Epic cafes to drink coffee at and also get stuff done if you are keen.
Our first stop for this year was Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, you can read more about our time on this post about Travel, Tet & Tips . One of my favourite things to do is drink coffee, it all started when I got my first real part time job at The Coffee Club . For the longest time all I did was drink hot chocolates and work out that it was ok to smile while sweeping the floor. I had assumed that people would not think I was genuine if I appeared to be enjoying something tedious. I digress, the smell of the coffee beans in the hopper was intoxicating, every time the baristas would empty a new bag I was there to take in the aroma.
Since then it has been a slow, albeit accelerating, progression towards a slight obsession with coffee in all its forms. Continuing towards keen observations via daily immersion into the world of cafes. I feel that one day I will realise that all this caffeine is somewhat detrimental and need to pull it back a notch. When I get close to feeling that way, I just take the time to watch this epic video on ‘Coffee: The greatest addiction ever’ .
Cafes in Ho Chi Minh City
We mostly avoided the bulk franchise cafes, while we did venture into a few we found that there is nothing that compares a single owner cafe. The coffee is prepared with more care, more consistent and also the wifi is usually much better. Most of the time I purchased a Latte or a Long Black (Americano), these ranged from 35,000 VND ($2AUD) through to 95,000 VND ($5.50 AUD). The range in pricing was quite extreme, but for the most part you get what you pay for and spending more meant better Espresso style coffee.
A few things to note about going to cafes in Ho Chi Minh City
- EFTPOS is Australian, a few times I asked if they had EFTPOS and got blank stares. That was when my amazing wife reminded me that this is not a ‘thing’ anywhere else.
- Cash is best, after a while we just ended up using cash all the time as it is quite common for a cafe not to have any ‘credit card facilities’.
- Be ok with your order not being right, it just happens here and the language barrier is a real thing. Think of it as a chance to try something you never wanted but might like in the future.
- Iced and sweetened is the default, unlike Australia where you seem to get odd looks if you order an iced latte on any day but a heatwave and ordering caramel syrup is akin to having leprosy. Best to always ensure you are getting a hot drink (if that is what you want) and specifically ask for unsweetened.
- You will want iced coffee, after a few weeks I realised why iced coffee drinks were normal. It is hot and dry, in a different way to Brisbane, having a cool drink ended up becoming more of my default.
- Finding Cafes; Instagram ( @nhacuacoffeeholic is great), Facebook, Blogs, Google Maps (you need to scroll over the map zoomed in, looking for the coffee icon), not Tripadvisor (searching for ‘cafe’ only gets you places with that word in the name). Mostly just walk around and see what you find.
- For checking opening hours and if the cafe is even still running, your best bet is to try and find their Facebook page. Most cafes have one and it often seems more up to date than Google Places or their website (if they have one).
Coffee Styles in Ho Chi Minh City
Reminder: Espresso is just one ‘style’ or ‘brew method’ of coffee and is the norm in Australian Cafes, check out this sweet infographic below.
Now that you are back, after exploring the world of coffee, you may have noticed that there is one on there called ‘Vietnamese Filter’. This is, unsurprisingly, the most common coffee in Vietnam and almost every cafe will have this as an option and some will have it as their only option.
This means that you need to be sure you know what you are ordering. The Vietnamese style coffee is often a really dark roast, extremely rich and comes with an immense amount of sweetener and ice. It is amazing and will surely wake you up, however often I just wanted a good old flat white.
However, flat whites are an Australian invention (not New Zealand, wikipedia must be true… right). Hence, you will not find them on the menu at most places aside from the very specialty coffee houses. On top of that Long Blacks are not a thing, the closest is an Americano. The difference is essentially the order of hot water and coffee (in Long Blacks, hot water is first, so you get a nice Crema on top).
It is important to note that (remember our infographic from above), both of these coffees fall under espresso (pressure/vacuum) coffee production. This is good to remember as most menus will have two sections, one for Vietnamese style coffee (sometimes called drip or traditional) and the other for Espresso (or sometimes referred to as Italian) coffee. Traditional coffee may also be written in the Vietnamese Caphe Den (black) and Caphe Sua (milk/white).
Getting Stuff Done in Cafes in Ho Chi Minh City
Most cafes were happy for you to stay an extended amount of time, we found that we would do half the day in one cafe before lunch. After lunch we would either go back to our unit or migrate to a second cafe for the rest of the day. Power points in cafes were abundant, not all have earths so ensure your power adapter can suit non-earthed connections. Wifi is also so normal that many cafes have their password written on the wall, on the tables or just make the password the same name as the cafe. I do not recall a single cafe without wifi, most are fast with at least 10Mbps up and down.
The other thing I loved was that lots of cafes are multi-level, even though places are often narrow (due to the way land is divided for sale by the government). This means you can be up and out of the way from the entry/exit and feel like you are in your own world.
Favourite Cafes in Ho Chi Min City
These are not in preference order, but more utility, looking at which cafes are best to drink coffee at or work at or a mix of both.
You would think all cafes are coffee cafes, but these are the stand outs, their primary focus is on good coffee and nothing else matters. All is secondary to the experience of great coffee here, come to enjoy the coffee and be ok with paying more and not getting the best seats or high speed wifi.
Usually these cafes had the nicer machines, Nuova Simonelli was more common than the Lar Marzocco machines. They usually have multiple brewing methods available, including pour over options. I found a few places that had a common Specialty Coffee sign with Japanese writing.
Probably the most expensive on this list, but the cafe feels like a French opulence meets Japan asian fusion. The coffee options are extensive, with multiple blends from various regions and a great bar seating set up where you can watch your coffee being made in front of you.
