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Chinese herbal coffee in Saigon

By Huynh Nhi   January 25, 2021 | 12:09 am PT
Chinese herbal coffee in Saigon
Coffee is served in a bowl instead of a cup at Cam Cam Kafe. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi.
Guests might be suspicious of the quasi-antique bowl of frothy coffee spiced up with Chinese herbs in a cafe in Saigon’s Chinatown, but end up won over by its taste.

The tucked away cafe, Cam Cam Kafe, is located on the second floor of apartment block No. 806/5E on Nguyen Trai Street, Ward 14, District 5. The drink has two main ingredients: coffee and Chinese herbs.

Dong Lam Thanh Tung, the 32-year-old owner of the coffee shop, brews common herbal spices like cinnamon, cloves and star anise, and blends the liquid with mint, coffee and sugar. The mixture is then whisked into a froth. Coffee is served cold with ice in a vintage bowl.

"When I was small, I watched TV and noticed Chinese often drank medicinal liquid and water in a bowl. I reckoned that was a good idea," Tung explained why he chooses bowls instead of cups to serve his coffee.

He also recommended iced coffee tastes better. "I tried making a hot one and added milk but it did not complement the Chinese herbal coffee," he said.

The coffee has the refreshing flavor of mint and slight bitterness of coffee beans. Staff can adjust the amount of added sugar as per the guest’s request.

Nhan Tran from District 2 was impressed with the taste: "This is the first time I have heard of or drunk this kind of coffee. It has a refreshing and original taste and is better than I thought."

Tung came up with this idea by chance when he caught the smell of ginseng from the residence of Chinese people while out with friends.

He said many people of Chinese origin live in apartments built in French colonial times, and the skylit buildings allow air flow from floor to floor so one cannot hide the smell of a boiling pot of ginseng brew.

"I still remember sitting with my friends, drinking coffee and getting struck by the fragrant scent of ginseng. I felt like I was a neighborhood resident," Tung recalled.

The cafe is near the landmark pagoda called "Ha Chuong Hoi Quan". While you are at it, visiting the pagoda and enjoying Chinese cuisine in Phung Hung market is not a bad choice either.

The little coffee shop has a capacity of 20 guests. It is open from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day.

A bowl of coffee here costs VND35,000 ($1.52). There are also nearly 30 types of other drinks like juice, soda, and yogurt priced from VND20,000-75,000. Motorbike parking near the apartment building is VND10,000.

Playing guitar on the cafe balcony. Photo by Huynh Nhi.

Playing guitar on the Cam Cam Kafe balcony. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi.

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