The Espresso Station is a delightful little spot in Hội An, just to the north of the old city and, conveniently, just down the street from my hotel. Despite this convenience, I might have struggled to find it, since it’s tucked away down a narrow alley off the main street, Trần Hưng Đạo. However, forearmed is forewarned and, having read all about it after my friend Bex (of Double Skinny Macchiato fame) adventures in Vietnam last year, I knew what I was looking for.
The Espresso Station occupies a low, single-storey building with its own courtyard, which is where most of the seating is. It’s both roastery and café, with the roaster, a shiny 5kg job, tucked away at the back of the main building. Serving espresso, pour-over and traditional Vietnamese cà phê phin (cup-top filter), there’s also a range of tea, juices, plus a limited all-day breakfast menu and pastries.
There’s a blend for espresso and cà phê phin, using Arabica beans grown in Vietnam’s Dalat region, with a Vietnamese single-origin or another from Panama on pour-over. The espresso beans are available for sale, along with traditional cup-top filter (a steal at 25,000 Vietnamese Dong, or less than £1).
July 2017: In a fit of extremely bad timing on my behalf, less than a month after my visit, The Espresso Station closed for a full refit. Judging by the pictures on its Facebook page, you can expect the same excellent coffee, but in a lovely new setting.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Once you get there, The Espresso Station’s hard to miss. On the alley’s right-hand side, it’s a low, single-storey building rendered in yellow plaster with blue gates and doors, a pleasing combination of colours. One of its best feature is the long, thin courtyard out front which has most of the seating: you only really need to go inside to order and to pay when you leave. There’s some seating inside, but since there’s no air conditioning, you really don’t gain anything. It’s worth noting, however, that despite several large fans going constantly, it can get hot and sticky both inside and out, although there is plenty of shade from the sun.
The entrance to the courtyard is via a pair of gates on the left. There’s a mix of seating, starting with a bar which runs along the courtyard’s front wall, although how practical this is, I don’t know since it was piled with leaflets/menus when I was there. Directly ahead of you is a low, four-person square table, with a neat hexagonal table (plus hexagonal stools!) to the right. There are a further two hexagonal tables on the other side of the door, with a fourth further on to the right, next to another low table. Finally, in the far, right-hand corner, pair of benches run along the courtyard’s front and right-hand walls.
The building runs lengthways along the back of the courtyard, with recessed central doors. This forms a covered porch and there are a pair of two-person tables here, flanking the doors, which make a useful compromise between sitting inside and out. Inside proper is a long, communal table, benches on either side, while off to your left is a small sofa with a coffee table. Also to your left, effectively behind you as you come in, is the counter, where you order/pay and, opposite that at the back on the left, is the roaster and green bean store.
I started off with a double espresso, served in an oversized cup. This was very good, a well-balanced shot with a hint of sharpness. I was very tempted to try a pour-over, but having tried and enjoyed traditional Vietnamese-style coffee when made with speciality coffee, I was keen to continue my exploration. I’d had my coffee black when I tried it at Shin Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City, so here I decided to go for the condensed milk option.
The Espresso Station uses a traditional Vietnamese-style metal dripper placed on top of the glass. The method’s identical for black coffee, except that here there’s a layer of condensed milk at the bottom of the glass. This technique means that the coffee drips onto the milk, but doesn’t mix, so before stirring in the milk you can taste the coffee black if you want to.
Naturally, that’s exactly what I did. The unadulterated coffee was like a strong filter coffee, retaining the underlying taste, but without the sharpness that it had as an espresso. Compared to the one that I had enjoyed at Shin Coffee, this was less naturally sweet.
I then stirred vigorously to mix in the condensed milk. The resulting drink wasn’t unpleasant, but I didn’t really see the point. Although I could taste the coffee and, I suspect, it tasted a lot better than something with a Robusta or dark-roasted coffee as a base, the taste was still overwhelmingly sweet. A bit like taking a great filter coffee and dumping a load of sugar in it. Each to their own, but I’ll stick to having my traditional Vietnamese-style coffee black from now on, thanks.
Inspired by this experience, I bought one of The Espresso Station’s filters and have been experimenting making my own coffee on the trip and back at home. I’ve also branched out and tried other variations, including black coffee over ice, which you can read all about in Part II of my article about Vietnamese coffee, while Part III covers my experiements with my own Vietnamese cup-top filter.
|28 TRAN HUNG ÐAO • CAM PHÔ • HOI AN • VIETNAM|
|http://theespressostation.com||+84 (0) 90 569 1164|
|Monday||07:30 – 17:00||Roaster||Espresso Station (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||07:30 – 17:00||Seating||Tables, Bar|
|Wednesday||07:30 – 17:00||Food||Breakfast|
|Thursday||07:30 – 17:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||07:30 – 17:00||Payment||Cash Only|
|Saturday||07:30 – 17:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||07:30 – 17:00||Power||Limited (inside only)|
|Chain||No||Visits||17th June 2017|
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