Egg coffee with an artistic touch

May 29, 2022 - 07:55

Egg coffee is a popular drink among visitors to Hà Nội. The creamy, thick texture and the bitter, sweet flavour make it a favourite of many from near and far.

by Vân Nguyễn

Egg coffee is a popular drink among visitors to Hà Nội. The creamy, thick texture and the bitter, sweet flavour make it a favourite of many from near and far.

Lê Tuấn Nghĩa, 55, a cafe owner in the Old Quarter, has now added a little artistic touch to his creamy egg concoction.

"I decorate my coffee with famous Hà Nội landmarks," he said.

"This is a way to promote the city's tourism to international and local visitors so they can feel the beauty of the capital city." 

After whipping the yolk into a thick and creamy mixture, Nghĩa pours it into a cup placed into a hot water bowl and then pours black coffee into it, making sure the hot coffee doesn't ruin the thick surface.

"Egg coffee was born long ago, in French colonial times. I opened my coffee shop much later than that," he said.

"Making egg coffee is a piece of cake. Anyone can do it. I have a background in painting, so I find easy too." 

The café owner grew up with a love of painting. As a child, he attended several painting classes and still has a passion for it.

"I was taught about oil painting, lacquer painting, sculpture and a lot more by both local and foreign teachers at the time," he said.

After getting the coffee ready, Nghĩa paints beautiful scenic spots of Hà Nội onto the coffee surface by hand.

His coffee mostly features the landscape of Hà Nội, where he was born, and such famous destinations as Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Thê Húc Bridge, Turtle Tower and Long Biên Bridge.

Hà Nội's ancient Flag Tower is painted on a cup of egg coffee. 

There are no stencils as he paints each by hand. The 'pen' he uses is a long bamboo  or metal stick, and the 'ink' is a mixture of condensed milk and dark cocoa powder.

"The mixture must be condensed enough to stand while not dissolving into the creamy whipped yolk," said Nghĩa.

Visitors are fascinated by the beautiful drawings, not to mention the luxurious flavour of the egg coffee.

A female regular (right) enjoys a cup of egg coffee.  

Thái Thị Cam, a 71-year-old retiree in Hà Nội, said, "This is the first time I tried egg coffee, and it is terrific."

"The taste of coffee mixed with egg is delicious. I have never tried this drink before, but it reminds me of the whipped egg yolks that I had when I was a child. My cup is decorated with an image of Turtle Tower at Hoàn Kiếm Lake. The coffee maker must be very skilful."

Nguyễn Đức Đạt, 76, also a Hanoian retiree, said: "The atmosphere here is fantastic. It is different from other coffee shops."

"I ordered egg coffee with the image of the Turtle Tower above, which looks lovely."

One of the most challenging parts of the work is to keep the drawing intact and not dissolve into the creamy egg.

"Because the surface of egg coffee is foamy, light and creamy, the painter needs to hold the 'pen' firm enough while not diving too much into the coffee to keep the 'ink' part intact above the whipped yolk," said Nghĩa.

Nghĩa uses condensed milk and cocoa powder as 'ink' to decorate his coffee. 

The story of egg coffee

Egg coffee was believed to be first made by a local man named Nguyễn Văn Giảng in the 1940s, who worked as a chef at the Metropole hotel in downtown Hà Nội .

He used eggs in place of condensed milk due to the scarcity of the latter ingredient during World War II.

One of his sons Nguyễn Văn Đạo, owner of Cafe Giảng on Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street in the Old Quarter, told Việt Nam News: "At that time people liked drinking coffee with milk, but milk was rare and very expensive, and my father couldn't afford it. So he came up with this drink. It went beyond his imagination that people liked it, some said they even liked it more than white coffee."

Some 80 years after the drink was first created, egg coffee is still served in two coffee shops of Giảng's descendants, one in Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street and the other in Đinh Tiên Hoàng Street.

It is also known as a signature drink of Hà Nội and has been served in important events in the country, including the Trump-Kim Summit press conference held in the capital in 2019. VNS

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