So you’re in Vietnam and you like coffee, Lady Luck has smiled upon you. Just traveling? How does “50 cent espresso” sound? Live here? You probably already have a preference for the den da. This Southeast Asian country is home to some of the best coffee in the world – both independent cafes and homegrown Vietnamese coffee shop chains. Though originally a tea drinking society, coffee has taken over in recent years and is now almost a required part of the daily routine.
Side Note About Highlands
Many experts believe that Vietnam is the second biggest product of coffee beans in the world, behind only Brazil. Having all this high quality supply means there are a ton of great coffee, and of course a lot coffee shops to choose from – both chain stores and smaller independents. Those smaller independent stores will generally give you the best coffee experience, and we heavily prefer going to them, but they deserve a separate post – so, that’s the last we’ll mention of that.
We’re not going to dive into the coffee culture in Vietnam either. We’re just going to assume that you’re new yet already vaguely familiar to all this and just want to have dependable info on where you can get coffee that’s uniform, reliable, affordable, and perhaps even surprisingly decent. It’s good to see the local players doing well and holding their own against the new American invaders… like Starbucks.
Is has to be noted that of local coffee chains, and one of most popular is Highlands Coffee – we don’t like them. Not only do they have a (well earned) reputation for steadily contributing to an ecological disaster, their coffee will also have what many people might describe as “burnt”. It’s almost an expected flavor, so I guess they’re dependable for flavor and experience… best chain, if you like charcoal and hate the environment.
Looking for properly roasted coffee beans? Look no further:Fantastic Vietnamese Coffee Roasters and Where to Find Them
Excellent Vietnamese Coffee Chains
If you’re looking for a more palatable and eco-friendly coffee shop experience, there are many other great chains to choose from. Here’s our list of Vietnamese coffee shop chains that are more deserving of your business:
Phuc Long Coffee and Tea
Phuc Long (see locations) is a local favorite, with a more local vibe and appearance. This is basically what a “modern” Vietnamese coffee shop would look like. They have a great selection of teas, coffees, and some locations even have desserts. As can be expected the Vietnamese iced coffee here is also excellent – it’s still got that noticeably Vietnamese caramel finish but it’s not as intense as what you’ll find at Highlands. They also have a variety of flavored iced teas (they did start off in the tea business after all). This is always a refreshing break from coffee, but don’t forget to ask for less sugar.
Yes, we’re adding this brand to our list as well. I don’t have any stats to go by, but judging from the amount of locations I’ve come across, it seems like Milano is Vietnam’s most popular coffee chain (or at least, the one with the most number of stores), and, arguably, the most “local” brand listed here. Their locations can be politely described as having an “industrial minimalist” chic (see locations), but their coffee is cheap – if you’re looking for something stronger, they even have energy drinks like Sting and Redbull on the menu. Great place for trucker and long distance bikers, I suppose.
Not sure if this is now considered a chain, but we’re putting it on the list anyway. Dolphy is a relative newcomer when it comes to multiple locations. Starting off in the flood plains of Thao Dien, they’ve recently opened up several more branches in prime locations in other districts. What sets them apart is that they’ve cut their teeth serving blended and espresso based drinks to the expat crowd in D2, so the menu, service, and interiors are all geared towards that market. One would expect higher prices because of this, but they’re actually quite affordable. Some of the newer spaces would also have noticeably quieter space for work or study vs their original TD branches which were right on the main road.
Katinat Saigon Coffee and Tea used to fly well under the radar, with only a handful of branches, all located within Districts 1 and 3. Much like other food and beverage places, this chain of coffee shops was hit hard by Covid-19 but they’ve managed to make a comeback with aggressive expansion. The new stores are much larger with more than enough space for groups. In addition, the brand has also changed its identity, concept, and color scheme, which has helped it to stand out from the competition. You can expect all the Vietnamese basics, as well as some espresso based drinks – however, I also do recommend trying some of the matcha drinks which are surprisingly refreshing in this tropical heat.
Another local chain that’s got a good vibe – if only for the happy blue and yellow theme. Guta Cafe (see locations) are not generally very western-style, but they’ve managed to pull off a modernised version of a Vietnamese cafe. Small stools are available if you prefer them over actual chairs. Most locations will be smaller kiosk type places, so they do expect you to move along. Most places will have a good crowd, or just have a lot of delivery drivers coming through. It’s a very good place to get a decent cup of coffee without breaking the bank. Espresso based drinks available, and they also have a small range of food items on the menu.
Yes. Cheese. Coffee. Cheese Coffee is a local chain that’s been around for a few years now, and they’re quite a favorite with locals (see locations). They’re of course best known for their iced coffee with cheese – which, as weird as it sounds, actually tastes really good. Bit sweet, bit sour, bit… salty? I don’t know how to describe it other than “cheese coffee tastes like cheese and coffee”. Regardless, they’ve got several locations in HCMC and have been quite ideal for meeting up with friends or getting some work done. Dark interiors, minimalist setting, and their choice of music won’t be offensive to most sensibilities. Easily one of our favorite places for low key work or study.
No, that’s not a typo. I initially thought it was too, but apparently this is the real name of this chain of coffee shops. “Passion without N” was the slogan, but they’ve since changed it to something that actually makes sense in English (it’s not “Coffee to Go”). The bright green color scheme will be what you will notice first, but the coffee here is pretty good – and the interiors are quite modern. They’ve upgraded many of their locations now to include air-conditioning, and (gasp!) power sockets close to tables!
The Coffee House
The Coffee House (see locations) is a popular local chain with many branches all over Vietnam. They’re most well known for their iced coffee, which is consistently delicious and refreshing. In particular, we highly recommend getting a cup of cold brew, which has a smooth, rich taste that’s perfect for a hot day. And if you’re looking for a break from all the strong coffee, they also have some great tea drinks and smoothies. This is probably one of the best managed local chains, with tastefully decorated locations in busy areas – they are always clean, well-staffed.
UPDATE: As of 2022, the Coffee House has moved to an “All Disposable” strategy. Even for dine-in customers, you’ll still be served with a single use cup. This quite unfortunate situation should be brought up to their management team. Looks like the Jolly-bug is spreading.
Easily our favorite coffee shop chain, this chain has been serving up strong coffee since the early 2000s. There’s Cong Cafe locations all over Vietnam now (and apparently in Japan and Malaysia), which is good because – damn! Their coconut coffee is something you might want to have on the daily. They’ve stepped up their game in terms of interiors and service, but at heart they’re still a no-frills coffee shop that’s just trying to give you a nice coffee experience, while you’re immersed in kitsch from the 60s. It’s all part of the fun! King Cong would be a top recommendation for anyone who’s only in town for a few days.
There are a few more coffee shop chains out there, but these are the most notable and popular ones which you’ll easily find in Saigon. Dependable, standardised, and reasonably priced, they’re great for everything from catching up with friends to getting some work done. Or maybe just get delivery.
Again, please do try to avoid Highlands Coffee – their refusal to move away from single-use plastic is inexcusable in this day and age. Sure, some of these other chains might also use single use plastic, but as far as we can tell, none of them are owned by a multi-billion dollar company that have the resources to actually make a difference. So, let’s all do our part to save the planet, one cup of coffee at a time!
And if you need a break from the chains, there are always the many local coffee shops to explore! Guess, that’s going to have to be another blog post.
Have you got a favorite Vietnamese coffee shop chain? Let us know in the comments below!