Vancouver’s First Vietnamese Coffee Shop is Now Open for Business
The pop-up café, which serves drinks like Vietnamese iced coffee and avocado coffee, celebrates the owners' Vietnamese roots.
March 7, 2019
Vancouver has its fair share of coffee shops, but Ca Phe, the city’s latest caffeinated addition, serves up a cup of joe that many locals have yet to taste: Vietnamese coffee. “You may think you’ve had Vietnamese coffee before, but not like this,” says Ca Phe co-owner Minna Van.
Situated within local coworking space Chinatown House for a limited time, Ca Phe—its name pronounced like ka-fé, the Vietnamese term for coffee—offers what Van describes as “traditional” Vietnamese coffee, the way her grandparents, who hail from Da Nang and Hoi An, used to make it. It’s brewed from small-batch Robusta beans that have been roasted in butter and rum—a technique that the French introduced to Vietnam in the late 1800s during colonization—and sweetened with condensed milk.
The use of Robusta beans, which are stronger in caffeine and more bitter than the standard Arabica, means the final product tastes sharper, though the use of butter imparts a smooth, fatty flavour that Van says is indescribable. Ca Phe imports its beans from Buôn Ma Thuột, which many consider to be the coffee capital of Vietnam. “It’s very much like this Nutella-like, buttery sort of coffee,” says Van.
At Ca Phe, guests will find “really strong” Vietnamese coffee, “really strong” iced Vietnamese coffee, egg coffee (which uses egg yolks and sugar) and more modern offerings like avocado coffee. “Southeast Asians love avocado, so it was a natural progression to put Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk in there,” notes Van.
The majority of the drinks are brewed with French drip filters, and complemented by Asian-inspired baked goods by local pastry chef Andrew Han. He pays tribute to his Korean-Vietnamese roots by using ingredients such as hoisin and black sesame to produce treats like dark chocolate hoisin swirl brownies with Vietnamese-coffee salted caramel, brown butter matcha and cream cheese swirl blondies, and black sesame chocolate chip cookies. They’re available while supplies last every morning.
“We wanted to modernize the ingredients that our moms and grandparents used when we were kids,” says Van.
Van and Han, who are childhood friends and first-generation Canadians who grew up in Chinatown, see Ca Phe as a way to celebrate their Vietnamese heritage. She describes Ca Phe’s recent launch (the café opened on March 6) as a “full circle moment” that allows her and Han to return to where they came from and learn more about their families, cultures and traditions.
Ca Phe is a pop-up coffee bar that will run until mid-spring, though Van hopes it will eventually become a permanent fixture in Chinatown. But whatever you do, don’t call her a barista—or a caffeine fiend for that matter. “Oh god, no,” she says. “I’m more like a grandchild that’s just trying to remember what her grandpa drank.”
188 E Pender St. (Inside Chinatown House)
Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday, from 11 a.m. until coffee and sweets run out