Asian brew: Vietnamese coffee may have saved my life (and my kidneys)

Of all the bad ideas I’ve had while traveling, the worst by far was my bus trip through Cambodia. Instead taking an airplane like a sane person, I decided that the best way to see the country was by going overland from Bangkok all the way to Saigon. In a trip that consisted of 32 hours of time in buses, cars, and tuk-tuks, I was attacked by a chicken, scammed at the border by dudes with guns, and abandoned on a dirt road. The whole time I was convinced that I was going to accidentally fall asleep and wake up in a bathtub full of ice.

This was how I discovered Vietnamese-style coffee.

As I was pretty much constantly scared for my life, I kept myself in a state of cat-like readiness with a steady stream of caffeine. Every time the bus stopped or the car refueled in the rural countryside, I’d hop out, dash past the stands of fried bugs and other cultural oddities and grab a cup of coffee.

In a part of a world that is mostly tea-fanatical, areas around Vietnam are coffee crazed. The popularity of coffee in Southeast Asia hails from the days of Colonial rule when the French brought with them not only their baguettes and pate (think bahn mi) but their taste for coffee as well. Coffee here is generally referred to as ‘Vietnamese-style’ and is served thick and sweet with a big caffeine kick. It’s either dripped hot into a glass with sweet milk or mixed and served over ice.