Sweets

Sweets

By
Andreas Pohl, Tracey Lister
Contains
17 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742705262
Photographer
Michael Fountoulakis

Old black magic: coffee culture

The ties that bind the Pham family must surely be laced with caffeine. Nguyen Thi Oanh, the matriarch of the family, opened her first coffee shop on Mai Hac De Street in 1936 to supplement the meagre income her husband was earning from his martial arts school. All her eight sons and daughters have been involved in the coffee trade in one way or another ever since.

The original café operated for nine years as a popular meeting spot for well-to-do Hanoians, before her husband participated in the 1945 uprising against the French. The family was forced to flee the capital and decamped to the north, which was still controlled by Ho Chi Minh’s forces. They reopened the café in the small township of Viet Bac in Thanh Hoa province: a humble, open-sided shack with the thatched roof still proudly displaying the original sign salvaged from the Mai Hac De café.

When the French finally left Vietnam in 1954, the Phams moved back to the capital. A photo of the time shows the entire local People’s Committee dressed in their Sunday best, posing in front of their new café on Pho Hue in 1955. In the early 1960s, the coffee shop moved once more to Le Van Huu Street, where it is still operating under the original name.

The oldest son, Pham Dyu Tri, was the last to make a living from those magic beans, when he started his own coffee shop after retiring from the army. His venture now joins Café Mai and Café Duy Dung, which are owned by his two brothers.

The French introduced coffee to Vietnam in the mid-19th century when they forced villagers to turn their small plots into large-scale plantations. Since the time Tri started waiting on tables at the tender age of six, he has witnessed the black brew transform itself from a luxury good to an everyday indulgence. These days, Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee behind Brazil.

Tri produces his own blend of robusta and arabica beans at his small factory close to the Red River. The beans are processed in the traditional French way, with a little bit of butter and chicory. The dark roast, high in caffeine and with a slight taste of chocolate, produces its richest flavour when prepared the old-fashioned way: by ever so slowly dripping through a stainless-steel filter, making a brew strong enough for a teaspoon to almost stand upright in the cup!

While the arabica beans come from the north, where the plantations are at a higher altitude and the soil is better suited to growing this delicate, aromatic variety, Tri sources his robusta beans from the central highlands.

Buon Ma Thuot is the coffee capital there — a small town with great ambitions, which are mainly driven by its favourite son, coffee baron Dang Le Nguyen Vu. The success story of this straight-talking, cigar-smoking tycoon is that of a local boy made good. Coming from a poor family in the countryside, Vu excelled at school and started medical studies at university, before packing it all in for a career in coffee.

In the late 1990s, he started out with one roasting machine in a rented shack. Now, more than 3000 employees produce one of the most recognised coffee brands in the nation, which is exported to over 60 countries worldwide. Vu’s grand vision includes selling his Trung Nguyen brand in his very own chain of upmarket coffee shops.

There are no signs yet, though, that traditional independent coffee shops like Café Duy Tri are threatened by the big brand competitors. Wedged between two clothes shops, the narrow café with its low wooden tables and upturned beer crates covered with pillows serving as stools is crowded with loyal locals, still enjoying their ca phe den (black coffee), ca phe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk), or the house specialty, ca phe sua chua (coffee with yoghurt).

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

    No results found
    No more results
      No results found
      No more results
        No results found
        No more results
          No results found
          No more results
            No results found
            No more results
              No results found
              No more results
              Please start typing to begin your search
              We're sorry but we had trouble running your search. Please try again