Ba Lu coffee – Signature coffee in Cho Lon
What to do in Saigon Cholon?
Discover 70 years old coffee shop in the heart of Cholon Chinatown
Ba Lu Racket Cafe has been around for more than 67 years in the bustling Phung Hung market (District 5). The cafe is known for its unique feature of roasting and grinding coffee by hand. The founder of the cafe, Mr. Ba Lu, was originally from Hainan (China) and came to Vietnam to settle down, get married, and have 11 children. After his death, the coffee shop was handed over to Ms. Chung Thi Hoang (56 years old) to manage.
According to Mrs. Hoang, her father used to push coffee carts around the market. Due to many people’s praise, he decided to sell permanently. From the stage of coffee storage to the way of preparation, all are imbued with the traditional imprint of the Chinese people.
The shop is open every day from 2 am to 5 pm. Mrs. Hoang and Mr. Hung, Ms. Hoang’s younger brother, have to get up at 1 am every day to light a fire to cook the coffee that has been stored since the previous afternoon
Where is Ba Lu Coffee located?
The shop is located in a house built in the old architectural style, bearing the characteristics of the old Chinese quarter. Tables, chairs, and concoctions are all rustic and simple. Therefore, the space of the restaurant creates a familiar and extremely cozy feeling.
Ba Lu racket coffee is unique because it does not use a filter but is completely mixed with a racket. Racquets about 20cm long, with a diameter of about 10cm, are hung in rows on the wall.
Ba Lu Cafe welcomes guests who are mainly Vietnamese of Chinese origin. They communicate with each other in an interesting language: Cantonese mixed with Vietnamese. The cafe is special and so are its customers.
Mr. Hai (81 years old), a regular customer of the restaurant for more than 30 years, shared: “It was early in the morning that I was here. Elderly people have trouble sleeping and drink a cup of coffee in the morning to boost their spirits. It’s okay to skip meals, but I have to drink coffee every morning.”
Coffee drinkers at Ba Lu Cafe are also very interested in the unique coffee storage process of the shop. Around 4 p.m., many people gather to admire this process. At first, there were only acquaintances living around, later more and more guests came from far away.
Uncle Quang, Ms. Hoang’s younger brother, who is also the person who directly performs the complicated process of storing coffee, shared with us: “The reason we call it ‘coffee warehouse’ is not roasting like other places because of its ‘unique’ processing characteristics”.
Every month, coffee at Ba Lu cafe is stored 4 times, each time in 2 batches, each batch is about 10kg. Fresh coffee is placed in a long, horizontal cylindrical roasting pan with an extended handle for turning. After lighting the fire, the coffee shopkeeper must continuously rotate the roasting pan continuously for nearly 1 hour.
In order for coffee to be roasted evenly, the person doing this job requires health, especially strong enough hand force to rotate and stir for a long time. In the process, Uncle Quang occasionally stopped to put butter and salt in the pan.
Salt is added every 15 minutes when the roasting pan is rotated to reduce the bitterness, and butter is added later. The finished coffee is spread out on a cloth and sprinkled with wine to have a distinctive flavor. The whole warehouse process took about 4 hours.
If you’re a coffee lover and searching for a unique and authentic Vietnamese way of making coffee, you should visit Cholon and stop over at Ba Lu Coffee to learn more about the history and story of local Chinese living in Saigon Cholon.