Shame on me. Just realized I’ve been telling you guys WHERE to buy coffee in Saigon but not HOW to buy it.
Let me make amends.
Vietnamese coffee really isn’t that complicated. Learn a few of these words and you’re golden.
Ready to start?
The standard. Dark and dangerous with enough sugar and caffeine to fuel a physical confrontation with embassy guards, purse snatchers or shoeshines.
Cà phê đen
Black coffee. But not really.
Really it’s just normal coffee with a little less sugar.
Cà phê sữa
Milk coffee. But—again—not really.
In this case ‘sua’ means milk, but we call it sweetened condensed milk.
Paradoxically sweet and bitter. And powerful. Enjoy.
Cà phê sữa tươi
I’ll just keep doing the ol’ copy and paste—coffee with fresh milk, only it’s NOT.
‘Fresh’ milk is sort of like regular milk with sugar added. AKA milk for babies. Still, it’s not nearly as sweet as ca phe sua, so if your last coffee gave you cavities, try this one.
Also, you can ask for sua tuoi khong duong for another kind that doesn’t have sugar added. Is it real milk? Probably not, but it’s close(r).
Cà phê bạc xỉu
Coffee for people who don’t like coffee.
Just kidding, I drink these a lot. It’s about 3 parts condensed milk or fresh milk to 1 part coffee.
Make sure you specify! It can be an ordeal trying to choke down an entire can of condensed milk.
Cà phê yaourt
That word looks familiar, huh?
Nope, not coffee on a yacht. That’s yogurt coffee (pronounced ya uh).
Eat it with a spoon, drink it with a straw, or scoop it up with your hands. Nobody is going to judge you and your yogurt-coffee-eating ways.
Cà phê nau
3-layer coffee, but it’s mostly just for aesthetics.
Ca phe sua with a frothy layer of foam on the top.
Its hobbies include posing for Instagram pictures and wishing it was an egg coffee.
Cà phê (alcohol)
Ca phe Bailey’s, ca phe Kahlua, etc.
Exactly how it sounds. Best served with breakfast to treat hangovers, or with dinner to cause hangovers, or without the coffee.
Cà phê trứng
Egg coffee. Mostly popular in the north, a handful of cafes in Saigon sell this dessert masquerading as a drink.
Coffee, egg yolk, cinnamon and lots of sugar. Tastes like Christmas.
Baby Vocab For Lil’ Coffee Drinkers
Phin: Vietnamese drip filter
Ít/Nhiều: a little/a lot
Robusta: Vietnam’s main coffee bean. They grow up hard and fast, even in shitty conditions with piss-poor nutrients. Yeah, some of the coffee you drink is cheap solely because it’s made with Robusta beans. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to taste bad—robusta beans grown with care are just as good as any Arabica.
Culi: The Vietnamese word for “peaberry,” or when a coffee pod grows just one bean instead of two. According to Trung Nguyen, the plant puts all the energy normally reserved for twins into this single mega-bean, meaning it tastes even better.
Let’s practice. Repeat after me:
Một cà phê phin sữa tươi đá, ít sữa—One iced coffee with a drip filter, a little fresh milk.
Một cà phê nóng, không đường—One hot coffee, no sugar (how to REALLY order a black coffee).
Một cà phê Bailey’s, không cà phê—One Bailey’s coffee, hold the coffee.
Easy as pie. Right?
Need help ordering coffee? Drop a comment below and I’ll do my best.