Strong and Sweet: the Tale of the Vietnamese Coffee

Vietnam. Lushes mountains, breathtaking beaches, bustling cities, and the second biggest exporter of coffee world wide?

Most of us associate Asia with the culture of tea, but Vietnamese coffee is lately becoming a household term in the western world as well. How should you prepare it? What makes it so distinct and special? And where did it come from?

Right Place Right Time

Vietnam’s climate makes it a perfect candidate for growing amazing coffee beans. Geographically, Vietnam belongs to the coffee belt, a band circling the globe and encompassing most of the world’s coffee-growing region. The country, just like other located in this belt, is famous for its stable temperature, humidity, plenty of perception, and sunlight. All these conditions make Vietnam a place for coffee beans.

Preparation of the Vietnamese coffee with phin filter

A Brief History

The history of growing the coffee plant in Vietnam spans to the late 19th century when it was brought to the country by French missionaries. The first coffee seed, an Arabica tree, was planted in 1857. It wasn’t until the 20th century that coffee growing was established on a larger scale. In 1945, the peak production of North Vietnam reached over 10,000 hectares.

The boom of the coffee production came after the end of the Vietnamese war when the communist government of a war-torn country instituted a massive coffee production programs as a way of supporting the economy, resulting in the production of over 1.8 tons of coffee a year nowadays. By the year 2000, Vietnam has become the second larger exporter worldwide. In fact, only four percent of the production stays within the country, the rest is exported.

There is a dark side to this otherwise an economic success story. The environmental impact of growing coffee as a mono-crop production is significant. In Dak Lak , a region famous for coffee, many people now face water shortages, caused by the extraction of water from rivers to irrigate the coffee plantation. Soil erosion is becoming a problem, as well as soil contamination due to the use of fertilizers.

Gather your Equipment

Preparation of the Vietnamese coffee is easy and straightforward. The only essential piece of equipment is the special tin strainer, called phin. The preparation is essentially the same to the V60 or a drip, instead of paper filter, the coffee is passed through a metal strainer. This means that you don’t need to carry a paper filter. Combined with the fact that the metal phin filter is virtually indestructible, it makes it an ideal traveling companion.

Vietnamese coffee is famed for being strong and sweet. This is due to the use of sweetened condensed milk. The condensed milk is poured into the coffee cup before filtered coffee. Condensed milk, used due to the lack of access to fresh cow’s milk, is widely used not just in Vietnam, but also in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and South Asian countries.

Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk

The Perfect Cup

If there is a coffee place that offers a Vietnamese coffee on their menu, we suggest exploring and treating yourself to this sweet delicacy there. If you however want to try making one for yourself, here’s a short guideline on how to achieve a taste of strong and sweet heaven.

  1. Preheat the phin filter by pouring hot water.
  2. Pour 3 teaspoons of coffee, ground to a medium roughness. For authenticity, choose the Trung Nguyen brand or another dark roasted robust.
  3. Tap the filter to evenly distribute the coffee and cover it with a top sieve.
  4. Place the coffee filter on a sufficiently large cup or glass.
  5. Pour 20 ml of boiling water to moisten the coffee.
  6. After 20 seconds, pour boiling water into the filter to the brim.
    Close the lid and let it drip for about 5 minutes.

Feeling Too Hot ?

Vietnamese summers are famed for being hot and humid. In weather like that, who could refuse the famous Ca phésura da? What is it? It is a deliciously icy version of the regular Vietnamese coffee. Simply put a few ice cubes into a glass before adding the condensed milk and coffee. And don’t worry, the ice does not affect the caffeine, so you can feel energized and cool all day long!