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Net-filter coffee a testament to Saigon’s rich coffee tradition

Wednesday, June 15, 2022, 18:36 GMT+7
Net-filter coffee a testament to Saigon’s rich coffee tradition
Clay pots are used to brew coffee at Cheo Leo Café in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Despite morden coffee shops popping up across Ho Chi Minh City, ca phe vot, or net-filter coffee, still holds a place in the hearts of many who desire the nostalgic vibes of old Saigon.

Net-filter coffee takes its name because the coffee is brewed with the old-fashioned filtration method using a spoon-shaped net filter which resembles the instrument used to catch fish at aquatic stores.

The net filter, consisting of a white cloth and a steel handle, will first be placed upon an empty stainless steel jug before the barista spoons some ground coffee into the net and adds hot water to the mix.

A customer poses for a photo at a nameless ca phe vot café in a small alley on Phan Dinh Phung Street, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Duc Noise / Tuoi Tre

A customer poses for a photo at a nameless 'ca phe vot' café in a small alley on Phan Dinh Phung Street, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Duc Noise / Tuoi Tre

The net will be kept in the jug for a few seconds before the barista adds more water and pour the ready-to-serve beverage into glasses. The entire process takes just a few minutes.

The morning rush at most ca phe vot stalls runs from 6:30 am to 8:00 am, and each cup costs just VND15,000-20,000 (US$0.65-0.86). 

Most guests appreciate the fact that ca phe vot is made onsite, removing fears that any questionable chemicals might end up in their morning brew.

Customers chat while sipping a cup of ca phe vot at a nameless café in a small alley on Phan Dinh Phung Street, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Duc Noise / Tuoi Tre

Customers chat while sipping a cup of 'ca phe vot' at a nameless café in a small alley on Phan Dinh Phung Street, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Duc Noise / Tuoi Tre

Saigon’s top ca phe vot cafés

Few net-filter coffee shops remain in Saigon, but those that do boast long, unique histories. 

The most famous of these cafés are Ba Lu in District 5’s Phung Hung Market, Ca Phe Vothiding in a small alley on Phan Dinh Phung Street in Phu Nhuan District, and Chu Thanh on Tan Phuoc Street in District 11.

Up until a few years ago, the regulars at these coffee shops were primarily old men who spent their mornings sipping coffee, reading newspapers, and chatting with one another. 

Lately, viral photos and videos on social media have helped attract a more youthful crowd looking for a taste of old Saigon.

Young people appear to develop a habit of visiting a ca phe vot joint in order to become early risers, whilst the elderly do not oversleep.

In a small alleyway on Phan Dinh Phung Street in Phu Nhuan District sitsCa Phe Vot, known for its ca phe sua tuoi (coffee with fresh milk). 

The coffee sold at this venue is so legendary that it is not uncommon for visitors to down two or more cups in one sitting. 

The alleyway surrounding the café is crowded most weekends with young guests sitting on small plastic chairs, sipping coffee, and chatting while the patrons -- mostly older locals -- engage in a chess game or catch up on the latest newspaper headlines.

Coffee is brewed using cloth filters and clay pots at Cheo Leo Café in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Coffee is brewed using cloth filters and clay pots at Cheo Leo Café in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Cheo Leo Café on Nguyen Thien Thuat Street in District 3 is another popular ca phe vot place.

While the coffee served at Cheo Leo is traditional, the owner’s decision to offer menus in both English and Vietnamese has helped pull in a diverse crowd of coffee enthusiasts from all over the world.  

Cheo Leo’s social media accounts are also regularly updated, helping it keep in contact with a more youthful client base willing to shell out the cash for its drinks.

A few kilometers from Cheo Leo, nestled in the heart of the Chinese community in Ho Chi Minh City, sits Ba Lu Café.

Ba Lu is famed for its strong coffee and the owners suggest guests take it easy on their first cup if they do not want to get the caffeine jitters.

A glass of hot coffee poured from clay pots at Cheo Leo Café in District 3 in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

A glass of hot coffee poured from clay pots at Cheo Leo Café in District 3 in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Ba Luis blanketed in nostalgia, from its rustic décor to its lack of Wi-Fi and air conditioning. 

Few other coffee stalls in the city inspire so many customers to put their smartphones down and strike up a conversation with those around them.

Ba Lu is only a few steps from the urbanized roadways, but its rustic décor creates an entirely distinct atmosphere.

Because the café is located in a market, guests often enjoy their coffee alongside a meal brought over from another stall.

Despite Ho Chi Minh City’s rapid urbanization, pockets of old Saigon remain nestled in the city’s nooks and crannies.

These ca phe vot stalls are a testament to the city’s ubiquitous attachment to tradition.

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Linh To - Duc Noise / Tuoi Tre News

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