What to do in Hanoi Part 3: Bia hoi and Vietnamese coffee

As I have introduced you in my previous post, today I will review and also recommend you what to drink in Hanoi, Vietnam to make your travel in Vietnam memorable. Yes, they are Cà phê and Bia Hơi or Coffee and Fresh Beer.

What to do in Hanoi Part 3: Bia hoi and Vietnamese coffee


In recent years, wine bars and gastro pubs have been popping up in cities right across Asia and Vietnam doesn’t stand out of this trend. Microbrewery craft beers and obscure French organic biodynamic wines could be easily found in Western themed restaurant in Hanoi, but the bia hoi joint has never had the slightest sign of being forgotten.

Bia hoi or ‘fresh beer’ is the Hanoi’s drink of choice — for locals and visitors alike, from youngster to older, we all love the culture of ‘Bia hoi’. This beverage refers to the refreshingly light, chilled, straw-coloured draught beer. The word “bia” is originally came from “biere” from the French, and “hoi” means “gas”. The beer is matured for a short period and once ready each bar gets a fresh batch delivered every day in plastic jugs. It is a very light (~3% alcohol) refreshing lager at a fraction of the cost of draft or bottled beer in the Western-style bars. To keep the beer at its finest, they brewed them daily, the left over will be poured away, but this usually not going to happens because who doesn’t love beer? They often found their self out of beer at the end of the day. As bia hoi is so good, your new friends might say to you “Let’s go for bia hoi!” or “Let’s head to the bia hoi!” Befriend some Vietnamese and that’s what you’ll hear often.

Bia hoi in Hanoi Old Quarter

Bia hoi in Hanoi Old Quarter

 The popularity of bia hoi is partly explained by its price — only about 8,000 – 10,000 Vietnamese Dong, under 40 – 50 US cents a glass when we were there last year, making it one of the world’s cheapest beers. Note this as your travel in Vietnam guidelines.

Its reputation is gained by its taste with lightly carbonated with fine white-topped bubble that quickly disappears, the light golden brew is clear, crisp and clean to taste, such a good-looking beverage. The thirst-quenching beer is so easily quaffed because it’s so low in alcohol — just 2.5-4.5%, so don’t worry if you ever got drunk only if you could drink a whole keg of beer.

Bia hoi is served icy cold which is consumed fast and in large quantities during summer, this is the reason why it is more popular in Vietnam’s sultry southern city, Saigon, where the weather is much hotter. Bia hoi can be found on nearly every block in Vietnam, and in Hanoi’s labyrinthine old quarter on almost every corner.

They’re easy to spot. Look for shin-high red or blue plastic stools spilling out of a neon-lit interior onto the footpath and street. Although this scattering of seating will periodically be tidied up and packed inside causing patrons to scramble when the word spreads that a police patrol is on its way.

Famous thirst-quenching beer

Famous thirst-quenching beer

 The occupants of bia hoi joints are always pumpkin seeds, peanuts, rice crackers or maybe anything that you would like to eat along.

Bia hoi shop is small, usually first floor with a lot of kid size plastic chairs. Sit inside and you’ll be rubbing shoulders with locals who’ll soon be showing you how to eat or to drink like a real Vietnamese, like I told you, Vietnamese is friendly.

Other popular snacks include grilled dried squid, and in the bia hoi joints without kitchens, fermented sausage neatly wrapped in banana leaves, and — a bewildering favourite of young Hanoi hipsters — hot cheese sticks and French fries sprinkled with sugar. Yes, sugar. The food is not as cheap as you’d expect considering the price of the beer, but this is where the businesses make their profits.

You’ll find old blokes in beret with wispy Uncle Ho-style beards sipping beers soon after dawn when the stainless steel 100-litre kegs arrive from the breweries and are unloaded from the backs of motorbikes. Late at night, when the last keg is emptied, you’re more likely to see tipsy groups of colleagues piling into taxis and young hipsters zooming off on shiny Italian Vespa. Like I told you, travelling in Vietnam is very cool!


Like afternoon milked tea in Europe, morning coffee has become an indispensable and specific cultural figure in Vietnam. The popularity of this custom I guess that you all have known if you are a coffee drinker.Vietnamese coffee has gained its reputation due to its wonderful flavor, lingering taste and absolute awesome after taste.

