In Saigon’s Chinatown, hot coffee is brewed the cool, traditional way

By Ngoi Sao/Mr. True   November 9, 2016 | 07:04 pm PT
A coffee lover has preserved the painstaking brewing technique for decades.

Mr. Thanh’s coffee shop on Tan Phuoc Street, behind Cho Thiec (Tin Market) in District 11, has no signboard and only a couple of plastic tables and stools. “People just follow the smell of the coffee and find the place,” said one of his neighbors in the Chinatown neighborhood.


Luu Nhan Thanh, the shop owner, is a coffee lover who used to make coffee for himself and several neighbors every morning, until one of them persuaded him to open a shop. “I gave it a try, and have been selling for more than 50 years,” said Thanh, a Chinese-Vietnamese man in his 70s.


Thanh makes coffee the very traditional way. He puts coffee in a cloth strainer, places it in a pot and pours in hot water.


Earthen pots are said to keep the smell of the coffee very long, so the coffee will be tastier than that made by stainless steel coffee filter. After several minutes, the coffee is poured into a small steel pot.


The pot will then be placed on a firewood oven for slow cooking, thus the nickname “braised coffee.”


Water for making coffee is also boiled with firewood, which adds a special smoky fragrance to the coffee.


A cup of coffee at the shop costs VND4,000 (18 cents) while a cup with extra condensed milk is VND6,000 (27 cents).


To many people, this cheap yet carefully prepared treat is a perfect start for the day.


Iced coffee with condensed milk, a popular Saigon drink, is also available. The shop at 313 Tan Phuoc Street opens every day from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.


This 97-year-old woman is the shop’s oldest and possibly most loyal customer. “For more than 40 years, I’ve come here every morning for a cup.”

Photos by Ngoi Sao/Mr. True

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