We really enjoy a good cup of coffee, but we’re not snobs.
As long as it’s brown and caffeinated it’s usually fine with us. Unless it’s a badly burnt cup of diner coffee.
As born and bred New Yorkers, we understand the importance of coffee for the functioning individual. We thought there were a lot of cafes in NY. (You can throw a bagel and hit at least 2 Starbucks coffee shops).
Well, the big apple coffee scene’s got nothing on Vietnamese cafe culture, or shall we say.. Vietnamese CA PHE culture.
We love experiencing the different ways our favorite brown beverage is prepared in each country we visit. That means that we’ve suffered through some seriously bad cups in the name of science and culture. Like South Korea’s knock-off Starbucks brands, just no….and Thai Iced coffee.. made with coffee crystals…we’ll pass.
VIETNAMESE COFFEE CULTURE AND
HOW TO MAKE VIETNAMESE COFFEE
Vietnam though… has held a special place in our hearts and mugs.
From morning to night, cafes in Vietnam are packed with people of all ages and walks of life, sitting at low tables, about 1-2 feet off the ground, and sipping on short cups of powerful brew.
You may have tried Vietnamese coffee at your local Pho Noodle shop. If not, you definitely should. We got hooked on the bittersweet flavor and creamy texture of Vietnamese iced coffee after our first cup at a small noodle shop in Flagstaff Arizona back in 2016.
It was love a first sip. We knew right then that one day we’d be making our way to Vietnam for the authentic Vietnamese coffee experience.
But first we had to know… what was this little metal contraption that made this velvety coffee drip so delicately?
THE ART OF THE DRIP | VIETNAMESE CA PHE PHIN FILTER
Made up of 4 separate pieces this little metal Vietnamese coffee maker is how the magic happens.
The bottom filter allows the phin to sit on top of your mug.
The metal cup part of the phin filter holds the grounds and hot water.
Inside the metal cup is a filter press. Which helps keep the ground Vietnamese coffee beans pressed into a little cake for the coffee brewing. Similar to tamping down espresso grounds, the amount of pressure on the grounds dictates the strength of the coffee.
Lastly, is the phin filter lid, surprisingly one of the more important pieces for the brewing process.
HOW IS VIETNAMESE COFFEE DIFFERENT?
Once we got here, we were surprised to learn that Vietnam is actually the world’s second largest producer of coffee. Unfortunately, most of the Vietnamese coffee beans produced are low quality, mass-produced coffee beans which end up being processed into instant coffee crystals and energy drinks.
The vast majority of the beans grown in Vietnam are “robusta,” this type of Vietnamese coffee bean has a higher caffeine content, less acidity, and a more bitter taste than the more globally popular “arabica” beans. 40% of the world’s robusta coffee is grown in Vietnam, which explains why the Vietnamese love to drink it so much.
Typically, Vietnamese people sweeten their coffee with sweet condensed milk, (Ca Phe Sua) or black with sugar. (Ca Phe Den) to cut the bitter flavor of the Vietnamese coffee beans. If you don’t like your coffee sweet, regular milk (known in Vietnam as “fresh milk”or sua tuoi) is available in most cafes, but you’ll need to ask for it.
So, how DO you order a cup of Vietnamese coffee in Vietnam?
HOW TO ORDER A VIETNAMESE COFFEE IN A CA PHE IN VIETNAM
Ca phe Sua | This is your standard cup of Vietnamese robusta coffee, sweetened with condensed milk. For the iced version ask for “Cafe Sua Da.” For hot coffee, order “ca phe sua nong.”
Ca phe Den | Den means black in Vietnamese, so Cafe Den means black coffee.
Ca phe Den Da will be black, sweet, and cold. Ca Phe Den Nong, will be black, sweet and hot.
Cafe Den is still served sweet, but with sugar rather than condensed milk. The sugar cuts some of the bitterness, but lacks the creamy texture of the Cafe Sua. If you’d rather it black with no sugar, add “Khong Duong” onto the end.
WHAT IS VIETNAMESE COFFEE SAIGON STYLE?
While most of Vietnam prefers a more potent shot of coffee with their sweetened condensed milk, adding only 2-3 ice cubes to blend it together and cool it down, Saigon Coffee shops take a different approach.
Tall soft drink glasses, are filled with plenty of small ice cubes, to water down their brew. This turns ca phe sua into a light and refreshing beverage to sip on, and cafe den starts to look more like a glass of coke.
How do you like your Vietnamese coffee brewed?
SPECIAL VIETNAMESE COFFEE DRINKS
Cà Phê Trứng (egg coffee) | I know what you’re thinking, but we’re serious. Egg coffee is a real thing in Vietnam, and it’s actually quite delicious. It’s velvety, and creamy beige, with a sweet decadence that makes this the perfect after meal dessert, and pick me up. The egg is delicately stirred into the coffee while the cup sits in a bowl of hot water to keep the proper temperature. This is sort of a coffee merengue.
Cà Phê Muối (salt coffee) | Another mind bender until you try it. Think of it like a dark chocolate truffle with sea salt. The salt brings out the smokier flavors in the coffee and balances out the sweetness of the condensed milk.
Cà Phê Sữa Chua (yogurt coffee) | I’d eaten coffee flavored yogurt before, but never mixed yogurt into my coffee. Let me tell you, it is great! The yogurt is sweetened but adds a nice sour edge to your cup. Regulate your gut biome, and get your caffeine fix at the same time.
