How to Make Vietnamese Coffee: A Cultural Ritual Guide

Joshua Allerton
February 21, 2024

I've always been fascinated by the rich, bold flavours of Vietnamese coffee. It's a unique experience that combines strong coffee with sweet, creamy condensed milk, creating a beverage that's both indulgent and refreshing. Today, I'll show you how to bring this iconic drink into your own kitchen. It's simpler than you might think, and you don't need to be a barista to master it.

Making Vietnamese coffee at home means you can enjoy its distinctive taste anytime, without the need to visit a coffee shop. Whether you're looking for a morning pick-me-up or an afternoon treat, this guide will walk you through the steps to create the perfect cup. Let's dive in and discover how easy and satisfying making Vietnamese coffee can be.

Choosing the right coffee beans

When I delve into the world of Vietnamese coffee, the choice of coffee beans stands out as a critical decision. It's not just about picking any bean; it's about finding the perfect roast that complements the rich, creamy texture of condensed milk. From my experience, robusta beans are the traditional choice due to their strong, bold flavour and higher caffeine content compared to arabica beans. They give Vietnamese coffee its distinctive, almost chocolatey bitterness that balances so well with the sweetness of the condensed milk.

However, I've found that not everyone has access to robusta beans, or perhaps you're looking for a slightly different taste. If that's the case, don't fret. Opting for a dark roast arabica bean can also work wonders. The key here is to ensure the beans are bold and full-bodied to emulate that classic Vietnamese coffee profile.

It's also worth noting that the grind size matters a great deal. For the traditional phin filter, you'll want a grind that's not too fine to prevent it from passing through the filter, and not too coarse to ensure a strong brew. I recommend a medium-coarse grind, akin to raw sugar's texture, as a starting point and adjusting based on personal taste.

Here’s a quick checklist to help you pick the perfect beans for your Vietnamese coffee:

  • Bean Type: Robusta for authenticity, arabica for a smoother edge.
  • Roast Level: Dark roast to balance with the condensed milk.
  • Grind Size: Medium-coarse for optimal extraction in a phin filter.

Keep in mind that making Vietnamese coffee is an art as much as it is a science. It might take a few tries to find your ideal bean and grind size combination, but I assure you, the journey is as rewarding as enjoying that perfect cup. So, experiment a little, and let your taste buds lead the way.

Selecting the right brewing equipment

When making Vietnamese coffee, the brewing method is as crucial as the beans themselves. Traditional Vietnamese coffee is made using a phin filter, a small metal drip filter that sits on top of your cup. If you're aiming for authenticity in your brew, getting your hands on a phin filter is a must. They're widely available online and affordable, making them an easy addition to your coffee-making toolkit.

Phin filters come in various sizes, usually denoted by their capacity in millilitres. I've found that a 4-ounce (about 120ml) phin is perfect for a single serving. It's compact, easy to use, and delivers that rich, strong flavour Vietnamese coffee is famous for.

Another piece of equipment you might consider is a quality kettle. You'll need hot water at just the right temperature, and a good kettle can help you achieve that precision. A gooseneck kettle is particularly helpful for controlled pouring, ensuring that your coffee brews evenly.

But what's fantastic about this brewing method is its simplicity. You don't need an elaborate setup or expensive gadgets. Beyond a phin filter and a kettle, you're pretty much set. Just make sure you have:

  • A phin filter
  • A heatproof glass or cup
  • A gooseneck kettle (optional, but helpful)

With these tools in hand, you're ready to dive into the brewing process. Remember, the beauty of Vietnamese coffee lies in its simplicity and the personal touch you bring to it. So, don’t be afraid to experiment with different brewing times or water temperatures until you find what works best for you.

The importance of condensed milk

When diving into the world of Vietnamese coffee, one thing's abundantly clear: condensed milk isn't just an ingredient; it's a cornerstone. Its creamy sweetness perfectly balances the robust intensity of Vietnamese coffee, creating a harmonious blend that's both rich and refreshing. What's more, the texture and flavour of condensed milk add a luxurious depth that regular milk or cream simply can't match.

Choosing the right condensed milk is crucial. I always recommend opting for a full-fat version to achieve the authentic taste and silky consistency Vietnamese coffee is known for. While sweetened condensed milk is the traditional choice, if you're watching your sugar intake, there are low-sugar varieties that still work wonders.

Here's a simple, step-by-step guide to integrating condensed milk into your Vietnamese coffee:

  1. Prepare Your Phin and Glass: Set your phin filter over a heatproof glass or cup.
  2. Add Condensed Milk: Spoon 1-2 tablespoons (depending on your sweetness preference) of condensed milk into the bottom of your glass.
  3. Brew Your Coffee: Place ground coffee into the phin, gently shake to level the grounds, and then cover with hot water. Let it drip slowly over the condensed milk.
  4. Stir and Enjoy: Once the coffee has fully dripped through, stir well to mix the coffee with the condensed milk. For an iced version, simply add ice and stir again.

