If China is famous for its tea, Vietnam is for the coffee, and the switch is immediate as soon as you cross the border. So, when we woke on our first morning in Sapa, we were keen to taste our first real Vietnamese coffee.
Now, you can get a western-style cappuccino all over Sapa, since there are enough tourists there all year round to keep such coffee shops open.
But we wanted to try the local version and hunted around for a place that looked appealing.
It didn’t take us long to come across Little Vietnam on the main street in Sapa, and the two young women serving in there seemed delighted to be the subject of our photos, videos and copious notes being taken as they prepared the brews for us.
Anyone familiar with Vietnamese coffee will recognise the little filters that are almost the trademark of the national drink.
We guessed that we’d need to wait a few minutes for the coffee to filter through into the glass below, but we were intrigued by the glutinous white layer below that, which of course was the sweetened, condensed milk you also have to get used to (and we did!) if you’re going to drink Vietnamese coffee on a regular basis.
We still needed special instructions that first morning, because if you don’t stir the two liquids up, they will stay as two thin bands of different colours in the glass. But mix it all up and you get a classic ‘white’ Vietnamese coffee, though they – wisely – don’t call it ‘white’, and just say with milk. This photo is, after all, after it’s all been stirred up…
It’s actually a very taste brew. It’s strong, and one local suggested they shouldn’t be drunk after 3pm if you want any chance of sleeping at night, but we got so into them for the 10 days we were in Vietnam, that we certainly had at least one a day, and even broke the supposed 3pm deadline a couple of times (without disastrous consequences, I might add).
We did try a second coffee later that first day, but it was neither as good nor in a place with as nice an atmosphere, so our top tip for coffee in Sapa goes to Little Vietnam.
For tea and cake, we moved on to a couple of the social enterprises that operate in Sapa.
Baguette and Chocolat has been going for some 20 years. It only employs what it calls ‘disadvantaged youth’ and helps them into careers in catering and the hotel industry.
We came here mainly because of its cakes, which drew us in from the front window – and they were indeed pretty special, in a French kind of way (meaning small and delicate rather than the American/UK tendency to go for size).
We matched these lemon tarts up with some beautiful citronella tea with local honey for a pretty tasty post-lunch treat.
So for cake (and a cuppa to go with it) we recommend Baguette & Chocolat in Sapa.
But just across the road from these guys is another charity, just as worthy. The O’Chau social enterprise is a backpackers’ hostel, but also a café and handicrafts store, with all monies raised going to build the social enterprise side of the organisation, helping young people from Sapa and villages around the town continue their education. You can check out their work at www.sapaochau.org
Of course, we were mainly here for the tea, a final brew before we caught our bus down to Hanoi.
Now, I’m all for doing things the local way when it comes to tea and coffee (except for that awful green stuff we tried in China), but when you spot an old favourite like Yorkshire Tea on a menu that’s 10,000 miles from home, it’s hard to resist.
The lass who served us found it highly amusing that we came from a town only a few miles from where they package the Yorkshire Tea, so she was delighted to pose for a photo, which duly got tweeted and then passed on to all their followers by the guys at Yorkshire Tea. That’s what I love about social media.
And it was not a bad brew, either. Taken with milk, it almost tasted like a cuppa back home. Hats off to them over at O’Chau.
So for tea in Sapa, I’d actually recommend dropping in to see the guys and girls at O’Chau – worth supporting their work in any case!