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Vietnam has wide variety of soft drinks, ranging from 'Coke' and 'Pepsi' produced here under licence to locally produced fizzy drinks and 'energy-boosting' concoctions. Fruit juices are ubiquitous, 'nuoc chanh' (water, lemon juice and sugar) being very popular. Fresh orange juice and other sweet fruits are sometimes served with added sugar or salt – watch the person making it and stop them if necessary. Also very popular with visitors are fruit 'shakes': chopped fruit with ice, water and milk frothed up in a blender.
Vietnamese coffee is mostly grown in the Central Highlands. Robusta is the usual variety served in Vietnamese establishments – black, thick, and very strong. The minority of Vietnamese people who drink coffee usually mix it with condensed milk – definitely an acquired taste for most foreign visitors. In the cities, smoother Arabica coffee and fresh milk is becoming popular.
For Vietnamese coffee look for the sign 'Trung Nguyen' - they are franchised cafés, very common throughout Vietnam. For Western-style coffee, visit the tourist areas.
A curious, and expensive, variety is 'Weasel Coffee'. Arabica beans are fed to a weasel. They pass though the animal's digestive system, are excreted whole, collected, and processed. The passage of the beans through the creature's intestines is supposed to create a more mellow flavour.
Vietnamese tea is mainly green, sometimes with flavourings, and drunk without milk or sugar from small handle-less cups. This is the drink traditionally offered to people visiting families, friends, offices, shops and so on. Black tea is also popular, but drunk without milk. If you want a traditional cup of tea with milk, stick to the tourist areas - elsewhere you're likely to end up with lukewarm water with a tea bag and condensed milk.
The range of alcoholic drinks in Vietnam is limited. Apart from expensive imported wines and spirits, most drinks available are domestically produced variations on rice wine, or lager-type beer. Rice wine is drunk neat, often direct from the fermentation jar via a bamboo straw, or distilled into a spirit, usually mislabelled as 'vodka'. The wine is also used as a base for the addition of plants, barks or animals. These are usually drunk for their 'medicinal' purposes – snake wine is very popular with men who believe it enhances virility.
In the north, 'medicinal' wines and spirits can be found easily - definitely worth a tasting session. In Hanoi, there is a restaurant that specialises in fruit wines and liqueurs from the hill tribe villages - our staff will be pleased to escort you and help you to return to your hotel.
Beer comes as variations of locally-brewed French-style lager, and as 'bia hoi'. Also known as 'fresh beer', bia hoi is relatively low in alcohol, produced daily, and served ice-cold. It's cheap, ubiquitous and delicious on a hot day!
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