Notes from Hanoi

In the long run, if popular culture historians had been to ever dredge up the highest social media traits that outlined the COVID-19 worldwide lockdown, I can wager my final espresso bean that dalgona espresso can be proper up there using the crest. The creamy-headed beverage, itself jostling for house with all the things from banana bread and dangerous residence haircuts to auto-tuned renditions of bella ciao.

And whereas the genesis of dalgona espresso is (erroneously!) attributed to each a preferred Korean caramel-coffee sweet of the identical identify and to our very personal, overwhelmed to submission, desi phheti hui espresso, its true origins lie within the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi within the guise of ca phe trung. Something I found on a visit to Vietnam a 12 months in the past. This, again within the good outdated days after I believed social distancing to be my personal idiosyncrasy and when ‘Corona’ was nonetheless simply one other model of beer!

Egged On

Lending a sure gravitas to the “necessity is the mother of invention” proverb, dalgona espresso’s egg-enriched predecessor ca phe trung was the canny invention of a Hanoian barista named Nguyen Van Giang in 1946 at his espresso store known as Café Giang.

Relishing the thick, creamy and surprisingly non-eggy tasting sizzling espresso, seated within the legendary café perched alongside Hanoi’s ‘Coffee Street’ aka Trieu Viet Vuong within the historic Hai Ba Trung district, I received a crash course in all issues ca phe trung, due to the chatty supervisor.

Apparently, a submit WWII scarcity of tinned condensed milk that went into the then-popular iced ca pe sua da, steered Giang within the course of stiffly overwhelmed egg yolks to offer a creamy heft and wealthy style to the espresso beverage that he determined to serve sizzling. Thus, imbuing his brand-new espresso concoction with a kind of wealthy, Tiramisu-esque texture and style.

But in contrast to dalgona that has simply the creamy layer sitting atop sizzling or chilly milk, ca phe trung has a thick physique right through, making it extra of a hybrid sizzling dessert than drink. One that’s greatest tackled with a spoon, not sipped.

Back story

Akin to the espresso beverage model of a set of nesting Russian dolls, I used to be quickly to be taught that there was one more story throughout the story associated to how Vietnam’s obsession with condensed milk — each because the dairy and sweetener element — with regard to its espresso ingesting expertise took place. And it was the French colonialists that set the course.

After producing the straightforward to domesticate robusta number of espresso beans in Da Lat in climatically appropriate central Vietnam within the early 1900s, the French realised that milk was onerous to come back by. This was as a result of milk and different dairy merchandise had by no means been part of the Vietnamese eating regimen. And are nonetheless not, to this present day.

To fill on this deficit, the French began to import tinned condensed milk, which was first utilized in conventional French espresso preparations like café au lait after which within the extra localised Vietnamese iterations that sprung forth.

Chain response

Over my one week within the nation, as I dove additional into Vietnam’s espresso tradition, I quickly got here to some fascinating realisations. There isn’t any ‘grab-and-go’ espresso store idea right here. People want to take a seat down at cafés and have leisurely, conversation-enhanced espresso ingesting classes.

Despite being second solely to the Brazilians by way of espresso bean (each arabica and robusta) exports at an annual turnover of about $3.10 billion, the Vietnamese want the sharper, bitter flavour and better caffeine content material of the much less fashionable robusta espresso beans for his or her private consumption.

And this is the reason the large worldwide espresso chains like Starbucks and Gloria Jean’s Coffee — each of whom primarily use the milder arabica beans of their drinks — have failed miserably within the native market that’s dominated by cheaper, extra artisanal cafés.

And why not? It is in locations like these, actually on each road nook within the huge cities and small cities of Vietnam, that one can get a style of much more experimental variations of espresso drinks. From a yogurt espresso to a hipster-chic avocado and banana smoothie-meets-frappe known as sinh to ca phe chuoi bo, the variability on provide boggles the thoughts. Maybe they’ll also have a dalgona sometime. If not already.

The Mumbai-based author and restaurant reviewer is keen about meals, journey and luxurious, not essentially in that order.

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