Joma didn’t grab my attention the first time around. Back in winter 2012, I found Joma a bit… main stream. It was everything that a café is supposed to be for me, except overpriced and overrated.
But back then, I was judging Joma while on a short break from my then 7th and last year of being abroad. I was used to the idea of going to a college town café, either full of locals (often talkative, friendly and sweet townies or polite professionals ) or college kids (often fashionable, always on-the-go hipsters). I was used to ordering “mocha”, “soy latte”, small size wrapped with a brown insulator. I was used to taking all in the fragrance of great coffee beans, not cigarettes. In short, I was used to the all-Western standards of a good café. I rendered Joma a little bit of a copy cat, as a result.
But I was wrong. Few months later, starting from the end of summer into autumn of 2013, Joma soon become my go-to coffee spot (almost to the extent that Coffee Exchange or Blue State in Providence used to be for me.) Perhaps the very Western vibe that made Joma seem unoriginal to me then is exactly what draws me back to the café now.
Joma is of the few cafés in Hanoi that strictly forbids smoking, offers in-table refill service, and serves mostly non-Vietnamese customers. Locating at the very heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, of walking distance to the Sword Lake and the city’s Great Cathedral, and surrounded by many affordable restaurants, spas and street food venders (many exclusively catering to foreigners), Joma is expectedly the go-to destination for backpackers, expats and tourists. Some are perhaps lost in their quest to conquer the myriad of tricky corners, small alleys and narrow streets this little city has to offer. Some may be intrigued by the word “bakery”. Some might just look for a little home-away-from-home comfort.
I can certainly identify with all of these reasons. Born and raised in Hanoi for 17 years, I nevertheless consider my 7 years abroad the most critical growth period of my adult life. Joma might be exotic to the locals, but to me it feels like home. In here, I can easily drown myself in work, undisturbed by loud noise, cheesy Vietnamese pop music or suffocating cigarettes smokes often present elsewhere. Instead, I’m surrounded by the café’s calming background music, polite and focused customers, as well as attentive and sweet waiters. I identify with most people who go here — young professionals, world travellers, introverts, people in transition. I even feel like I have met them before, in some other corners of the world. I just wish that someday, I would gather the guts to say some words to this guy — probably Australian/Newzelander, very handsome and perhaps a bit reserved, who practically lives here. I have seen him every single day at this café, most of the time gluing eyes to his laptop. I’ve been wondering if he’s noticed that I’ve been here nearly as often as he does too?
Atmosphere Score: 10
2. On the Menu:
The selection of food and drinks is typically Western, except all the coffee and the desserts are no where near as sweet as American ones — which I can very much appreciate. The first drink I ordered here was a mocha/cappuccino — but it tasted like a latte. Most of the drinks here possess rather weak coffee flavour, but stay foamy, light, and not too sweet. As I started going here often in the midd of my (failed) low-carb diet, I have ventured very little outside of my “iced latte with soy milk” order everyday — and learned to love it. Ever since, I have also tried cappuccino (just like latte, but with sugar), the hot variations of these coffee, and tea. To be honest, drinks a are not Joma’s strongest point.
Joma sweets, on the other hand, are quite a hit. Again — I didn’t like how demure and underwhelming the oatmeal apple muffin was on the first try. Yet, after a few desserts, I realised that it’s the signature style of Joma to offer Vietnamese renditions of typically sugarful, supersized and overly rich Western desserts. The reduction of oil, sugar and even flour without sacrificing too much taste nor texture is what makes desserts here great treats. The creamy, light, not-too-sweet and flaky coconut cake here is a perfect example of Joma’s baked goods — it even reminds me of desserts from Pastiche, the bakery that in my opinion offers the best sweets in the world!
Menu Score: 7
Break down: 6 (for drinks), 8 (for desserts), 7 (for other food — not mentioned above)
3. Other features
As a social business, Joma supports many good community-oriented initiatives, which definitely helps draw along a segment of socially conscious customers, like myself.
One such initiative is Joma’s cooperation with a green project called “Hanoi Khong khoi xe 2013″ (Hanoi No Smoke 2013), in which all restaurants/café partnering with this project has to offer a 10% off all purchases for customers who travel by bikes. This was the reason I have been biking here almost every single day, despite living 5 minutes (walking distance) from it. On one such day, I was even handed in person a green membership card from one of the very co-founders of this Project! We had a lovely chat — she explained to me the idea behind the project, I mentioned CKP (of course) and we promised to talk more. Later that day, she posted a picture of the membership card on her Facebook, tagging my name and making my day :)
And lastly, although cost does not always top my list of judgment point for a good café (I’m one of those people who are willing to pay more for better quality), it is definitely still nice to get that extra kick every now and then. As food and drinks in Joma are typically on the higher end, I was very excited to learn about that 10% off, as well as the free cup of any coffee for every 10 coffee purchases, and the 50% discount of a baked good. Whats’ more, like many Western café, each morning Joma also offers half price off for leftover items from the last day.
Other Score: 9
So, in conclusion, Joma is unique as a Hanoi’s coffee shop, albeit not for everyone. It definitely excludes many types of cafe-goers, for example those who love direct service rather than ordering à la Western style (which I don’t mind at all), or those who love strong, good, “real” coffee. It might also be unfit for those on a budget who are not willing to pay at least 50k (2.5 dollars!) for one not very good drink. It is however perfect for me — a rather lost feeling like a stranger in her own land, and a bit of a sweet tooth who loves to be guilt-free eating desserts whenever possible.
Summary: Name: Joma Bakery Address: 22 Ly Quoc Su, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi Key points: Western vibe, lovely service, demure and light food & drinks, pricey. Score: 26/30
Next stop: Le Petit Coffee
Originally published at hanoicafereviewproject.wordpress.com on October 28, 2013.