Sampling coffee in India, Nepal and South East Asia
As a self-confessed coffee snob, one of the few things I’ve missed about Wellington and its cafe culture is quality espresso coffee.
Enjoying a coffee across Asia was a roll of the dice every time we ordered. Sometimes we had a surprisingly good drop, other times….not so much. We came up with a few winners – in fact, a few times we enjoyed the coffee enough to go back. This is an adventure (“not a holiday” as Sarah keeps reminding me), so we’re here to give things a try.
India’s coffee took some getting used to. Every morning I would see groups of men huddled around a stove drinking from small cups (bigger than a shot glass, smaller than a kids cup). Once we reached Kolkata and had the privilege of staying in a home with kitchen staff, I came to learn the simple recipe for this coffee. Milk, heated on a stove and repeatedly poured between two saucepans to aerate the milk. From there, the hot milk was mixed with simple Nescafe instant coffee, and sugar, waaaayyyy too much sugar.
I’ll be honest I drank this most morning to get my caffeine fix, but from there, I drank Chai and I would highly recommend doing the same. Anything claiming to be a “cafe latte” comes out of a machine at the press of a button, and it’s not great.
Here we had some luck. I suspect there is a direct correlation between the millions of European and Antipodean tourists heading to Nepal for treks and the quality coffee.
There were a number of coffee shops throughout Kathmandu, and many of them knocked out a decent flat white, I’ve certainly had worse in Wellington.
The hot tip here is a chain called Himalayan Java. Their coffee is great, as good as anything at home. Along with good coffee, they have a great breakfast menu and tasty pizzas in the evening.The price is not close to some of the super cheap food available in this part of the world, but it still cheaper than home. Our budget traveling tip – the portions a huge, so order one food item and share, and you’ll be back on the ledger in no time.
The coffee in Thailand didn’t create a strong impression, there wasn’t anything particularly unique about it. Many places had a machine similar to what you would find in a New Zealand office.
Most places had their machines stocked with good beans, so it was highly drinkable, and certainly better than instant coffee. The machine in our funky Chiang Mai hostel was pretty handy! It even had a good gauge for dialing up and down the strength of the coffee.
Here’s where it really got good. “Vietnamese Coffee”, why the quote marks? Vietnamese Coffee is a menu item in itself.
Coffee slow dripped through a simple filter that sits on top of your cup. The secret ingredient? The cup has a dollop of condensed milk in the bottom. This makes for a very sweet and tasty coffee, with the choice of having it hot or served over ice. It was hot when we visited – often over 30 degrees. We often started our day with hot coffee in the comfort of AC in the hostels before enjoyed iced coffee elsewhere.
Ironically, Vietnam had no shortage of American brands scattered across the country. These are especially prevalent in big cities like Ho Chi Minh city. The benefit of these big coffee brands is they often use the same coffee beans and equipment across the world, so if you like your venti-mocha-caramel-extra shot-frappucino done just so, then you’ll find it just how you like it here.
So, my favorite?
Vietnamese Coffee over ice. A tasty treat in a break from the sun, with a good caffeine hit and a sweet finish.
I’m still looking forward to my weekend Latte at Loretta. And my work commute pit stops at The French Baker or French Kiss Cafe.