Vietnamese coffee is an intensely strong and sweet coffee, that’s sure to dissolve your morning daze and perk you up for the day. Its dark roast coffee and potent condensed milk make this a unique coffee.
In Vietnam, coffee, whether it’s brewed and served at home or in restaurants, is brewed leisurely (i.e. less intense than how I typically brew pour over coffee). Hot coffee (cafe nong) is preferred in the morning, while iced coffee (cà phê sữa đá) is saved for the heat later in the day.
I was talking to my Dad about coffee and he was reminiscing about his many past cups. He’s completely happy here in the States, but has an incredibly fond memory of his life in Vietnam. “There was nothing like escaping from the rain–running into a coffee shop with a lightly damp raincoat. I can immensely enjoy a cup in that kind of atmosphere.”
How was Vietnamese coffee invented?
Although we Vietnamese “owe” the availability of ingredients for this coffee to French colonization, this creation is Vietnamese. Vietnamese coffee is uniquely characterized by a combination of a dark roast coffee dripped through a metal Vietnamese coffee filter mixed with condensed milk.
More often than not, you’ll see this served with lots of crushed ice since it tastes so good! You can order it hot too but for some reason I don’t see this as much.
Vietnamese coffee beans – varietal and filler?
The most popular brands for Vietnamese coffee are Trung Nguyen and Cafe Du Monde. However, lately there are many new roasters in America trying to hop on the Vietnamese coffee scene.
Notice that Cafe Du Monde isn’t pure coffee! This grind is laced with the ground root of the chicory herb. This mixture originated in Europe during WWII when money was tight and expensive foods like coffee needed to last. Chicory root was used to stretch the coffee supply. After the war, the preference for the chicory flavor became a trend and exists even today.
The new brands have more modern branding, and source beans, often times from single family-owned farms in Vietnam for the typical Vietnamese coffee roast. The varietal commonly used for Vietnamese coffee is the robusta bean.
The metal coffee filters or “phin”
The Vietnamese coffee filter gives a stronger brew than that of an American drip machine and different than that of a French press, which has a lot of factors, but the metal coffee filter used to brew these is a large part of it.
The “phin” (pronounced like feen), is typically made of three or four parts.
The lid – This helps keep the coffee from losing heat or evaporating too much while brewing.
The body – This is the main cylindrical center where the coffee grounds go. The
A filter disk – This goes into the body and sits on top of the coffee. On older versions of the phin I’ve seen, this can screw into a threaded shaft that’s part of the body. This added another variable to adjust while brewing–how tight this was screwed on.
However on most newer types I’ve seen this is a simple disk with a handle on top for removal that sits on top of the coffee grounds. This means the main way you control the speed and strength of brew is reduced to water temperature, water volume, coffee volume (and grind size if grinding your own.
The rim or lip – simply the rim around the filter so you can rest it on a glass while brewing.
The condensed milk
Traditional Vietnamese coffee is very strong so the concentrated and very sweet condensed milk is a natural pairing for it. When you buy Viet coffee at stores it’s usually SUPER SWEET.
When I make it myself, I like taking the sugar down by about 50% so more coffee flavor comes through, so feel free to sweeten it as you like! Condensed milk usually comes in cans, because its simple and cheap to produce.
The problem is that the milk is super thick and sticky so it’s not fun to have to transfer to another storage container. So, you can do like my dad does and just leave it open like that in the fridge with a spoon in it, or transfer it to a squeeze bottle.
I like using Longevity Brand as shown below, typically available at Vietnamese or Asian supermarkets. However, I’ve used Eagle Brand, and the Trader Joe’s store brand in a sqeeze bottle which is very convenient. And to be honest they taste very similar to me.
What is different about Vietnamese coffee?
Vietnamese coffee is a combination of bold flavored French roast coffee (often times mixed with chicory root), dripped through a Vietnamese coffee filter called a phin, and mixed with condensed milk. Using a phin creates a stronger brew than the traditional American drip machine.
How do you make Vietnamese coffee?
To brew Vietnamese coffee you need French roast coffee grounds, water, condensed milk, and a phin (a Vietnamese coffee filter). Boil the water and preheat the filter and cup by adding some water through. Remove excess water, then add a heaping tablespoon of coffee into the filter.
Twist the filter on top until there is some resistance and pour some water inside and wait for the grounds to expand before filling the filter all the way up. Brew for three to five minutes, then add the desired amount of condensed milk into the cup.
What kind of coffee is Vietnamese coffee?
Vietnamese coffee is traditionally made with dark roast coffee and often times mixed with chicory root. Common brands used for this are Trung Nguyen and Cafe Du Monde. The beans are usually the robusta variety (as opposed to the more common arabica).
Why is Vietnamese coffee so sweet?
Vietnamese coffee is sweetened using condensed milk. You can adjust the level of sweetness to your preference, but this is traditionally a very sweet and bold flavored coffee.
What is the best Vietnamese coffee?
There are many types of Vietnamese coffee beans or grounds, but I prefer using good old Cafe Du Monde.
Vietnamese Coffee (Cà Phê Sữa Đá)
- Start by boiling some water. An electric kettle makes it a lot faster. My tea-loving roommate left it behind when she went back to Australia. I would have never thought to purchase one, but it's seriously a game changer in terms of speed.
- Preheat the filter and cup by pouring a bit of boiling water through it.
- Remove the metal filter and pour in 1 heaping tablespoon of Cafe Du Monde (about 4 teaspoons). I love the smell of coffee!
- Twist the filter on gently until it just starts to stop. Then turn it little more, a bit less than 1/8 a turn. If your filter doesn't use screws, simply place the filter on top of the coffee.
- Pour a tiny bit of water in the filter just to wet the grind and to let the grind expand a bit. This will help rid of some small grinds that happen to make it through the filter. You can toss it out if you see any.
- Fill the filter all the way and let it drip. Ideal brewing time comes to about 3 to 5 minutes so adjust the filter accordingly. Too loose and you’ll just have runny brown water. Too tight and nothing will drip through. The filter will be hot, so use a fork or another utensil to adjust the filter. Place the cap on and watch the coffee drip!
- For condensed milk, I prefer Longevity Brand – Sua Ong Tho. Any brand will do but I like the art on this one 🙂. Personally, I like it a little strong and less sweet than most folks. About 1 teaspoon of condensed milk does it for me. If you like it sweeter add 2-3 tsp.Adding it to the cup before brewing does have a slight effect on the flavor since the boiling water cooks it a bit. For this recipe we'll add it afte brewing since you can more easily adjust how much condensed milk slowly. Once you know the amount you like you can add it straight to the cup before brewing.
- For iced coffee, let it cool off a bit then pour the brew into a glass filled with ice.