Saigon Coffee Roastery
Down an alley, up a stair case and along a verandah. Well worth the explore, this narrow and long cafe has some really sparse but nice decor. They have great coffee and really seem to be passionate about coffee in all its forms.
296, Pasteur, phường 8, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
While unique compared to the others, this place held a special spot in my cafe heart. It was just around the corner from our apartment and I had walked past this many times before going in. The cafe is small, tiny bench seats and tables and one operator with his coffee machine. The sign out out the front says “Coffee, nothing else”, for Vietnam this was quite unique as almost every cafe did full meals or at least some form of cake and desert treats alongside their coffee offerings. Ordering anything more complex than what is on the menu will be a difficult one as the owner seems to speak no English, but the place has a peace and care about it that I cannot easily explain.
Working and Coffee Cafes
These are cafes that have amazing coffee but also are suitable to work at for at least half the day. One thing I realised is that the height of the table to chair ratio really matters and makes a big difference to how long you can work.
The Workshop Coffee
You must go here , they do flat whites, long blacks, all manner of pour overs and even sparkling coffee. The staff are incredibly nice and attentive, they were more than happy to bring us a power board or help us move table if needed, they kept an eye on the temperature in the room, closing windows to put on the air-con at optimum times. The music is good and a nice low level. The premium price is worth it for the amazing coffee every time. The only downside is their seats are not great for a full days work. The customer service here was the best of all the cafes we visited, they even brought out power boards when we needed them.
Vietnam Coffee Republic (the House)
This place was gold, it took us a few tries to find it as they had moved in mid-late December 2016 and their website plus various blogs had conflicting information. Their coffee is almost on par with the Workshop and is cheaper, the seating is nice and the all around vibe is awesome. We found that some days the music would be very different (hard techno one day and Rastafarian beats the next), one day they played the same track on repeat for four hours straight. Aside from the music oddities, this place is great with their own roasted beans and blends that mis robusta and arabica, this was new to me but I am a fan of this.
Note: Getting to this place is confusing, it is inside a kind of complex with much smaller streets, you may be best to go to their sister store Vietnam Coffee Republic showroom as they do the same coffee. Then ask directions :)
Nest by AIA
This is a bit of a unique one as it is kind of a shared open work space, however some days it was closed for events and there seems to be no way to find out aside from just going there. Their opening time says 9am but you are best to get there a bit after that as the escalator going up to the level seems to only open after 10am. The coffee is amazing though, this has been built by a local bank that use it for functions and customer meetings. I had some unique coffee that was of the Typica variety, which I had not seen anywhere else and really enjoyed it. Note that the A/C in this place seems to be constantly set to ‘make people freeze so they die’, so bring a jumper.
The coffee can be ok at these cafes, the priority is seating, toilets, wifi and a comfortable atmosphere. All of these had usable wifi speed with at least 20Mbps up and down. If your coffee budget is running tight, these are great go to cafes.
This place had a sign saying open 24/7 but would randomly be closed, aside from that it is a great place to get coffee and get work done. The seats are comfortable, their upstairs area has enough space and feels separate from the rest of the cafe. It is also cheap and you can get a combo if you ask for it from 11am to 12pm of coffee and Banh Mi.
Waffy Coffee & Tea
Lầu 2, 85 Hồ Tùng Mậu, Phường Bến Nghé, Quận 1
Waffy was brand new when we went, we had walked past the sign multiple times but had not gone down the ally way until the last few weeks of our trip. The coffee was average but the place was great to work at, convenient and really good wifi (one of the days it did not work randomly).
This was one of our favourites from our visit two years ago, it was on the other side of the street of our hotel. Reasonable coffee and super cheap Banh Mi makes this place an epic GSD (Get Stuff Done) cafe. The seat and table height can be a bit awkward though. The place is three stories high and super narrow, feels cosy and you an stay at the top level for hours.
There are so many more cafes I wanted to list, however I thought I should just share four more that are worth the visit.
Oromia Coffee & Lounge
193A/D3 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, phường 7, Hồ Chí Minh, phường 7 Quận 3 Hồ Chí Minh 720000, Vietnam
A Japanese Koi garden greets you on the way in, as long as you can find it. Thankfully some locals somehow realised we weren't from around here (haha) and motioned coffee drinking to us and then pointed us in the right direction. This place has a low ceiling, fake fireplace and you are given some refreshing green tea as you place your order. Note — this is in District 3, so a bit out of the way if you are not near there.
Maison Marou — Chocolaterie
167 Calmette, Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
We saw this chocolate in a few cafes, but then we stumbled upon the Chocolaterie where it is made on our second last night in the city. The hot chocolates were amazing and you get to see the roaster, the chocolate mold placement and the team packaging the individual chocolates.
Fly Cupcake Garden Cafe
25 Tú Xương, 7, Quận 3 7 Quận 3 Hồ Chí Minh, phường 7, Quận 3, Hồ Chí
Beautiful layout, incredible desserts and a few unique meals. Come here for the photos and to indulge on some cupcakes or ice cream masterpieces. Coffee is not amazing but still worth the visit, this is also in District 3.
Ben Coffee House
30 Tôn Thất Thiệp, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
This place is special because it is my name, even though everyone calls me LB. They have cheap traditional coffee and great Italian style coffee, they were packed every morning with people having breakfast.
There are many more cafes we visited and a lot of them were great, but the list must end somewhere. I loved the incredible chance I got to see so many great places in Ho Chi Minh City, thanks for reading.