The Vietnamese are serious about their drinks

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London Fog and Vietnamese coffee at a cafe in Hanoi.

Drinks are a cuisine unto themselves in Vietnamese culture, with dozens of drinkable delights that you can stir, sip, and chew. Yes, chew.

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Fresh fruit juice and sweetend milk with sticky purple rice.

Two of the defining features of Vietnamese drinks is that they’re 1) almost always decoratively presented and 2) texturally different. It’s not like in the U.S., where the waiter brings you a cold Coke in a can and if you’re lucky, a glass of ice and a straw. Here, you get a drinks with fruit garnishes or served in two beautiful layers that you stir together to make the drink. A diversity of textures is also common, with many containing infused fruits, jellies, or rice ingredients that are chewy, slimy, spongy, or squishy. It’s a feast for the senses.

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Vietnamese Egg Coffee, which mixes a raw egg into hot coffee and forms a thick, creamy foam with the flavor of tiramisu.
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Lemongrass citrus infusion tea at a local cafe.

The most evident example of these drinks are bubble tea/boba. Boba is originally Taiwanese, but the Vietnamese have adopted it with a passion and made it their own. There are boba cafes scattered throughout every city, ranging from simple street stalls to trendy cafes with brick, handmade wood furniture, and décor straight out of downtown Brooklyn. There’s also way more to choose from than just the brown tapioca pearls known as ‘boba’. There are the poppers containing fruit-flavored syrups that burst open when you chew them, which made it to the U.S. a couple of years ago and are often offered as a topping in Yogurtland.

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Plain boba in bubble tea (right) beside a mix of boba and jellies in bubble tea (left).

Then there’s a lot of stuff that also hasn’t gotten popular in the U.S. yet (although I may be poorly informed; it’s been years since I’ve been near a halfway-decent boba café): rainbow jelly cubes made from tapioca and fruit-flavored gelatin, basil seeds that are squidgy and crunchy when you chew on it, sweet black rice that oozes and sits at the bottom of your cup, puddings with a super-soft consistency that burst with the flavor of burnt sugar and flan when you bite down. All of these options and more are laid out before you at the café in neat little containers, a textural symphony waiting to brighten your drink. If you’re a boba lover, Vietnam is your kind of place.

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A full bubble tea DIY mix in, courtesy of Popping Tea in Da Nang.

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