Vietnam Cafe Culture: How to Make Vietnamese Coffee

How to Make Authentic Vietnamese Coffee at Home

Saigon is the Heart of Vietnam’s cafe culture. Vietnamese coffee in bustling Saigon is a delight, brewed in history and undoubtedly worth travelling to taste. With many hipster-cool, Instagram worthy and cafe-bar hybrids popping up in Saigon, it’s become a favored daily habit for locals and travellers alike. Personally, we couldn’t get enough of Ho Chi Minh City and crave it often. 2 Vietnamese restaurants even made our top 10 Nanaimo restaurants list!

Saigon café culture really has something for everyone, and it’s easy to stumble upon greatness. For students or expats looking for a jittery jolt of caffeine to get them through the day, we love Things Café in rustic Ton That Dam Apartment Block. For anyone in the expat-heavy District 3, we recommend I.D. Café. Relax with lunch then recharge with an iced coffee on their garden patio.

What makes coffee from Vietnam so different, you ask? Well, Vietnamese coffee is STRONG and can often be too bitter without the addition of sweetened condensed milk, but more on that later.

coffee pouring in Things Cafe, Saigon
📷 Photo Credit: Things Cafe Facebook Page

What is Vietnamese coffee? 

To understand what makes Vietnamese coffee unique from other caffeinated drinks you’ve tried, let’s take a second to understand Vietnam. History, geography, culture, climate and conquest have all had a hand in shaping Vietnamese coffee into what we rave about today. Here’s the buzz behind the rich history.

2 types of coffee beans

The 2 Types of Coffee Beans: Robusta and Arabica

The Bean; Arabica vs Robusta. There are two types of coffee beans, each with their own unique flavor profile. European pallets have long preferred the softer, less acrid, often South American grown tones of the Arabica bean. For most of the world, Arabica coffee is what we consume daily. Robusta coffee beans are bitter, less acidic and have nearly double the amount of caffeine and antioxidants. In addition to having more of the stimulating properties than the arabica bean, robusta beans are easier to cultivate. The Robusta plant is as strong as the caffeine punch it packs. Producing a higher yield and being less susceptible to pests and disease, the plant also prefers the lower elevations and humid air of Vietnam’s central highlands. It’s no wonder why Vietnam’s state-owned plantations are the world’s largest producer of robusta beans. 

The Method; During the French Colonization of Vietnam, French dignitaries with a penchant for the caffeinated comforts of home introduced coffee roasting and preparation techniques from western europe. The result was a parisian-style dark roasted bean, ground medium then passed through a pour-over/percolator hybrid filter. This small metal filter later became known as a “phin”.

The “Milk”; Vietnam was not a dairy-consuming culture until the 90’s, when dairy farming gained popularity. Not having access to fresh dairy or proper refrigeration to keep it from spoiling created a need for variations to the cream and sugar that most coffee connoisseurs aren’t accustomed too. The most popular preparation is made with sweetened condensed milk, while others are more adventurous.

Vietnamese phin coffee filter

How to Order Coffee in Vietnamese

Ordering coffee in another language can be a struggle, especially if it’s your first cup of the day. Here is our fail safe guide to ordering your perfect cup of Vietnamese Coffee along with a few regional variations for you to try. 

CA PHE – “Ca phe”means “coffee” and is pronounced similarly. Begin with “ca phe” and follow with your favorite variation. ie: Ca Phe Sua Dong…Simple, right ? 

  • SUA DONG – iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. 
  • SUA NONG – Coffee with sweetened condensed milk, hot. 
  • DEN DA – Black with sugar and ice. 
  • DEN NONG – Black with sugar. 
  • DEN DA KHONG DONG – Strong, Black with ice. 
  • DEN NONG KHONG DONG – Strong, Black hot coffee. 
  • TRUNG – “Egg Coffee” Sua Nong with meringue, rich, sweet and decadent.
  • SUA CHUA – Replaces milk with yogurt, adding a pleasant sweet sour edge.
  • DUA – Creamy Coconut smoothie with a shot of coffee. YUM. 

Which Vietnamese coffee are you most excited to try next ?

How to Make Vietnamese Coffee at Home

If you’re not in Saigon and you’re craving the distinct kick of Vietnamese Coffee, here’s how we make it at home. This is what you’ll need:

1. Prepare your Coffee, Cup and Filter 

Longevity Brand condensed milk

Measure your desired amount of coffee and distribute it evenly into your phin filter, take the lid from the phin and place it face up underneath the coffee and filter. Use a small amount of hot water to very carefully just wet the coffee grounds.

This process is called the “bloom” and helps the flavors of the coffee be released from the bean develop into a more chocolatey complex cup. Let bloom for 3-5 minutes while you prepare your cup.

Measure 2-4 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk into a heat-proof glass or cup depending on your desired sweetness level.

Next, get your phin and coffee. Remove the lid from under the bloomed coffee. If there are any dips from the lid, you can add them to the sweetened condensed milk before placing the filter on top of your cup. 

2. The POUR! 

making vietnamese coffee at home

Slowly pour hot water over the coffee grounds. Fill the filter ⅔ the way up the filter. Place the lid on top of the filter and let the water work its magic.

Wait 4-5 minutes and most of the water should have filtered through.

Resist the urge to tap or shake the filter. Forcing coffee through the filter will clog it and weaken the flavor of your coffee. 

3. Stir and ENJOY!

homemade Vietnamese coffee

Once the water has passed through the coffee filter, remove the filter and slowly stir the coffee into the sweetened condensed milk.

If you wish to enjoy this drink cold, pour over ice and enjoy the intensely strong and sweet flavor of Vietnam coffee culture. 

If you haven’t tried Vietnamese coffee, be prepared for a caffeine kick in the pants like no other. Vietnamese coffee is unlike any other coffee in the world. Its unique flavor, complexity and silky texture make it one of our favorites. Drink up!

Vietnamese iced coffee

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