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Ngõ Nooks: Cafe Yên, Where the Line Between Coffee Shop and Alley Blurs

Yên (adj): quiet, unmoved.

Cafe Yên brings a new definition to the word. Most people come to Yên to have conversations with their friends; those who make them feel the most safe and happy to be around.

Photos by Alberto Prieto.

The area surrounding Truc Bach Lake has a vibe that is wonderfully weird, with its busy yet tranquil skyline. In the little alley on Quan Thanh Street, Cafe Yen is a coffee shop with a tiny sign and menu outside. Have a brief glimpse inside and you can see how different it seems from the first glance. Parking might be a bit confusing for a first-timer like me, but it was fine to park a few meters away from the shop itself.

Photo by Alberto Prieto.

At Yên, small seats are placed from the entrance all the way up the lane. For many Vietnamese, sitting in a line and close to each other has been ingrained in the culture; one might call it trà đá vỉa hè vibe — people sitting together to talk, not facing their laptop. The lane is filled with a soft smell of plants and freshly roasted coffee beans. No need for much decoration, Yên provides a homey space for good coffee and simple human interactions.

Photo by Alberto Prieto.

As far as I know, Yên uses Arabica beans from Da Lat to make their coffee. On my recent visit, I ordered one of Yên’s signature Vạn Vân. It’s steamed milk with two shots of coffee; the result is quite strong in comparison with other drinks with only one shot. The drink starts with a dense milk flavor, then coffee follows gently after.

Photos by Mai Phuong.

The creators at Yên are known to give their signature drinks quirky names: Sa Pa, Katina, Vạn Vân, or Little Saigon. They also serve classic beverages such as espresso, latte, cappuccino, etc. The pricing is mid-range, suitable for a casual place like this and you might have to wait a little bit for your order because Yên is always crowded. But don’t worry, you can always find a seat!

Photo by Alberto Prieto.

My friends have been coming to Yên Quán Thánh since it opened a while ago. They catch up or meet with their partners when there’s no need to be confined in a four-wall room. For me, among the things that make Yên special are these encounters. Interestingly, one of my friends told me she has been to Yên with several guys she dated, and I wonder how many conversations this place has kept secret?

It was very close to Tet when I visited Yên. The cafe seemed a bit crowded, but most people still followed COVID-19 prevention measures. People came with peach blossom branches they bought, presents in hand. They were signs of good things to come in 2021.

Photo by Alberto Prieto.

Cafe Yên is open from 7:30am to 5pm.

This Ngõ Nooks was originally published in 2021.

To sum up:

Taste: 5/5
Price: 5/5
Atmosphere: 4/5
Friendliness: 3.5/5
Location: 4.5/5

Huyền likes to make up scenarios and laugh with her friends by observing people.

Cafe Yên

184 Quán Thánh, Ba Đình

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