Experimenting with the ratio of coffee to condensed milk is part of the fun. Some prefer a sweeter cup, while others might enjoy the boldness of the coffee shining through. There's no right or wrong here; it's all about what tastes best to you.

Remember, making Vietnamese coffee is as much about the process as it is about the end result. It's a moment to slow down and savour each step. From selecting your tools to pouring the water and finally, mixing in that delightful condensed milk, every part of the process contributes to creating a cup that's not just a drink, but an experience.

Brewing the perfect cup of Vietnamese coffee

Brewing Vietnamese coffee is an art that's simple yet precise, allowing even novices in coffee making to achieve a cup full of depth and character. I've found that the secret lies in the details, from the grind of the beans to the water temperature. Let's dive into how you can brew the perfect cup.

First things first, you'll need to gather your tools and ingredients. Here's what I always have on hand:

  • A Vietnamese Phin filter
  • Fine-ground Vietnamese coffee (Robusta beans are traditional)
  • Boiling water
  • Full-fat condensed milk

I prefer using a Phin filter specifically because it's designed to brew coffee at just the right speed, allowing for full extraction of the bold and rich flavors characteristic of Vietnamese coffee.

  1. Add 2-3 tablespoons of coffee to the filter. This might seem like a lot for a single cup, but Vietnamese coffee is known for its strength and robustness.
  2. Tap the filter gently to level the coffee, then place the press on top. It’s crucial not to pack the coffee too tightly; you want the water to drip slowly through the grounds.
  3. Pour 20ml of boiling water over the coffee, allowing it to "bloom" for about 30 seconds. This step is vital for releasing the coffee's full flavor.
  4. Add another 60ml of boiling water after the bloom. Place the lid on the filter and let the coffee drip into your cup or glass. Patience is key—it should take about 4-5 minutes.
  5. Stir in condensed milk to taste. The beauty of Vietnamese coffee is in the balance between the robust coffee and the creamy, sweet condensed milk. Start with a tablespoon and adjust to your liking.

Experimentation is encouraged. Whether it's adjusting the coffee to condensed milk ratio or experimenting with different coffee grounds, every cup can be a new experience. Remember, brewing Vietnamese coffee isn't just about the caffeine hit; it's a ritual to be enjoyed, with every step bringing you closer to that perfect cup.

Enjoying and savouring your creation

Once I've masterfully brewed a cup of Vietnamese coffee, the next step is truly indulging in the experience. It's not just about sipping coffee; it's about embracing the vibrant culture and tradition that come with it. Let me guide you through how to fully enjoy and savour your creation.

First and foremost, find the perfect spot. Whether it's a cosy corner of your home or a sunny spot in your garden, the right environment enhances the experience. Next, ensure you have your freshly brewed Vietnamese coffee, prepared as I've outlined earlier using a Phin filter and full-fat condensed milk.

Here's a simple step-by-step to get the most out of your coffee:

  1. Let it Cool Slightly: Vietnamese coffee is best enjoyed when it's not too hot. Allowing it to cool for a minute or two after preparation elevates the flavours.
  2. Stir Gently: After adding the condensed milk, give your coffee a gentle stir. This isn't just about mixing; it's about watching the beautiful swirls form, marrying the strong coffee with the creamy sweetness.
  3. Smell: Before taking your first sip, bring the cup close and take a deep inhale. Appreciating the aroma is as important as the taste.
  4. Sip and Savour: Don't rush. Take small sips, letting the coffee linger on your palate. Each sip should be an exploration of the balance between the bold coffee and the sweet, creamy milk.
  5. Reflection: As you enjoy your coffee, ponder the journey from bean to cup. Think about the origins of the beans, the craftsmanship involved in brewing, and how it all comes together in this moment.
  6. Experiment: No two cups of Vietnamese coffee need to be the same. Adjust the coffee-to-milk ratio or try different beans to explore new flavour profiles.

By embracing these steps, I find myself not just drinking coffee but delving into a deeper ritual that pays homage to Vietnamese culture. Each cup becomes a moment of tranquillity and reflection, a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Conclusion

Mastering the art of making Vietnamese coffee isn't just about following a recipe. It's about immersing oneself in a tradition that's rich in culture and history. I've shared how embracing the entire process, from brewing to sipping, can elevate your coffee experience. By taking the time to appreciate each step and experimenting with variations, you're not just making a drink; you're participating in a ritual that connects you to a whole new world of flavours and traditions. So next time you brew a cup, remember it's more than just coffee—it's a journey.

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