HiPencil was one of those good ideas that started in University, thought up by a group of seniors staying up late to make claymation videos about the adventures of a pencil, a robot maid and a host of other characters — some humanesque and others not so much. (Think Gumby, creepy pace and all.)

It’s been a big year for cafes in Hanoi, with high-end operators turning out in force to tantalise the taste buds of Vietnam’s style-conscious professionals.  This month, we followed the well-heeled crowd to the epicenter of this upscale cafe revolution — Hoan Kiem District.

Stepping into M2C, 'Modern Meets Culture’, you might be surprised by the collision of trendsetter aesthetics.

For many Tay Ho-ans, walking along the lake’s southern perimeter can be a constant reminder of a paradox of choice: so many cafés to choose from, all of them the same.

It’s late Thursday afternoon, and in the middle of a typical Saigon downpour a reporter pulls into an alley in front of a small café, praying for shelter.

I’m usually not one to follow in the footsteps of hipsters, but when I do I expect them to lead me to damn good coffee.

Just down the way from Starbucks on Nguyen Trai sits the first Vietnamese edition of UCC Coffee — Ueshima Coffee Company, a Japan-based multinational chain with its own style and mass-replicated appeal. Where Starbucks’ debut was a mix of buzz, lines and Facebook selfies, UCC Coffee hasn’t drummed up any of that in its first six months. And, in the quiet, modernist collection of nooks and comfortable, classically upholstered seats, one sees why they might have wanted it this way.

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