You’ve seen Vietnamese coffee everywhere, from travel blogs and channels to your favorite coffee shop menu. You’ve even seen it sold in major supermarket chains and sandwich shops.
What makes Vietnamese coffee so appealing? Why should you try it? And how can you prepare it at home?
Let’s talk about how to make Vietnamese coffee. In this article, I’ll guide you through the most delicious Vietnamese coffee recipe. I’ll also give you tips on getting the best out of this unusual brew that breaks all the rules.
What Is Vietnamese Coffee?
Vietnam is one of the largest coffee-producing countries around the world, so it won’t surprise you to know that they are passionate about their coffee.
They have also developed a singular way of brewing and drinking coffee, which has been shaped by their coffee industry and history.
What is Vietnamese coffee? It’s a rich, strong drip coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk. It’s prepared in a unique brewing method and can be served hot or cold.
Vietnamese brews always start with a dark roast coffee, generally Robusta. Then it is coarsely ground and dripped slowly through a unique metal filter brewing process.
These factors – dark roasted coffee brewed slowly in a metal filter – produce the strongest possible coffee. These are important aspects of making this coffee drink at home – try not to skip these details. Why?
Because in Vietnam, people stir condensed milk into their coffee. That’s why you need to start with a strong coffee to stand up to the thick, delicious sweetened dairy.
In fact, when you order a coffee in Vietnam, be prepared for an incredibly sweet brew. If you’d prefer not to have as much condensed milk, you need to make a special request that they serve you less. However, be prepared for the enhanced intensity and bitterness of the coffee.
In Vietnam, people drink their coffee hot or cold and have different names for each preparation.
Cà phê sữa nóng – The preferred morning drink, Cà phê sữa nóng is hot coffee.
Cà phê sua dá – This Vietnamese iced coffee is especially appreciated as temperatures soar during the day.
What Makes Vietnamese Coffee Special?
It’s Brewed in A Phin Coffee Press
How do people in Vietnam brew coffee? The traditional Vietnamese coffee maker, called a Phin filter, will prepare coffee as you’ve never had it before.
If you thought a French Press or a Moka Pot was as intense as home-brewed coffee gets, prepare yourself for a Vietnamese filter coffee drip.
A traditional Phin (pronounced feen) is a coffee press designed to brew an individual serving size of coffee. It generally has four parts. It has the main brewing pot, a filter, a lid, and a bottom rim.
Let’s review each one:
Main brewing pot – The pot is the body of the brewing method, where you’ll place the coffee.
Filter – The filter fits inside the brewing method. Some Phins have a screw-on one, while in other models, it simply rests on top of the grinds.
With the screw-on models, you can tighten the filter to reduce the flow of water. That will slow the brewing time and create a stronger brew.
Lid – You may ask yourself why the Phin has a lid since most coffee brewing methods don’t include one. The lid is an important element to retain heat in this slow brewing method, which takes 5 minutes to brew.
Bottom rim – The coffee maker also has a bottom rim, which is useful so you can place the method on a mug while brewing. This might be attached to the main brewing pot or might be separate.
What makes coffee brewed in a Phin so intense? A Phin coffee maker has no paper coffee filters, which means all the coffee’s oils and solubles pass through the coffee press to the final cup. That translates into one strong cup of coffee.
It also is meant to brew very slowly, one drop at a time. That slow brewing contributes to the intense cup.
And the type of beans you use and how they’re roasted also contribute to that intensity. So let’s take a look at those beans.
As we mentioned, to make Vietnamese coffee, you need to start with Robusta beans. That’s not a surprise since Vietnam mostly produces Robusta coffee.
Robusta coffee beans have a higher caffeine content, which makes them taste strong and bitter compared to Arabica beans. To add to the intensity and bitterness, these beans are generally roasted dark.
That might sound negative, but for this Vietnamese coffee recipe, it’s a positive step. As I mentioned, you want a strong coffee that will stand up to the condensed milk. If you use a lighter roast, the cup of coffee will be so mild you’ll only taste the sweet dairy.
To make Vietnamese coffee, you need to use coarse ground coffee. The brewing method is slow, and if you use a medium or fine grind, your coffee will be excessively bitter. Even condensed milk couldn’t fix that.
Sweetened Condensed Milk
As I’ve mentioned, to make Vietnamese coffee, a traditional ingredient is sweetened condensed milk. If you’re not used to using this ingredient, it’s simply cow’s milk that has been condensed – the water has been removed. Then it’s canned or packaged in a squeeze bottle to preserve it.
This is particularly useful in hot countries (like Vietnam) where cow’s milk will spoil fast if it’s not refrigerated. Once it’s canned, it can last at least a year.
To make it tastier, sugar is added. This is what makes it different from evaporated milk. The sugar creates a thick, syrupy ivory-colored treat that blends well in coffee.
The sweetened milk balances out the bitterness in Vietnamese coffee. And it creates an even thicker body and a rich, decadent drink.
