Finding Great Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City

Other than Brazil, no nation produces more coffee than Vietnam. Introduced by French colonists in the 19th century, the country’s coffee crop is now a $3 billion business and accounts for nearly 15 percent of the global market, making Vietnam the java giant of Southeast Asia.

Quality, however, has only recently begun to catch up with quantity, mainly because farmers have begun augmenting Vietnam’s longtime cultivation of cheaper, easy-to-grow robusta beans with a connoisseur’s favorite, arabica.

A major beneficiary has been the cafe scene in the country’s largest metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon). Thanks to direct crop-to-shop supplies, the retail business of coffee is booming as increasing numbers of indie roasteries and specialty coffeehouses sprout up around the city’s French colonial opera house, amid the megamalls and boutiques of fashionable Dong Khoi Boulevard, and in the shadows of the high-rise towers in District 2.

From semi-hidden bohemian hangouts such as RedDoor to stylish chains like Laviet — which has its own coffee farm near Dalat, in the country’s central highlands — the city has a cafe for nearly every coffee acolyte.

Café Cheo Leo, in a low-lying, off-the-radar pocket of District 3, is a favorite of locals who traditionally have their coffee with a thick dollop of sweetened condensed milk.Credit…Justin Mott for The New York Times

Café Cheo Leo: Old and bold

Given the exceptional bitterness and caffeine wallop of most robusta beans, it’s little wonder that the Vietnamese have traditionally softened their coffee with a thick dollop of sweetened condensed milk, creating an almost milkshake-like concoction.

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