Saigon has a rich coffee history which was born from a combination of local know-how and colonisation. What makes it the best historical café in Vietnam is the authenticity and generational knowledge of how they properly brew coffee at Cheo Leo. It was established in 1938 and has become a Saigon landmark.
A historical legacy
Today it is owned by Co Suong, who spends her days collecting newspaper clippings raving about her café after 82 years of operation. News articles from local papers, to teen magazines in California and global press have covered the traditional brewing process of Saigon’s oldest café.
The owner is actually recognized in public and is almost a celebrity figure. She mentions the importance of sticking to her family’s methods of coffee preparation. Before French filtered coffee took over the Vietnamese coffee market and consumption, there was the traditional cà phê vợt.
A traditional brewing process
It means “stocking coffee” as it takes its meaning from the way it is produced. The initial method was a result of Cho Lon’s coffee vendors. The process involved a long stalking-like sock which served as a filter, along with a charcoal stove to cook the coffee in clay pots.
Back then, Co Suong’s father, Vinh Ngo, started selling the selling cà phê vợt format of coffee when the Cheo Leo first opened. With time and through the incorporation of new Chinese coffee vendors, Ngo created his own coffee brewing method where he collected water for a few days before cooking the coffee in larger clay pots. With the stored water, he would fire up the charcoal, boil water and filter the coffee through the stocking twice. The first time was to bring out the flavour of the fresh beans before reusing it again to complete the body of the beverage.
Saigon’s best historical café
Warm coffee was always kept on a rolling boil on the stove while cold coffee was kept in a separate clay pot in a cooler room. Today’s owners, Co Suon and her sisters run the coffee shop and prepare the brew just as their father did so long ago. In fact, they use the same suppliers from very long ago as they keep their father’s work alive.
Perhaps the earning the title of best historical café is not only the way it is preserved, however its essence and way of life. Using the same exact stove as your predecessors from over 80 years ago perhaps encapsulates that commitment.