Vietnam — the land of piping hot soup, smiling faces, and delicious, sticky-sweet coffee. As one of the largest coffee exporters in the world, there is no shortage of coffee in Vietnam. But Vietnamese Coffee is about so much more than where the coffee is grown. It’s a unique style of brewing and drinking coffee.
Let’s take a trip! Let’s travel the land of Vietnam through coffee.
What Is Vietnamese Coffee
Everyone who tries Vietnamese coffee loves it. But the term ‘Vietnamese coffee’ might refer to two different things. This is because Vietnam is not only the origin of the coffee — it is also a unique way of drinking coffee.
Probably the least common use of the term Vietnamese coffee is in reference to any coffee that is grown and processed in the country. While this certainly is Vietnamese coffee— it isn’t really what people are referring to when talking about Vietnamese coffee.
When most people mention Vietnamese coffee, they are referring to the Vietnamese coffee style. This unique style includes using ground local Vietnamese coffee, a Vietnamese coffee dripper, and usually either sugar or condensed milk. Combine all of these elements and you have the true definition of what Vietnamese coffee is.
Benefits of Drinking Vietnamese Coffee
Above all, a cup of Vietnamese coffee is strong and sweet. Nothing will get you going in the morning and ready to explore the streets of the Hanoi old quarter like a cà phê sữa đá!
Cà phê sữa đá, pronounced cah-fay soo-da, is one of Vietnam’s famous iced coffee drinks. Strong coffee combined with ice and condensed milk. Sweet, cold, and delicious!
Has Antioxidants and Vitamins
A cup of Vietnamese coffee will contain all of the antioxidants and vitamins we’ve come to expect from a cup of coffee. Vitamins B2, B3, and B5, along with manganese and potassium, just to name a few. And the caffeine in the cup provides that mental and physical boost that we all know and love.
Short History of Vietnamese Coffee
Vietnam exports almost 25 million sacks of coffee every year, making them the second-largest producer of coffee in the world. Given what a coffee giant that Vietnam now is, the beginnings of coffee in the country may come as a surprise…
Coffee was introduced to Vietnam in 1857 by a French Catholic priest, in the form of one single coffee tree! One single Arabica coffee tree started it all!
Throughout the French colonial period, coffee was grown in small amounts, mostly across French-owned plantations. It remained much like this, making up less than 1% of the world’s coffee trade for some time. It wasn’t until well after the war that Vietnam became the massive coffee exporter that it is today.
Most of the coffee grown in Vietnam is done so in an area known as the Central Highlands.
While most of the coffee grown in Vietnam is low-quality Robusta coffee that ends up going into instant coffee, there are a few producers growing and processing organic coffee of specialty grade. These specialty Arabica coffees are almost entirely produced in the Northern region of the Lam Dong province.
How Does Vietnamese Coffee Work
Almost all types of drinks in the Vietnamese coffee style center around one main component — the coffee. While there are a few different coffee types and varieties available in Vietnam, 95% of it is Robusta coffee.
If you’ve ever tried Robusta coffee, whether it’s been in an espresso blend in Italy or in a Vietnamese black coffee, you’ll know that Robusta coffee can be fairly bitter.
Vietnamese coffee has an extremely delicious way of covering up this bitterness. It adds a layer of thick, sweet, condensed milk to the coffee in the cup. With the use of condensed milk, we are able to reduce the bitterness of the coffee drastically. This super bitter cup of coffee is transformed into a tasty, creamy cup of coffee that is either served hot or over ice.
Darkly roasted ground coffee is added to a steel coffee dripper known as a Vietnamese coffee maker. After the coffee goes into the dripper, we place a small round ‘press’ on top, followed by hot water, then the lid. Beneath the dripper sits a cup to collect the coffee. In some Vietnamese coffee drinks, this cup is empty. In others, such as cà phê sữa, there is a layer of condensed milk waiting in the cup. As the coffee drips through the filter, it falls into the cup below.
Once all of the coffee has finished dripping, all we need to do is lift the steel dripper, give the coffee a stir and we’re ready to enjoy!
While Vietnam has many other types of drinks, which we’ll talk about in a moment, the combination of black coffee and condensed milk is by far the most common.
Pros and Cons of Vietnamese Coffee
- Incredibly delicious.
- Super easy to make.
- The Vietnamese dripper used is inexpensive and readily available.
- Can be made hot or cold.
- You need the special Vietnamese dripper to make this style of coffee.
- Vietnamese coffee is very sweet and contains quite a lot of sugar.
Types of Vietnamese Coffees
Let’s check out some of the most popular caffeinated goodies Vietnam has to offer!