Cà Phê dừa (coconut coffee)| This one is an all time favorite of ours, and becoming a standard beverage all over Vietnam. There’s no doubt, Vietnam can be hot as hell, we know, we just spent the summer in Da Nang. There is no better drink during the high heat than a frosty coconut coffee. An icey coconut milk smoothie with a shot of Vietnamese coffee… obsessed.
HOW TO MAKE VIETNAMESE COFFEE
In case you haven’t already, watch the video at the top of this page for video instructions.
Here is a written recipe for you to follow.
here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 ca phe phin filter
- 20 g (4 tbsp) of ground Vietnamese Coffee Beans Robusta
- Sweetened condensed milk
- Hot water
- 1 small cup or mug
Vietnamese coffee is typically prepared one cup at a time using a special filter called a cafe phin. The cafe phin consists of 4 parts and sits on top of the cup, which we discussed earlier.
Also mentioned before, for that traditional Vietnamese coffee taste, you should use Robusta coffee beans, which will yield a darker and more bitter tasting brew.
First, prepare the cup with a few teaspoons of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom.
Next, add 20g (about 4 tablespoons) of finely ground Vietnamese coffee beans robusta to the phin filter.
Allow the coffee to “bloom” by placing the phin on top of its lid and adding a small amount of boiled water into the bottom of the lid. Next, add a small amount of hot water to the phin, just enough to wet the grounds, and stir it up. Place the press down gently on top of the grinds and allow 2-3 minutes for the grinds to bloom.
Now, place the phin filter on top of the cup and add 20ml of water (should fill the phin about half way).
The water should take about 3 minutes to drip through the phin and into the cup resulting in a strong bitter brew. You can adjust the amount of water and pressure to adjust the brewing time or strength.
Once your coffee is done brewing, stir it up, add ice, and enjoy!
Get your own Vietnamese Coffee Phin Filter and try it at home!
VIETNAM’S CAFE SCENE
As I mentioned before, there are a shit ton of cafes in Vietnam. Walk down the street in any major metropolis, and you’re bound to find a cafe or two on every single block.
What you won’t find… A Starbucks Vietnamese Coffee Shop on every corner, Starbucks coffee shops are few and far between in this country. Da Nang only had one Starbucks in town, and we suggest you skip it. You won’t get the real feel for the Vietnamese coffee culture in a corporate Starbucks shop.
A Vietnamese style cafe is very different from the cafes you find in North America, or Europe.
Typically a Vietnamese cafe will be filled with low tables, and small chairs. People sit close together, share tables, sip their coffee slowly, and smoke cigarettes.
If you’re a smoker, you’re in luck! It’s totally cool to smoke in a Vietnamese cafe. If you’re a non smoker, you’ll either have to suck it up (the second hand smoke, that is) or find yourself a more Western style cafe.
Western cafes with high tables, espresso drinks, and specialty coffee pour-overs do exist in Vietnam, you’ll just have to seek them out a bit more carefully.
LOOKING FOR A CAFE TO WORK FROM IN DA NANG?
CHECK OUT OUR DIGITAL NOMAD GUIDE TO DA NANG, VIETNAM.
Do you love Vietnamese Coffee?
Did this post inspire you to taste Ca phe Sua Da for the first time?
Which country makes your favorite coffee drink?
Tell us in the comments below!
Yes I love Vietnamese coffee and the coffee culture I couldn’t find somewhere else. Incredible post!
What a great article. I knew nothing about Vietnamese coffee. Guess, it’s time to head to Vietnam and see for myself!
Thanks for stopping by, Alexa! We’ve been hooked on Vietnamese coffee since our first sips at a tiny Vietnamese restaurant in Arizona. Check to see if there’s a good vietnamese restaurant in your city, so you can try it before you fly all the way to VN. Then it will be even better when you get the real thing! 😛
I haven’t had Vietnamese coffee before, but I have a bunch of places nearby, so maybe I’ll go try it now that I’m prepped like a pro! I lovelovelove your infographics, by the way. Great addition to your article.
You should, Jordan! Be prepared for a more bitter and sweet coffee than you may be accustomed to. Robusta coffee has more caffeine also, so you may get quite a boost! We were instantly hooked.
This is really cool! Your photos show the entire process so well. I try to stay away from Vietnamese coffee because it is kind of addictive. But, it is hard to resist the urge to get one when you are close to a place that sells it.
Addicting for sure…like I said in the video, we’ve been HOOKED. The caffiene content in robusta coffee is so much higher than arabica. That being said, that shit is delicious and it helps me be more productive, so i’ll deal. haha!
Thanks for a great article. I love Vietnamese coffee, but I’ve never seen directions with this much detail. I’ll be trying your method in the morning.
Thanks for a great article. I love Vietnamese coffee, but I’ve never seen directions with this much detail. I’ll be trying your method in the morning. A special Saturday morning treat!
Hey Tim, thanks for commenting. I hope your coffee came out great! Mine is brewing right now as I type out this message to you… 😛
Thank you for this post. I’m just in love with the Vietnamese coffee. They’re strong, flavorful and cheap. Since I’m in Vietnam, I have Iced Coffee everyday, can’t get enough of it!
Thanks for reading our article, Miran. We love vietnamese coffee so much, we still travel with our caphe phin! <3