Since condensed milk is very thick and syrupy, consider buying it in a squeeze bottle. If you do buy it in a can, you may want to transfer it to a bottle or container to make serving it easier.
How To Make Vietnamese Coffee Recipe
What You’ll Need
Now let’s answer how to make Vietnamese coffee. For this recipe, you’re going to need three essential items.
You may be able to find Vietnamese coffee at your nearest Asian market. If not, you can order Vietnamese coffee online and have it sent directly to your door.
Trung Nguyen premium blend coffee is one of the most popular brands, which some people call the Starbucks of Vietnam. However, there are plenty of other Vietnamese coffee brands to choose from (we love Ngyuen Supply).
In the United States, one of the most popular brands used for Vietnamese coffee is Café Du Monde coffee, which is a French roast coffee with added chicory root to boost flavor. This type of chicory coffee was popular in France during the Second World War, and the French passed the custom to the Vietnamese.
No matter which brand you use, remember to use coarsely ground coffee since it will spend quite a bit of time in the phin.
You’ll need about 2-3 tablespoons of ground coffee per serving.
You can purchase a Phin at Asian grocery stores for just a few dollars. Most Phins make one cup of coffee, so plan on having one filter per person.
You can choose from different sizes, up to versions of Phins that make several cups at a time. The traditional size Phin coffee filter is 6 ounces.
If you don’t have a Phin coffee filter on hand, you can use a French Press and brew the coffee for a full five minutes.
Sweetened condensed milk
You can buy it at most supermarkets and online.
You’ll need a few tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk per serving. If condensed milk is not your thing, try using coconut cream as an alternative.
Appropriate glasses and utensils
Serve hot Vietnamese coffee in short glasses.
Vietnamese iced coffee is served in tall slim glasses.
You’ll also need hot water and spoons. Now let’s get into the details so you can learn how to make Vietnamese coffee.
The Recipe: How To Make Vietnamese Coffee
When you make Vietnamese coffee, you can control the strength by varying the water temperature and volume, how much coffee you use, and the grind size.
The traditional recipe to make Vietnamese coffee calls for boiling water. With most brewing methods, I would never recommend using boiling water because it extracts the bitterness of coffee.
With this Vietnamese brewing process, though, the boiling water temperature matters a lot less. Why?
For one, you’re starting with an already bitter dark roast coffee, a Robusta. Also, the slow brewing time will extract more bitterness when combined with the boiling water. However, the bitterness is fine since it will all get covered up with the condensed milk.
Let’s get into the steps of how to make Vietnamese coffee. While this recipe looks like a lot of steps, each one is quite easy, and the brewing process takes less than 10 minutes total.
Boil water (1 cup per serving). You might want to use a gooseneck kettle to heat your water. The thin spout makes it easier to direct the water into the small Phin filter.
Prepare the Phin. If you want to retain more heat, you can preheat it. Set the brewing pot on a mug or glass and add hot water.
After a few minutes, dump the water out before you add the coffee grounds.
Add 2-3 tablespoons of coffee grounds to the pot or to your taste.
Place the filter on top of the ground coffee. If your filter is the type that screws on, twist it until it feels tight. Then give it an additional turn, just 1/8 of a turn.
Pour hot water into the filter and over the ground coffee. You might want to pour just part of the water in the filter and wait for the coffee grounds to expand before you continue to pour the rest.
The coffee should start dripping through quite slow, only one or two drops at a time.
If the brew is dripping through too fast, you can tighten the filter by using the tip of a kitchen knife (this applies to the screw-on type of coffee filters).
If your filter is not the screw-on type, you can press down on the filter to compress the ground coffee. The brew will pass through slower.
Remember that at this point, the metal filter will be quite hot. Use a utensil to adjust the filter or a dry kitchen towel to protect your hands.
Wait. The coffee should take about 5 minutes to brew, depending on how fast the water drips through. True Vietnamese coffee has a long-brewing time, so don’t rush it.
While you’re waiting, prepare the glass for drinking your coffee.
If you are drinking a hot Cà phê sữa nóng, use a small, short glass.
If you want a refreshing cold drink, try the drink called Cà phê sua dá, or Vietnamese iced coffee. Fill a tall glass with crushed ice cubes.
You can also make a coconut Vietnamese iced coffee by blending coconut cream with ice and adding the coffee to that mix. It’s not the traditional Vietnamese iced coffee, but it’s a delicious treat.
Open the can of sweetened condensed milk.
When the brew finishes dripping through, you can place the lid, upside down, on the counter and place the filter on the lid. This catches any random drips that might still be in the filter.
How To Make Vietnamese Coffee: Final Step!
Pour your brew into the appropriate glass. Enjoy your Cà phê sữa, Vietnamese hot coffee, in a small glass. Your Cà phê sua dá, or Vietnamese iced coffee, will seem even more refreshing in a tall glass.
How much sweetened condensed milk you want to add will depend on your preferences. Stir in anywhere from a few teaspoons to a few tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk into the brew and enjoy!