Coffee With Milk (ca phe sua)
A staple in the Vietnamese coffee style, the famous ca phe sua. Ca phe sua is essentially darkly roasted Vietnamese coffee, combined with condensed milk. As the coffee drips from the steel dripper and into the cup below, it infuses with the condensed milk.
The ca phe sua is sweet, strong, and delicious.
Coffee With Milk and Ice (ca phe sua da)
An iced coffee take on the classic ca phe sua! The ca phe sua da is made in the same way as a ca phe sua. The only difference is that ice is added to the cup, along with condensed milk. The hot coffee slowly drips over the ice, creating a gorgeous, sweet, ice-cold coffee.
A ca phe sua da is perfect for hot, summer days.
Yogurt Coffee (sua chua ca phe)
The next drink up on the list is a uniquely Vietnamese drink that you might not find anywhere else in the world. Introducing the sua cha ca phe, or yogurt coffee.
At first, yogurt might not seem like the best addition to a coffee drink. But combined with the strong coffee, the ice, and the condensed milk, the yogurt provides a delicious little hint of tartness. It also makes the drink heavenly creamy and rich.
A sua chua ca phe can be made in a variety of different ways — it might be blended, or simply poured over ice. As much as there is variation in the preparation of the drink, the ingredients list remains largely the same.
Egg Coffee (ca phe trung)
This is one of those ‘don’t knock it till you’ve tried it’ kind of drinks. As strange as it may sound, the ca phe trung, or egg coffee is insanely good.
The ca phe trung was invented due to a shortage of milk and cream in Vietnam. And when you taste the drink, you can see how it might make a delicious replacement for a latte! The only difference is a cafe latte contains espresso and milk, whereas a ca phe trung contains Vietnamese drip coffee, egg yolks, sugar, and condensed milk.
This delicious and unique coffee is actually pretty easy to whip up. Wisk egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk, and a little hot coffee in a bowl until it is thick— similar to a creamy, cappuccino style of milk. Pour your creamy mixture over hot Vietnamese coffee and voila! A tasty egg coffee!
Coconut Coffee (ca phe cot dua)
While not as traditional as the other drinks on this list, the ca phe cot dua, or coconut coffee has loyal fans worldwide. The addition of coconut cream to this drink makes it a super refreshing summertime drink that much of the younger crowd adore.
There are multiple different ways of making this drink, but the general idea is very similar to that of yogurt coffee. Brew some Vietnamese coffee, add condensed milk, ice, and coconut cream. Mix everything together and you have a summertime dream coffee!
Coffee Smoothie (sinh to ca phe)
Basically a coffee milkshake! A sinh to ca phe, or coffee smoothie is another drink that is newer and more popular with younger coffee lovers. The recipe for a sinh to ca phe looks quite similar to a few recipes for bulletproof coffee. Let’s have a look at how to make it.
First, we brew some Vietnamese coffee and have it drip into condensed milk. Give the coffee and condensed milk a stir and let it cool to room temperature. Then we’ll throw the coffee into a blender along with vanilla ice cream and ice. Blend until smooth and there you have it — a delicious sinh to ca phe!
How to Brew Vietnamese Coffee
We’ve waited long enough! Let’s make some Vietnamese coffee!
For this recipe, we’ll make the classic ca phe sua, or milk coffee. This recipe is the base of almost all Vietnamese coffee drinks, so it is a great place to start your Vietnamese coffee journey.
We’re going to need a couple of specific things to create this coffee. The first is a Vietnamese coffee dripper. These steel drippers can easily be bought on either Amazon or from a local Vietnamese grocery store in your area.
The second is some Vietnamese coffee. One of the most common and widely used brands of coffee in Vietnam is Trung Nguyen. It usually comes in a can, preground, and ready to go.
You could buy fresh coffee and use a coffee grinder for a French press to grind it. But most cafes and roadside coffee stalls simply use preground coffee. So that’s what we’re going to do!
- Vietnamese coffee dripper
- 1 heaped tablespoon of dark roasted Vietnamese coffee
- 1-2 tablespoons of condensed milk
- Hot water
Step 1 — Boil the water
First, fill your kettle with water and get it boiling.
Step 2 — Add condensed milk to the cup
Add between 1-2 tablespoons of condensed milk to your cup. If you like it super sweet, add a little more. If you like it less sweet, add a touch less.
Step 3 — Add coffee to the dripper
Next, we’ll add our ground coffee to the dripper. The dripper has a few different parts. Place the base on the cup and remove the lid. Lift out the press, then add 1 tablespoon of coffee to the dripper. Re-insert the press and gently place it down. Lightly turn the press a little so the coffee bed becomes even and flat.
