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A Cuppa in Saigon’s Oldest Cafe – Cheo Leo Cafe

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Before French filtered coffee made its way into homes and cafes across town, there was cà phê vợt. Known to English speakers as “stocking coffee”, this method was originally the purview of Cho Lon’s coffee vendors and involved a long, stocking-like fabric filter, a charcoal stove and traditional claypots. Vinh Ngo, Co Suong’s father, began selling cà phê vợt at Cheo Leo in 1938.

Under the tutelage of Saigon’s Chinese coffee vendors, Ngo mastered the art of this particular brewing method. He learned to collect and water a few days in advance and store it in a large, concealed claypot.

When the time came to make a cuppa, Ngo would fire up the charcoal stove and boil water. He filtered his coffee through the stocking twice, pouring it in the first time to release the beans’ flavor before reusing the same water to filter the beverage again.

Hot coffee went in a claypot warming on the stove, cold coffee went into a separate claypot away from the coals. Since then, Co Suong and her two sisters, now the proprietors of Cheo Leo, have made their coffee in exactly the same fashion.

Even the beans haven’t changed: Co Suong still buys her coffee from the descendants of her father’s old business contacts, and Suong and her sisters, none of whom are married, have carried on the family’s coffee-making business.

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