People in Hanoi have once circulated that: Nhân – Nhĩ – Dĩ – Năng (the top-4 rated cafés in Hanoi). However, to some other persons, this top-4 goes for Nhân – Nhĩ – Dĩ – Giảng as they argue that Giảng is the contemporary café with those ones and is rather competitive considering its unique style.
Personally I think the former one is more accurate as Giảng chose to pursue a completely different style (egg coffee) compared to the others. But whether the tetralogy goes for Nhân – Nhĩ – Dĩ – Năng or Nhân – Nhĩ – Dĩ – Giảng, these mentioned coffee shops are truly a must for locals as well as travellers to Hanoi.
Giảng café – giving birth to egg coffee?
Address 1: 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân St.
Address 2: 106 Yên Phụ St.
egg coffee in Hanoi
Though I am unable to verify this information, it seems that Giảng café (Hang Gai Street) is the birthplace of egg coffee which plenty of other coffee shops in Hanoi tried to copy later on.
In a winter’s day of Hanoi…it was freaking cold outside…I sat in the small table set typical of the café…with a pleasantly hot cup of coffee…and greasy egg foam on the top… For the first cup, I drank leisurely as a usual habit. Unfortunately, the coffee quickly cooled, making the egg foam rather fishy. More experienced with the second one, I did not stir it up right from the start but slowly sipped the egg foam on top with a small spoon and then quickly drank the black coffee below.
Giảng café was originally a small coffee shop hidden in Hang Gai Street of the ancient town; thus, the view from the café is not very fantastic as it does not look upon Hoan Kiem Lake. But in return, the feeling was really unique and nostalgic when sitting at the tiny tables right at the door, facing the thin sidewalks with sparse pedestrians and looking out to Đồng Xuân intersection. In some moments, I felt like I was melted into a very small part of this town, of Hanoi.
Later, Giảng family sold the land to another person who leased the land to a coffee chain called Segafredo. Giảng brothers then separately opened two new egg coffee shop, one looking out to the bus station on Yen Phu Street (operated by the older brother) and the other on Nguyen Huu Huan Street (operated by the younger brother). Though derived from the same recipe, the brothers had some alteration to make their egg coffee distinguished rather than simply a copy of the original one. Accordingly, egg coffee in these two café is notably different although they share a number of common features like the sweat and greasy taste of egg foam combined with the bitter and flavorful taste of black coffee. Besides, the styles of these café also differentiate due to the personal characteristics of their owners. The older brother is gentle in an amiable and rustic manner while the younger is gentle like an intellectual person of the past.
In addition to the main specialty, each café further adds its own side order. In Giảng café of the older brother, you are highly recommended to try egg bear. At the younger’s one, the side drinks vary from lemon rum to egg cacao or egg green bean.
Though the new cafés are unable to remain the nostalgic atmosphere of the old days, they still characterize the exclusive lifestyle in Hanoi and egg coffee will definitely an unforgettable drink among your experience there.
Nhĩ Café locates at 2 Hàng Cá Street. For years, this coffee shop has remained to be a tiny one-storey house (and recently added another one-storey house beside). There are plenty of small wooden chairs inside and also a few so-called wooden tables. They are ‘so-called’ as these tables are not very favorable, most of people there prefer taking the chairs as their tables.
Nhĩ café is always jammed with visitors, leaning their backs against the others’, and sometimes they overflow out to the pavement. Coffee is usually prepared in advance and preserved in teapots. One glass of coffee is equivalent to two cups of tea. When you order, coffee will be poured out to a glass, add either sugar or milk, then the whole mixture of liquid will be stirred up using a whisk. Finally, some ices will be added and your coffee is ready to be served. At your demand, this coffee shop can also provide instant coffee contained in nylon bags or 500ml bottles of mineral water (this is pure black coffee without milk or sugar). Usually before Lunar New Year, my older brother drops by the café to buy some bottles of this type as gifts for dad and uncle. My family always enjoys this coffee during the holiday (as the coffee shop closes at holiday and reopens rather late after that). Coffee at Nhĩ is relatively dense, thick and tasty. Having tried one cup of coffee here, nobody can forget that distinctive flavor and charming aroma.
Locating at No. 6 Hang Bac Street, Năng café is the youngest among the four renowned café in the ancient town. As compared to its contemporaries such as Giảng (Hang Gai), Nhĩ or Đinh café, Năng café is the only one to have two floors.
Entering the coffee shop, finding your way through two clustered rows of seats, at the innermost of the shop is the counter of the barista. Unlike Nhĩ café where coffee is contained in teapots, coffee at Năng café is still fresh in the aluminum coffee filters which is a little bigger than a teapot. There is a tall and narrow stone stair behind the counter. Halfway upstairs, you can find a small loft which is made into the storage place of coffee ingredients. To reach the second floor, you have to go another half of the stair.
