March 11, 2014

Vietnamese Coffee

So strong, so good!

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You may not know this, but coffee (cà phê, like "cafe") is huge in Vietnam. This tiny country is second only to Brazil in coffee productionTrung Nguyên is Vietnam's largest coffee brand, and is exported to over 60 countries. It's pretty well-known, and you can probably find it in your local Asian supermarket.

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Vietnamese coffee is known to be strong, or maybe is just brewed strong. A purist might drink it black, but for me, cà phê sữa đá is the way to go. It's Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. Why condensed? Mostly because when France introduced coffee to Vietnam, condensed milk was easier to come by than fresh milk. But condensed milk has become a staple to many Vietnamese. Many of us (not me, though) can tell you about eating condensed milk with bread as a sweet treat growing up. For me, my dad would let me lick the spoon after he put some in his coffee.

Sữa Ông Thọ was my dad's (and many Vietnamese's) favorite brand.
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Vietnamese coffee is special because of where the beans are grown, and a particular roasting style. It's a slow and long French roast, in "butter oil" (clarified butter...or a similar vegetable oil), which gives it a rich, smooth taste. Interestingly, Cafe du Monde's chicory coffee is also a favorite among Vietnamese homes and restaurants. I had it for the first time when I was at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, and now I know why it looked familiar!


The brewing style of Vietnamese coffee is notably unique. Traditionally, a single cup is brewed in a small coffee filter - a little percolated stainless steel cup. They're cheap and very easy to use. You just set the filter on top of a mug or glass, place a rounded tablespoon of coffee in the metal cup (coarse to medium grind, similar to what you'd use in a French press), place the screen on top and turn to tighten it about 80%. Add a bit of water and let the grounds absorb it and swell so you'll have a more even drip, and then go ahead and fill the cup almost to the top. It'll take at least 5 minutes to finish brewing, a nice slow drip.

via Heavy Table (great post on how to make Vietnamese coffee & yogurt)

To make cà phê sữa đá, you put a tablespoon or so of condensed milk in a glass and brew the coffee right on top. Then you mix it, pour it over ice, and voilà! Strong, smooth iced coffee. It's really strong, though. If you're not a big coffee drinker, you might have to add more hot water or more condensed milk to this delicious beverage.

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Cold beverages are really popular in Vietnam because of the warm climate, but (hot) cà phê sữa can also be had. I personally like the instant coffee (as coffee purists gag) that Vinacafe makes. But now that I've started getting more into coffee, after drinking all those flat whites in Australia and cutting sugar from my coffee, maybe I should get my own Vietnamese coffee filter and a can of Cafe du Monde coffee. I could get really serious about it...if I didn't worry about staining my teeth!

1 comment:

  1. My first memory of Pho involves the coffee with condensed milk!

    ReplyDelete