Amid a growing litany of modern coffee houses and fancy-schmancy artisan cafes, one of Vietnam’s first cafes is still going strong. Café Duy Tri, which originally opened on Mai Hac De in Hanoi's Hai Ba Trung District in 1936, continues to be one of the most popular coffee shops in the capital today.
The cafe remains family-run, managed by Duy Tri and his wife Dang Thi Chin who relocated the shop to Tay Ho in 2000 after taking the reigns from Duy Tri’s father, armed serviceman Phan Duy Sen. Now, with help from their daughter and her husband, the pair welcomes visitors from all over Hanoi (and the globe) who flock to taste the family’s 75-year-old patented coffee recipe.
It’s easy to see why this lovable family-run cafe is so popular. The traditional, multi-storey tube-house makes for a cosy spot to while away the afternoon with a good book, or to hang out with a group of friends. The three levels provide ample — albeit low — seating and more importantly, a fascinating glimpse into the family’s history, whether it’s the black and white photos depicting their involvement in the war or portraits of their grandkids.
The Real Deal
When we visit, the tables are filled with a mix of foreigners lazing by the window and Vietnamese huddling around cups of ca phe nau da. Tourists curiously plod their way up the steps to the upper levels, studying the pictures on the wall and shaking hands with Duy Tri.
The most endearing feature of Café Duy Tri is that there is no pretense about it, just good old fashioned, warm Vietnamese hospitality, and a cheerful, no-frills and cheaply priced menu. On any day, the family welcomes you into the shop as if it is their home. And, as you may have guessed, they are extremely proud of their coffee. And with good reason. If you want to taste real Vietnamese coffee — i.e., not fancy pumpkin-spiced, hazelnut frappadouches — this is the place to try it.
The unique blend of Arabica, Robusta and Mocha (a coffee variant derived from Arabica) beans packs an intense wallop. Actually, make that a wallop-and-a-half. And the recipe is a jealously guarded family secret made to strict specifications to deliver a uniquely sharp taste and aromatic smell.
“Each variety of bean is roasted differently before it is mixed to a highly specific ratio,” says Duy. “It’s been influenced by the French style of making coffee and is completely natural, made without any artificial additives.” That recipe, passed down from Duy Tri’s father, is almost 75 years old and continues to be popular with their customers today.
Their most famous offering by far, though, is the ca phe sua chua, or yoghurt coffee (VND23,000), which is a crowd favourite. It comes deconstructed with a slightly sour yet sweet dollop of frozen yoghurt, a fresh shot of Vietnamese coffee and generous swirls of condensed milk. The cafe also serves a mix of smoothies and iced coffee drinks, none of which exceed VND40,000.
For Duy Tri, coffee has been an indispensible part of his family’s life. His father ran small coffee shops as a means to support his family when they were evacuated from Hanoi at various points during the war. When his father joined the military, his mother ran the shop while they lived in Thai Nguyen Province and then again when they were evacuated to Ha Nam, Nam Dinh, Thanh Hoa and Ninh Binh. Now, at the age of 75, and after long careers as a military mechanic and a teacher, he is proud to be continuing his parents’ work. And boy, is he doing it well. — David Mann
Café Duy Tri is at 43 Yen Phu, Tay Ho, Hanoi