The second floor is marked with a spacious balcony where there is always full of sunlight. Many people find a sense of an aging nostalgia from black sets of wooden chairs or the whitewashed wall covered with a thin layer of wood. This floor is usually less crowed during working hours. If you choose a place near the balcony, looking down the street you can immediately find Hang Be Street gently curving and stretching out within your eyesight before hiding behind the green foliage.
Life at the junction in front of the café seems to go on in a very relaxed pace? I have once spent hours sitting in front of the café to just leisurely observe a motorcycle taxi driver lazily sitting on the pavement, scratching his head while waiting for a customer…
There is no parking lot at Năng café. Thus, I usually choose to visit this café in my leisure time when I am in no rush and able to park my motorbike on Cầu Gỗ St. Then I slowly walk into the café and deliberately find a small hidden seat where I will spend haft a day immersing into quiet thoughts.
I choose not to write about Nhân café, as due to some gourmets in this field: Nhân’s descendants have now separated to open several different cafes. Thus, there is nearly no ‘original’ Nhân café. As regards Dĩ café, it is now nowhere to be found. Maybe this family has now given up this coffee business.
Mai café – waking up the whole street
Starting by roasting and grinding coffee beans, Mai café later became a coffee shop to meet the needs of its guests. Coffee at Mai is really well-known for its appealing aroma which is difficult to be mistaken. Going through a street, if suddenly you find a gradually thick aroma of coffee, you can definitely find Mai café somewhere within your vicinity.
This café locates at Lê Văn Hưu Street, one is used for roasting and grinding coffee, the other one across the road is the coffee shop which has been opened later for customers. There is another address of this brand on Nguyễn Du Street where the roasting and grinding place is just next to the coffee shop. This is also my favorable place as compared to the other one.
Sitting at the balcony on the second floor of this café, you can hide yourself in the petite secret corner which is usually covered by the beautiful foliage of lagerstroemia. This seat is utterly secret and fascinating as people down on the street cannot see you up here while you can comfortably observe every one of them. Last summer, I sometimes went to this secret corner to enjoy the peacefulness as well as the delightful purple flowers of lagerstroemia right within my reach. I gradually fell faint, unable to figure out if this was because of the coffee, or because of those charming flowers.
Besides, from that balcony looking across the road to the opposite house, I can easily a stunning curve of a tiled roof among various roofs made from iron frames. That small detail which most of people will overlook suddenly brings about a sense of nostalgia of Hanoi dating back to hundreds of years ago.
It seems that every detail at this café urges me to come back, including the young waiter. He is just around twelve or thirteen years old. He is always in a happily hasty mood that makes his answer always incomplete or deficient. However, as compensation, he is always respectful to the customers.
And finally, the most important component of a good café – coffee – is, according to me, not very excellent. Or at least, it is not as good as it scent which the café owner deliberately spread out every corner of the street. They also use the world renowned types such as Arabica or Robusta, however, there has been more than one time I was served with over roasted coffee. Coffee here is also more dilute than that of the others. According to a friend of mine, this coffee is more suitable with the taste of foreigners who want to once try coffee in Vietnam rather than a ‘coffee adict’ like me who always appreciate the rich taste of Nhĩ or Năng café.
The ‘one-storey’ Lâm café
Unlike Mai café, you can hardly find the passionate scent of roasted coffee beans all day and night at Lâm café, except sometimes during winter when you are lucky enough to enjoy this seductive smell at Lâm café. There are actually 2 locations of this café, both of which are on Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street. People are used to refer to them as ‘one-storey’ Lâm café and ‘two-storey’ Lâm café.
I can still remember the first time I visited Lâm café three years ago. It was a winter morning, I was leaving the class when receiving a phone call from a friend. She came from the south of Vietnam, and although she had been to Hanoi for several times, she always spent the first morning here to visit Lâm café. I came to Lâm for that reunion and found a few people sitting there, except my friend. I chose a small hidden seat at the corner (it seems that my habit to avoid attention had dated back to that time), I ordered a cup of hot white coffee to dispel the freaking cold which was ‘torturing’ me after the long drive. She came soon after that. She was a little girl with a peaky skin, there had been always a nameless sadness hidden in her eyes and smile. Her black hair was gently released down to her shoulders which seemed to bring along the cold outdoors, quietly ‘shaking’ the strong coffee-smelled atmosphere of the café. The scene seems to be aging with the whitewashed wall, wooden windows and wooden sets of tables. The atmosphere is even more nostalgic in a gloomy winter day. The bitter sweet aftertaste of coffee was still lingering deep in the throat. The elegant aroma of roasted coffee was like a tranquillizer bringing your heart to somewhere peaceful.
The ‘two-storey’ Lâm café is not very far from that. It is really weird to notice that the first floor is always crowded, sometimes guests overflowing out to the pavement, while the second one is usually empty. I often go to the second floor at the early morning, ‘sipping’ the first golden sunlight of a day shining through the window. Personally I think the service here is comparably better with good attitude of waiters, and the cacao mixture is also more delicious.