A miniature artery from District 1 to District 5, Pham Viet Chanh is one of Saigon’s most hectic streets. Motorbikes scream down this road, cars make no apologies, local businesses line one side, a rather alarming hospital sits back from the tarmac, and in the middle of it all is a little slice of quiet, polite delicacy — 1985 Cafe.

Many Vietnamese coffee drinkers are casual about what goes into their daily brew. But for one man from Dalat, it is unthinkable that consumers in the second-largest coffee exporting country in the world have to drink additive-filled coffee.

It’s the Sunday following Independence Day and the streets are quiet. The cloud cover shifts, slowly illuminating the impressive shop front of Café 81. Its postcard-like appearance draws the first of many amateur photographers. What lies through its doorway is unclear, the dimmed seclusion creating a sense of mystery.

The word “trill” comes from American hip-hop vernacular, a combination of the words “true” and “real”. Trill Cafe, then, might be a bit deceptive. It’s not limited to being a café — there’s a pool, a gym, a dinner menu, an event space — in fact, I’m not sure what it is.

Hidden in an alley off the sleepless backpacker area, Ut Lanh stands out with its peaceful and vintage look. Even the signboard is reminiscent of an old advertisement in Saigon newspapers of the 1970s.

Take one step through the door at Typograf Café and Restaurant and you know you’re in for something different.

Photo by Julie Vola

Tucked away in Ba Dinh, this small, cosy coffee shop is something between a café and a science lab. Above the counter is a sign that lists seven different tools of the barista trade to choose from, and imported coffees from the likes of Burundi, Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea — a rarity even in a city as obsessed with coffee as Hanoi.

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