Three cafes that won't let go of Hanoi's past

By Hoang Hoang   July 7, 2016 | 04:30 pm PT
A cup of espresso plus a cube of history.

With time, generations of Hanoians have grown up with these antique coffee shops.

When I was little, me and my father would dress up really nice and then ride to our favorite coffee spots in the Old Quarter on our old, second-hand Suzuki. Before, it was my grandpa who took my father to the exact same spots. Going out for coffee every Saturday morning has been a long standing tradition in the family. Years have passed, people come and go but the shops stay, immune to the rapid changes of the capital. When you go there, you don’t just go for a caffeine dose, you go for a piece of nostalgia, for a glimpse of that long-gone history.

Café Lam

Though the coffee is not that great, Café Lam, carries an artistic atmosphere. Opened in the early 1950s, on the side of a street near Hoan Kiem Lake, Lam later moved to Nguyen Huu Huan Street. The shop, since its opening day, has been a hot spot among locals, especially artists. In the old days, famous Vietnamese painters like To Ngoc Van, Bui Xuan Phai and phenomenal writers such as Van Cao and To Hoai spent their past time at Café Lam. The owner, Nguyen Van Lam used to give free coffee and breakfast to poor artists as a gesture of support in exchange for artworks. Their works were later hung on the walls of the shop, transforming it to a coffee gallery.

Café Nhan

Opened in 1946, café Nhan is famous for its way of selecting and processing coffee. From choosing the beans to roasting and grinding, all the steps are done mostly manually to preserve the authentic flavor. Any cup of coffee from Café Nhan is finished with care. The taste seems to be finer and richer than that of factory-made coffee. Not only the witness, café Nhan actually had a role in making today's Vietnam's history. During the French-Vietnamese War, it was the secret gathering spot of Vietnam Resistant Force that later liberated Hanoi.

Café Giang

Home to the famous Vietnamese egg coffee, café Giang is the fusion of European class and Vietnamese flippant street feeling. The very first owner, Nguyen Van Giang, was originally a bartender at the famous Hôtel Metropole Hanoi during the French colonial period. After leaving his job at the hotel, he brought his special method of coffee making back to his shop on Hang Gai Street and offered high quality coffee at street level price. For years, generations of people in Hanoi have fallen for the smooth, silky flavor of egg coffee- the original, one of a kind treat from café Giang.

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