Back in 2012, Nguyen Duy Bieu started to realise his ambition by selling coffee from a bicycle on the streets of Hanoi with a single promise; genuine and plain roasted Arabica coffee. Four years later, Reng Reng Café, named after the sound of his stolen bicycle’s bells, is now among the most lively coffee shops in town, counting investment fund managers and students as regulars.
Located off the military street of Ly Nam De, from outside Reng Reng Cafe could be mistaken for a private house. Inside, the décor is minimal; a big wooden table to be shared on the ground floor, a number of mini coffee tables, stools and a narrow balcony on the first floor.
Its small size is similar to that of established coffee houses yet with a touch of elegance and without all the smoke and noise. Even its soft-spoken and courteous staff blend in well with such a mellow atmosphere.
Reng Reng uses the espresso brewing method for all its offerings, including nau (meaning brown) the Hanoian way of referring to the quintessential Vietnamese drip coffee ca phe sua da. There’s a full range of Italian coffee from ristretto, lungo and Americano to cappuccino and latte, all priced at VND35,000 or under. They come in four degrees of roast (from light to dark): City, Full City, Vienna and Italian to suit any palate.
My favourite is the Ba Na, a worthy Vietnamese version of Vienna coffee where fresh milk is substituted with condensed milk and Anchor cream is added as-is without being whipped. I often take Ba Na with an extra shot of espresso to counteract its sweetness and creaminess.
The beans served at Reng Reng are sourced from Bieu’s family Arabica plantation in Lam Ha, Dalat. It lies in one of the few areas in Vietnam blessed with the right elevation and weather to produce these high-value but finicky beans.
His parents started planting coffee in 1999 hoping to get rich but gave up without much success. Only after Bieu became known in Hanoi and opened his shop did they go back to growing coffee; his younger brother also joined the team as a roaster.
This time, it is with a clear vision of organic farming that the family approach the coffee trade. By raising the bar with his quality Arabica beans, Bieu hopes to promote responsible consumption which in turn will help push farming practices more towards sustainability. And he aims to do so in other Vietnamese cities as well.
With such a lofty goal, Reng Reng Café was set up for proper coffee enjoyment rather than as a hang-out. Thus, there is no Wi-Fi and the popular sport of Facebook check-in is discouraged. If you’re taking your coffee with sugar, it must be Vienna roast or darker. If you want to smoke, please go outside.
Bieu is very picky about how coffee should be enjoyed, and how customers should behave in his shop. Still, if you want to set new standards in an industry where entrenched bad practices prevail, there’s nothing wrong in being choosy.
Reng Reng is at 17 Ngo 12 Ly Nam De, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Photos by Leah Rolando