Changing Tastes: Hanoi’s Coffee Street

It’s an image that combines the sensuous colonial past of French Indochina with traditional Vietnamese flavors, such as that of its signature blend, weasel coffee. With expansion underway to Tokyo and overseas markets, this company hopes to redefine consumer tastes.

But the taste may be too unusual for some.

Earlier, Bao, the young desk clerk at my hotel, had looked shocked at my intended coffee plans, and disclosed that, historically, villagers followed the little carnivores, gathering their droppings by hand.

Rickshaw's are a great way to get around in Vietnam.
A xiclo, or rickshaw driver, can take you to the hidden alleyways and quiet side streets of traditional Hanoi. Photo by Michele Peterson

A far cry from the barista serving staff at Starbucks back home, I thought.

“The digestion and excretion process enhances the taste of the beans,” he explained. He added that nowadays, the beans never see a rodent’s innards, and  instead go through a synthetic process that simulates the effects of a journey through the weasel’s digestive tract. Or perhaps so proponents of the brew say, I  mused.

“Perhaps Madame might prefer a cappuccino?” Bao suggested helpfully, as I headed out.

Later, reflecting on Bao’s words as I scanned the menu at the cafe, I found doubts about the evacuation process tiptoeing through my mind.

“How do I know if it is authentic?” I asked the server, hoping for the synthetic non-droplet version. The server just shrugged.

Deciding that perhaps I didn’t really want a coffee after all, I settled for juice and a croissant.

I guess you could say that I weaseled out.

 If You Go

Dak-Linh Café, Hoan Kiem Lake. This outdoor café is nestled among the trees on the southwest shore of the lake. The tables offer a view of badminton  matches, tai chi exercisers and, after nightfall, young Vietnamese couples whispering softly to each other over candlelight.

Trung Nguyen Café, 61 Pho Dinh Tien Hoang. Get your weasel coffee at Vietnam’s answer to Starbucks. Its flagship Hanoi location is beside Hoan Kiem Lake. Among its nine “creative” varieties you can be guaranteed a taste of some of Vietnam’s best coffee.

Café Nhan, 23 Pho Bao Khanh. Situated on Hanoi’s main nightlife strip and popular with young Hanoians, Café Nhan offers quiet rooms for large groups, private nooks for courting couples and breezy balconies for people-watchers.

Au Lac, 57 Pho Ly Thai To. Located near the prestigious Sofitel Metropole hotel in the French quarter, Au Lac is the sort of place where guests can imagine themselves circa 1954 or as an extra in the film The Quiet American.

Win Hotel, 34 Hang Hanh. This mini-hotel right on Coffee Street can help you keep the caffeine buzz going night and day. Rooms start at $20 a night, and include breakfast with a view of the street action and, of course, strong coffee. Reservations can be made directly, or through www.Vietnamstay.com.

Vietnam National Administration of Tourism

www.vietnamtourism.com

 

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