You might think that a macchiato made with turmeric is a wacky by-product of our Instagram-obsessed U.S. food culture, but over in Hanoi, the capital and undisputed epicenter of coffee culture in Vietnam, locals have been doing something way wackier for decades: mixing eggs into coffee. And since Vietnam is the second-largest coffee exporter on earth behind Brazil, it’s high time we perk up to the trend.
Coffee was first introduced to Vietnam in the 19th century by the French, and the addition of sweetened condensed milk (now a signature) developed in response to a scarcity of milk. Egg coffee, meanwhile, has been around since the 1940s, when a bartender in Hanoi whisked eggs into his coffee because he couldn’t find fresh milk. The result was decadent and delicious, so he opened Cafe Giang, introduced cà phê trúng (egg coffee), and Hanoians have loved the drink ever since.
Fast-forward to June 2013, when Sara Leveen and Ben Lowell, both alums of Stephen Starr’s STARR Restaurants, traveled to Vietnam for a month of research. On their first day in Hanoi, the couple (who are now engaged) found themselves at Cafe Giang, and after just one egg milk mustache, they were hooked.
After returning to NYC to plan the opening of Hanoi House, their restaurant in the East Village, Leveen and Lowell knew they wanted to serve the Hanoian food they had fallen in love with. Hanoi House opened in January and is, to date, one of the only places where you’ll find that magical egg coffee in Manhattan.
The drink starts with chicory Cafe Du Monde coffee, whose bitterness makes it an ideal base, brewed with a phin, a single-serving coffee filter specifically used for Vietnamese coffee. Then, Lowell blends egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk and sugar, and adds a spoonful of brewed coffee to the mix. He froths the concoction until it resembles cake batter, then dollops it by the spoonful over the coffee and serves it unmixed so that customers can decide whether to cautiously drink the coffee through the egg topping or mix everything together.
At first sip, Leveen notes, “There’s a noticeable smell and flavor of eggs.” The taste, however, is like a sweet, luxurious and ultra-creamy dessert—the egg thickens the already-sweet drink, resulting in what’s often described as liquid tiramisu. And let’s face it: Is there any better way to start the day than that?