Here are the best places to grab a cup of coffee in Hanoi, ranging from mom-and-pop stands serving ca phe sua da – tar-like robusta rocket fuel with sweetened condensed milk and ice – to chic, charming hangouts.
Tadioto, which means “we go by car”, is a cafe bar and alternative arts space established by former journalist Nguyen Qui Duc. It’s a hub for cultural dialogue and the exchange of ideas, and regularly hosts poetry readings, music performances and experimental artistic projects. It’s also a great spot for a cocktail and bite to eat.
2. Cong Caphe
This quirky, retro Communist kitsch-themed franchise has grown quickly in the last few years to a whopping eight outlets in the capital. While all are popular – particularly among Hanoi’s young hipsters – the original outlet on Trieu Viet Vuong, simply decorated with wooden furnishings, brightly coloured cushions and propaganda signs, remains the one most steeped in nostalgia.
This low-key, one-room Old Quarter coffee shop dates back to 1950s French colonial rule. It operated throughout the war, when down-on-their-luck artists would give proprietor Nguyen Van Lam paintings and sketches in exchange for bottomless cups of coffee and a spot to socialise. Today, Cafe Lam Hanoi’s loyal following pulls up a low plastic stool to enjoy ca phe den (iced black coffee) and ca phe sua da surrounded by Lam’s art collection.
4. Nhac Cafe
With the exception of live shows on Friday and Saturday evenings, patrons can select and play an LP from the extensive selection arranged around the cafe’s wood plank walls – Nhac means music in Vietnamese – while enjoying traditional coffee pours and specialities such as coconut coffee smoothies and ca phe trung – egg coffee prepared with egg yolks, sugar and condensed milk.
A destination for comfort food as much as a caffeine boost, this cosy, airy eatery is a great spot for lunch, light bites or for regular live music performances (below). Staff are graduates of the KOTO and Hoa Sua hospitality training schools for disadvantaged youth.
6. Xofa Cafe
As the name suggests, Xofa prides itself on making its clientele comfortable. Framed by exposed brick walls and wood floors, big comfy couches festooned with huge cushions provide a plush cocoon for meeting with friends, reading or catching up on work.
If you’re looking for a peaceful bolthole where you can curl up with a book and coffee – you’ve found it. On occasional evenings, acoustic performers play beneath a black-and-white picture of John Lennon mounted on a brick wall. Tasty pastries and cocktails keep patrons lingering until late.
Set in a white 1920s French villa with a shady courtyard garden, Manzi is a quiet retreat from the Old Quarter’s hectic streets and offers organic coffee from Vietnam’s Central Highlands, curated art exhibitions, and an arts shop selling original works at affordable prices.
Among the many five-star hospitality experiences offered within this green-shuttered, white-walled French colonial neoclassical building, streetside cafe La Terrasse is a petit slice of Paris in the heart of Hanoi.
– TEXT BY GEMMA PRICE
PHOTOS: CAFE TRANQUIL FACEBOOK, THE HANOI SOCIAL CLUB FACEBOOK, TADIOTO FACEBOOK, XOFA CAFE TUMBLR, INSTAGRAM, SOFITEL LEGEND METROPOLE HANOI FACEBOOK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.