.
Unfortunately, I haven’t tried their Da Lat cafe, but I loved their Ho Chi Minh location. They make Kalita Wave pour overs and also espresso drinks. Plus all their beans are for sale in the different roasts.
In a location off the regular tourist path is a great little cafe with a roaster in the back. They have beans from Vietnam and around the world, including some Cup of Excellence coffees, and offer a good selection of drinks.
What really stood out to me was the way they seem to experiment with coffee roasting. There are small containers filled with different beans throughout the cafe, plus a large collection of coffee gear.
While the other cafes had a lot of similarities to coffee shops in other parts of the world, this one was very unique. It’s worth going out of your way to visit.
You’ll love coffee in Ho Chi Minh City
Just like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City is a place that most people don’t associate with coffee. But, the cafe scene has been booming for years. While I didn’t directly experience the coffee culture of the past, I can tell you that right now there’s a lot of enthusiasm about improving the local coffee culture.
Any coffee loving traveler should add Vietnam to your bucket list. In fact, explore South East Asia in general. This is one of the few parts of the world where you can try locally grown specialty coffee.