Food & Beverage

In Vietnam, coffee-drinking locals skip the cream and add an egg

Key Points
  • Eggs with your coffee? In Vietnam, locals put eggs IN their coffee.
  • Here's what it tastes like and where it comes from.

Eggs with your coffee? In Vietnam — a culture that loves caffeine at least as much as Americans do — locals put eggs IN their coffee.

First, a bit of history: Nguyen Van Dao says that back in 1946, his father Nguyen Van Giang, a barman at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, ran out of milk to serve with the coffee. In a pinch, he whipped up a mixture of egg yolks and condensed milk, and the rest was history.

As popularity for the beverage grew, so did the business to the Giang Coffee shop in the old quarter of Hanoi today.

The country isn't the only one to have used eggs in coffee. Several Scandinavian countries also crack egg yolks into coffee grounds, which supposedly making the coffee less bitter. The two versions could not be more different, save for the use of a shared ingredient, the egg. The Vietnamese version tastes like a foamy flan (a Spanish dessert) while the Scandinavian version is said to enhance the coffee, rather than change the taste completely.

The coffee, known locally as Ca Phe Trung, has been so successful that most cafes in Hanoi serve up a version of their own. Recently, CNBC visited the Giang Cafe in Hanoi, where tourists and locals alike lined the walls waiting for the beverage.

Blink and you'll miss the tiny entrance on the busy street of Nguyen Huru Huan of Hanoi's Old Quarter. Once inside, a tiny kitchen at the bottom of the stairs — where the smell of meringue wafts in the air — is where a chef whips the sabayon for the egg coffees into a frenzy. A mixer then blends the milk and eggs.

While other cafes are recreating the drink in their own kitchens, egg coffees themselves have become known as a city-specific specialty. This particular blend, however, is still considered unique to Giang Cafe.

Customers can have the egg coffee one of two ways: hot or cold, each about $1.15. Compared with street food in Hanoi, that price is actually on par with the cost of a banh mi sandwich or bowl of pho, Vietnam's staple noodle soup.

Egg Coffee at Giang Cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam

The egg coffee is sweet and frothy, much like having a custard on top of an espresso, but with no hint of egg. The coffee underneath is a familiar espresso, improbably warm while not melting the cloud of egg above it. The cup comes in a small bowl filled with warm water to maintain the coffee's temperature.

A word of caution for those who might be tempted to slurp down the cloud-like egg concoction: Calorie-wise, this is quite the opposite of a skinny latte. The combination is really what makes it work, a modestly sweet mix, much like an affogato (a coffee-based frozen dessert) but without the brain freeze.

CNBC favored the hot version over the cold, despite Vietnam's undeniably warm and humid temperatures outside.