Whether it is even instant coffee or when I go out later for some of the real thing. I've always just bought a jar of instant coffee and rejoiced and rejoined life with a cup or two. In Vietnam, I'd head out because Vietnam is the land of coffee. Here, coffee is also very good and I have a nice local place down the block with tables outside.
I'm not a coffee snob though and will take what I get. When I used to travel to India and Singapore for work a lot, I'd have the coffee in the hotel room in the mornings first which I named "chock full of nuts"; but I really love the countries with a rich coffee culture. To me the best places have been,
- Vietnam. Vietnam exports the second largest amount of coffee of all places in the world and they grow both Robusta and Arabica beans at various places. One of the most famous is the central Highlands around Da Lat. There the air is cool and it used to be the French would escape the heat and sometimes extreme humidity by going up! The coffee in Vietnam is of all kinds really. One can have just about any type but I much prefer the Ca Phe Sua Da or Nau Da coffees. One is the Saigon blended iced coffee with condensed milk and the second is Hanoi's take on it where the milk is at the bottom. There are also the regular coffees on tap like latte. I have to say some of the most beautiful latte art is in Vietnam. I'd be remiss for not mentioning egg coffee and coconut coffee. Coffee is also a social scene in Vietnam. Tables spill out on the sidewalks and locals gather to discuss and cuss. A lot of free wifi is harvested and phones are abuzz with games and chatting.
- Cambodia. I lived in a few places in Cambodia for some time and found many local and even chain type coffee houses across the city. Since it is usually warm or even hot, iced coffees go a long way. One small stand served by a wonderful barista would see me showing up from my hotel and already be making my favorite iced latte. I stayed longer in Siem Reap and right across the street the friendly Khmer people would be ready to serve some coffee as soon as they saw me. I also went to nicer coffee houses where I could get a latte all decorated.
- Taiwan is rich in coffee culture from local places to wonderful chains like Louisa Coffee. I happened to meet in Taipei two wonderful Vietnamese expats working at an 85 degree coffee shop and would go back and talk with them often. Coffee stands are all over the city and there are also elegant houses with full menus.
- Mexico is also very rich in coffee but my favorite are the desayunos restaurants or breakfast places. Here coffee is happily served with wonderful Mexican omelettes, of course breakfast burritos and tacos, and chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are fun with the layers of chips, red chili, eggs in the morning, meat, onions, peppers.
- Malaysia, India, and Singapore. I really enjoyed the varieties of Kopi in these places along with the food choices for mornings. Small Chinese food stands offer wonderful toast eggs and coffee and in Malaysia with its emphasis on choice roti figures big. Coffee stands and local houses are all over the place and offer local and international flavors. Malaysia is cheaper for most things than Singapore so I think most Singaporeans would cross the border for things until covid. India offers some really nice coffee I quickly became addicted to called Filter Coffee. The Hotel New Woodlands in Chennai was good at this blend of strong hot coffee in a glass. So good!
And now some of my least favorite places. The US is no coffee powerhouse. At its worse is Starbucks which I have only gone to out of a sense of desperation and I would never go to in my places above even though there are Starbucks there. Vietnamese people will usually not go because of two reasons. One is cost. The second is for some reason Starbucks limits wifi to one hour for each thing bought. You get a silly code to tap in on the phone or tablet or laptop to get your hour. Why? I dunno. Across the street is a local Vietnamese coffee house most likely where the wifi password is the phone number and it is posted all over.
The second place is Hong Kong. I am unsure whatever happened here with coffee or did not happen but in a few trips, it pretty much was Starbucks or hotels or really expensive coffee houses. I could not find the local coffee houses prevalent in all the other places.
Of all, my favorite is Vietnam for coffee. I think because the blend is social, cultural, people, and just the huge impact on the community of the local coffee house. It is where people go with or without a Banh Mi sandwich or pastries in the mornings. Most people will bring food from a Banh Mi stand and consume it at the coffee house. I have so many fond memories of sitting by West Lake with my Hanoi coffee and this wonderful and cheap breakfast Banh Mi the nice lady would make for just about $1.25. The coffee came in less than that. The coffee house is a meeting place for anyone that wishes the strong, rich, and wonderful iced coffee or latte or whatever the soul and heart needs. Most of all I have enjoyed just sitting outdoors on the sidewalk and watching Vietnamese people go about their lives. Now the lockdown is ending and I hope my friends will be able soon to go back to the coffee houses and find the threads of that social and cultural life. The Vietnamese coffee house with the wonderful threads of life.
Excuse me now, coffee calls!