One of the best parts about the spread of customs and ideas are the wonderful ways that cultures influence them. The French colonists brought coffee to Vietnam, who took the recipe and did whatever they damn-well pleased with it.
I could tell straight off the bat that Vietnamese coffee and I would get along swimmingly thanks to the fact that several travel blogs warn not to even bother asking for decaf if you’re ordering it in its homeland—it’s just not even a thing over there. That’s the way to do it, I tell ya.
While you’re thinking about all of that, I’ll get started on how to make Vietnamese Coffee, with the best recipes and tips. And I’ll probably tell you how they historically came to be because it’s amazing how the societal circumstances influenced this delicious caffeinated beverage.
Well, first off, it’s a massive part of the economy. The coffee industry employs 2.6 million people and accounts for 3% of the GDP. While, at face value, those are obviously just numbers, these are faces and families that all make their living from coffee beans.
Buon Ma Thuot, the central highlands region in Vietnam, proved to be an ideal location for growing robusta coffee beans. They discovered this in 1857 and it became a thriving business until the war, which devastated the industry. The decline took such a toll on Vietnam that they government implemented a coffee-growing programme following the end of the fighting.
No less than two decades later, Vietnam claimed the number two spot on the coffee exporter billboard, second only to Brazil. They’re even the number 1 exporter of robusta. While inferior to arabica, which is grown at higher altitudes, it makes up a significant portion of the industry.
Can you believe all of that? A country with coffee at the heart of it (the central highlands) is bound to produce some phenomenal versions, so open up your little coffee mind and get ready to expand your horizons. While Vietnamese coffee will flip your tastebuds 180 degrees, the way their industry is laid out is also different than the standard.
Unlike many other countries where hundreds of acres are owned by single growers, Vietnam’s coffee crops are typically owned in increments of 3-5 acres and run by individual families. They’ve begun converting their crops to sustainable ones, as well, creating shades for the beans to grow under, introducing peppers and other plants that will reduce the use of pesticides and keep their soil healthy.
All of this dependency and care lends itself to a phenomenal (very unique) cup of joe, so let’s talk about what you’re going to need to recreate it.
You probably noticed that I said Vietnamese coffee is made with robusta beans, and, no, I wasn’t saying that for the shock value. This creamy, sweet coffee is derived from the strain of beans we typically stereotype as tasting like burnt rubber.
Well, burnt rubber has rarely ever been so satisfying. The facts about robusta are this: it’s heartier, has more caffeine, and creates a better crema. It’s that taste though. The Vietnamese are some seriously smart people though and quickly developed recipes that highlighted the best features of this strong mug of morning brew. The secret? Sweetened condensed milk.
That in mind, here’s what you need:
This is probably the only time you’ll hear me say this, but buy a robusta bag of beans. Or can. However you find them is good. Here’s a Vietnamese brand you can quickly have on your doorstep.
Now, just because I’m telling you to buy robusta doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be them whole bean and grind them yourself with a conical burr grinder. This is a new style of making coffee, not an alternative universe where you get to cut corners and still get a phenomenal morning brew. Get real.
Yeah, it’s the stuff you see in the store, typically in the baking aisle. We’re using it in an unconventional manner for us United States of America people, but we all need to shake it up now and again.
Ah, here we are, talking about the most unique aspect of Vietnamese coffee—the instrument. The phin is a combination of a French press and a drip machine. Check out this video for a step-by-step guide to using it:
I’ll break it down here for you, as well, mostly because it’s super easy and works very similarly to a drip brewer, down to the blooming step. There are three pieces in a phin kit: the largest component is the filter, then there’s the lid, and the cup spanner, which is a disk with several holes and a convenient little handle.
Step #1: Set the filter over your favorite mug. If you’re the kind that appreciates the deep beauty of coffee dripping sensuously into your chosen designated vessel, opt for a clear cup to really appreciate every bit of the next 4-5 minutes.
Step #2: Use a single heaping tablespoon to dump coarse grounds into the filter.
Step #3: Give it a hearty tap to even the grounds along the bottom.
Step #4: Take the cup spanner and fit it snugly over the coffee grounds — not too loose or the water won’t mix with it long enough, not too tight or the water won’t run through. You have to find that magic medium.
