Never judge a café by its entrance; Café Chelsea isn’t what you would expect to see entering an old compound of souvenir shops just behind Ben Thanh Market. The path leading to the café is an alley with stores selling sunglasses and nail salons left and right.

 

With the aim to make customers feel at home and comfortable, owner Lee Yong Seok chose this secluded area in District 1 so locals, tourists or expats can have a place to relax, reflect, and recharge.

 

Mr. Lee’s passion for good coffee means that the beans they use are 100% Arabica, which are mainly from Korea. Mr. Lee and his team plan the menu. They have a wide variety of drinks from coffee and smoothies to teas, which are all at affordable prices. They serve hot and iced coffees in two sizes, small and medium.

 

The prices for hot coffee range from VND25,000 to VND60,000, and cold coffee from VND40,000 to VND70,000. Ice-blended drinks can be enjoyed from VND55,000 to VND75,000. Different flavours of sweet cakes are also served, to balance the strong taste of their coffee. Each slice of cake costs VND50,000, with flavours like raspberry, blueberry, chocolate chip, passion fruit and the café special, Chelsea cake.

 

Their best-selling beverage is the floating tea at VND45,000. It is a mixture of tea and smoothie, hence the name, and can be enjoyed in different fruity flavours. They also have their regular teas, which cost VND30,000.

 

Free Space

 

Café Chelsea has two floors. The ground floor is where you’ll find the bar and the huge pseudo-chalkboard menu on the right. From outside, there is a staircase with colourful murals leading to the first floor where customers can take naps on the bean bags, lounge on the rocking chairs or have their meetings and small gatherings on the long wooden picnic tables.

 

It can feel as if you’ve been transported to South Korea with the overall cool and calm ambiance of the café. The heat outside is reduced by the neutral colours and minimalist design of the walls, and wooden accents from the furniture. Aside from plenty of natural light coming from the glass wall and door upfront, the café’s simple yet well-designed warm lights also help achieve a comfortable feel.

 

The centrepiece, though, remains the coffee, and Mr. Lee’s pursuit of excellence.

 

“I love Vietnam. I love coffee. Others think about sales first, but I want to give a comfortable space for people who like coffee first,” he says.

 

For the Love of Coffee

 

Mr. Lee’s keenness in providing coffee lovers a haven in the middle of a bustling city started when he was still bartending in Korea. He then tried his hand in advertising for a famous Korean café chain, before finally deciding to open up his own café.

 

The name Chelsea, which the owner defines as free space, reflects his view of what a café should be. Having lived in Vietnam for over 10 years, Mr. Lee’s passion for the whole experience of drinking coffee grew stronger.

 

“The idea of drinking coffee to start one’s day with the company of family, friends and other people makes me feel good,” he says.

 

Staying true to the meaning of the café’s name, customers have a say on what kind of music they want to listen to, or nothing at all. Café-goers aren’t the only ones enjoying this free space. The team behind the refreshing drinks is also given freedom as they are mostly working students.

 

“When there are not many customers, I let them study, or read a book to learn more about coffee or anything.”

 

Café Chelsea is a nice discovery, and escape from the busy Ben Thanh Market nearby, with drinks and light meals that won’t make huge dents on your wallet.

 

Café Chelsea is located at 136/21 Le Thanh Ton, Q1, HCMC. It is open daily from 9am to 9pm


Photos by Bao Zoan 

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