Coffee has become a proud of Vietnamese. Although, the way coffee is served are adjusted along the S-shaped country to fit different appetites of the locals.

Saigonese love their coffee loaded with a lot of milk, they love the sweetness of milk perfectly combined with coffee’s attractive bitterness. The word “bạc sỉu” is referred to describe a kind of coffee that is very sweet with lots of milk, extracting coconut and coffee. I like this one too, but only if not too often, as a Hanoian I would prefer coffee served in pure black. Riding along any street in Saigon you possibly encounter many and many coffee shop with the locals chatting and reading news paper, from youngster to older in such a bustling atmosphere. To be honest, I only lay my trust on many particular coffee shops in this place, however I don’t want to give a coffee swindler my money when purchasing a totally not pure coffee. You really need to note this thing down, remember that once they have a good source of input, they would do everything to maximize their profit and sometime regardless other’s health. Every time I come to Saigon, I choose coffee shop 330 Phan Dinh Phung, 313 District 11 and Barzaar Coffee and Studio.

Unlike Saigonese, Hanoian love their coffee stronger with less milk inside. If the weather in Saigon makes people prefer icy coffee, here in Hanoi hot anddense coffee which takes longer time to made by using Vietnamese traditional coffee cup –“phin” is much more popular. Hanoi and Saigon, two different cities, two different life styles, two different feelings, if you have a chance to travel along Vietnam you would probably recognize this.

In this review I would focus the coffee culture in Hanoi only, however I’m a Hanoian I could only provides you the truest Hanoian way to enjoy coffee.

In Hanoi, coffee could be found in every corner, but unlike those from Saigon, coffee shops in here is much quieter and gentler. The truly Hanoian coffee is served in nice and poetic coffee with simple decoration combined with light, soft music. A cup of Hanoian coffee takes longer time to make and therefore, it’s more delicate than its sibling in Saigon.

In Hanoi, to have a cup of real good coffee, please be patient. Otherwise, please don’t trust any shop that have bad decoration with just only plastic coffee basket with label outside and a girl on shift who is probably busy watching some Korean reality shows. This is so not a way Vietnamese, or Hanoian serve coffee, and absolutely so not a trustful location that you would get your “Vietnamese coffee” or “pure coffee”, “Weasel coffee”, “Kopi Luwak” … This is a scam, in my next post I will show you the way to tell your coffee is pure coffee or not. Please be a wise coffee consumer in this city.

If you see a sign of Vietnam Coffee or Weasel coffee , don’t trust it immediately, go inside, told them to brew you a cup of test then decide whether it worth your money or not. I highly recommend Cộng Cà Phê and Highlands coffee. If you want to know more about Vietnam in the 50s, go to Cộng, not only the drinks are diverse and delicious, Cộng also greet you with nice waiters and waitress, combined with it very Vietnam decorate, this place worth a try. Address: 54 Ma May strt

Cong coffee

Cong coffee

 In contrast to Cộng, Highlands Coffee is a trendy and modern decorated coffee shop, with tasty beverages and cakes along with professional staffs. I recommend you to taste Jelly Green Tea, my favourite one. Two place represent two side of Vietnamese culture which exist parallel all at once. Address: next to Hanoi Opera House.

Hanoi Oldest coffee shop

Hanoi Oldest coffee shop

 But if you want to taste truly and real good pure coffee, let’s go to our shop – Huongmai café, located in 58 Ma May, 49 Lo Su and 15 Hang Manh, all in Hanoi Old Quarter so you could choose cyclo as your transportation to our shop. As the oldest coffee shop in Hanoi, we proudly to say our coffee is clean, pure and home roasted which came from our own farm in Da Lat, Lam Dong province – the queen land of coffee, none of my customer has said a word of complain about our product’s quality. Have a free test cup of any types of fresh brewed coffee at any of my shops to taste the truest Vietnamese coffee. If you travel in Vietnam, try real pure coffee from the place, why not?

Huongmai Cafe – The oldest coffee shop in Hanoi


See you in my very next post about spotting fake and authentic coffee.