Step #5: Now we need that hot water you had the forethought to already start brewing. You’ll want it to clock in at about 195 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, you’ll need to check it with a thermometer. Take about 20 ml of it and use it to “bloom” the grounds. Aka, just dump a few tablespoons into the packed phin.
Step #6: After 20 seconds have passed, dump the rest of the cup of water into the phin and put the lid on. It’ll take about 4-5 minutes for this process to complete, so, ya know, go make your breakfast, pet the pups, do some squats, whatever suits your fancy.
Step #7: Enjoy your brew!
P.S. Since phins are made of metal, keep in mind that they can get hot. Fair warning.
If you want to use a phin, you want to do it right. You want to be in your kitchen and feel like you’re at a street-side coffee place in Vietnam, sitting on that small, three-legged stool, sipping this sweet caffeinated beverage while surveying the hustle and bustle. Let’s talk about manipulating your taste buds to bring this vision to life.
In a non-crazy way, of course.
In most countries, you’ll find that the coffee is mixed with cream or milk.
The fact of the matter is that Vietnamese coffee is strong, bitter, and acidic. In light of their lack of milk or cream, it became popular to use a few tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk. This classic version of Vietnamese coffee will really give that on-the-streets-of-Vietnam feel.
Keep in mind that robusta coffee is highly caffeinated and a little goes a long way. It comes out thick enough to paint your kitchen walls with. Put the 2 tablespoons of milk into your cup before following the traditional phin directions above. Once the dripping is complete, mix and enjoy!
If you’re anything like me, you have an on-the-go appreciation for things that kill two birds with one stone. In other words, tackling eating your morning nutrients while getting your caffeine intake at the same time. The Vietnamese have a unique take on accomplishing this task, and it’ll probably make you raise your eyebrows, but… like… give it a shot.
I’d hold off on those optional bits. Try it classic and then consider the vanilla and sugar. Alright, so here’s the best way to tackle this. Make the Vietnamese coffee using the phin as said above. While that good stuff is dripping, we’ll tackle the egg cream.
Step #1: Take the sweetened condensed milk and and put it in a bowl with the 2 egg yolks.
Step #2: Take the electric whisk and stir up real good for 5 minutes until it’s thick and whippy.
Step #3: Layer that silky goodness on top of the coffee.
Step #4: Now, get a bowl of heated water that’s big enough to fit your serving mug. Make sure the water is nice and warm — about the same temperature as what you used to brew the coffee. Place the mug (with the egg cream mixture on it) in the warm water and let that egg cook through.
And that’s it — enjoy! Takes a few extra minutes, but the whole thing pulls double duty, so it seems worth it.
Icing this drink is a popular option, and all you need to accomplish the task is a second glass. Set up the phin, as instructed above, and let the brew drip. While this is happening, grab another cup and put however much sweetened condensed milk you want in this vessel.
Fill the glass with ice and, once the phin is done with its magic, drizzle the coffee inside this cup and wah-la! The perfect caffeinated drink for summer—if it ever decides to grace us with its presence.
Coffee is unique all over the world, and Vietnamese coffee is one of the most peculiar, delicious versions. It’s especially appealing for those who like their coffee on the sweeter side—more like a confectionary treat than the pitch-black brew I consume—but don’t want to sacrifice caffeine real estate.
Robusta coffee is chock full of caffeine, while the sweetened condensed milk transforms the incredibly bitter taste of this hearty bean to a sugary, delightful cuppa joe that will sate your sweet tooth and your caffeine addiction. Enjoy!
Hi! My name is Rachel Bean and I love coffee. Despite what it may seem like, my last name and deep love for a cup of black brew is a total coincidence. While I was informed at the wee age of 18 that majoring in coffee wasn't really an option (at least not the way I wanted to major in coffee) (i.e. drinking it day in and day out), I do have an MA and an MFA in Writing. I type words day in and day out, for both work as well as fun, and coffee is the magic bean juice that lets me do that. And that's pretty much me. Writing and coffee. Oh, and rescue dogs. Writing, coffee, and dogs. You get me.