Vietnam’s most extravagant cup of joe, cà phê trứng (“egg coffee”), has a less glamorous backstory than its lavish appearance suggests. Born out of necessity and quick thinking, this clever hack was invented to cope with wartime dairy shortages.
In Hanoi, coffee drinkers rely on a steady stream of condensed milk to balance out the strong Robusta brew served in most coffee shops. In fact, simply ordering a cà phê sữa (“milk coffee”) is interpreted as hot Robusta coffee with sticky-sweet condensed milk. What happens when the milk runs out? The remaining breakfast staples—eggs and coffee—are called upon for greatness.
First created in Hanoi in 1946, egg coffee is the brainchild of Nguyen Van Giang. In response to the pressures of a milk shortage caused by the French War (also known as the First Indochina War), Giang whisked in egg as a much-needed substitute while bartending at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel. Giang’s signature drink became such a hit that he opened Café Giang in the wake of its success, where his son still serves the legendary egg coffee.
Egg coffee is, of course, more than just an egg cracked into your morning brew. Modern Vietnamese egg coffee is as much a dessert as it is a drink. The recipe now features heavy Robusta topped with a combination of hot, whisked egg, sugar, and creamy ingredients ranging from condensed milk to cheese and butter. Actually drinking the beverage is such a decadent experience that it hardly alludes to its wartime origins. The viscous, sugary concoction might be likened to liquid tiramisu, or a coffee-flavored Cadbury Crème Egg.
Need to Know
Though it began as a Northern specialty, egg coffee’s influence stretches far beyond Hanoi. Its rising popularity, and consequential descent throughout the rest of the country, means that some of the (several thousand) coffee shops in the South now feature egg coffee on their menus. Ho Chi Minh City, in particular, has taken a liking to all kinds of creative coffee drinks. Just look for the word “trứng” and you’re in for a treat. That said, Nguyen Tri Hoa, the owner of Café Giang, claims that his secret recipe allows him to keep making the best (and the original) egg coffee. So if you want to taste history, that's where you should go.
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Where to Try It
Cafe Giang39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Hanoi, Vietnam
Although it's changed locations several times, this is the cafe where Nguyen Van Giang first served egg coffee. His son still prepares coffee with his allegedly secret recipe.
This hip, bustling Vietnamese restaurant serves egg coffee on their Sunday brunch menu. Be prepared to wait.