Step 4 — Brew
The first part of the brew is similar to a bloom phase, like what you’d do when making a pour-over. Pour around 20g of hot water into the dripper. This would amount to a few tablespoons. Let this sit for 20 seconds or so. After 20 seconds, pour the rest of the water to almost fill the dripper.
Step 5 — Wait
Place on the lid of the dripper and relax! The coffee is dripping away and will be finished in about 5 minutes. When it’s done, give it a good stir and enjoy!
Does More Spending Mean More Quality
With most styles of coffee, spending more almost always will buy you a higher quality and better-tasting coffee. This is not so much the case with Vietnamese coffee.
The traditional Vietnamese coffee style uses Robusta coffee. And Robusta coffee is generally inexpensive.
While Vietnamese Robusta coffee certainly won’t be winning any awards for the world’s best black coffee, nor is it known for its quality, it is absolutely crucial to the flavor of these unique Vietnamese drinks.
Vietnamese coffee may be the only style in the world where it tastes it’s best using cheaper, Robusta coffee.
Do’s and Don’ts With Vietnamese Coffee
- Do experiment with different amount of condensed milk and coffee. Find your perfect balance of bitter, strong, and sweet
- Do Invest in a real Vietnamese coffee dripper. While you could get away with brewing a couple of shots of espresso, or a strong French press, it’s really not the same as using a real Vietnamese dripper
- Do be sure to use Vietnamese coffee. Using coffee produced and roasted in Vietnam ensures you will be tasting the coffee exactly how it is supposed to taste. Just like in the streets of Saigon
- Don’t be afraid to try all the different types of Vietnamese coffee. While some may sound strange, they are all super delicious
- Don’t overfill your dripper. Adding too much coffee to the dripper may cause the filter to become clogged
- Don’t use your best Costa Rican coffee as a replacement for Vietnamese coffee! Most high quality, medium roasted specialty coffees will lack the intense, dark roasted punch that is needed to really cut through the condensed milk
FAQ About Vietnamese Coffee
What is different about Vietnamese coffee?
Vietnamese coffee is characterized by its use of darkly roasted Vietnamese coffee and sweet condensed milk. The combination of these ingredients creates a uniquely Vietnamese coffee that is unlike anything found elsewhere.
What kind of coffee is used for Vietnamese coffee?
To make a cup of Vietnamese coffee, it is crucial to use a coffee that is grown and roasted in Vietnam. The bitter, chocolatey, rich flavor of Vietnamese coffee is one of the reasons why Vietnamese coffee is so famous.
While you could use a coffee with a low level of acidity, like a coffee from Brazil, most coffee shops and roadside coffee stalls use Trung Nguyen coffee. It is inexpensive, easy to use, and will give you the most legitimate Vietnamese coffee experience.
Is Vietnamese coffee unhealthy?
Vietnamese coffee on its own, minus the condensed milk, is just like drinking a French roast coffee. It is darkly roasted, strong, and contains all the vitamins and minerals of a normal cup of drip coffee.
People who are sensitive to caffeine may have issues with Vietnamese coffee. Certain coffee beans have higher caffeine levels. Robusta coffee, the type that is used in Vietnamese coffee, contains around 80% more caffeine than Arabica coffee.
The one big thing that makes Vietnamese coffee unhealthy is the condensed milk. Condensed milk contains around 10g of sugar per tablespoon. So each cup of ca phe sua will contain around 20g of sugar, which is quite a lot.
How long does Vietnamese coffee last?
We treat Vietnamese coffee a little differently than we do specialty coffee. In specialty coffee, we say the coffee only really stays tasty for two weeks once you’ve opened the bag. Fresh coffee is a flavor explosion that dissipates quickly!
Vietnamese coffee usually comes ground and sealed in a can. It is less particular than that bag of Ethiopian. But we should still store our Vietnamese coffee in the same way we do any other coffee. When it comes to storing your coffee beans, keep them in a cool, dry place, out of the direct sun.
In these conditions, Vietnamese coffee should stay safe to drink for at least 3 months, but most probably far longer.
What is the difference between Thai coffee and Vietnamese coffee?
Vietnamese coffee is mainly characterized by its use of darkly roasted Vietnamese coffee that is brewed in a particular type of dripper. The resulting coffee is rich and bitter and is often combined with condensed milk.
Thai coffee, on the other hand, uses strong filter style coffee that is often brewed with the use of spices such as cardamom. Thai coffee too will often contain condensed milk.
How many shots of espresso are in Vietnamese coffee?
Vietnamese coffee uses a drip-style of coffee. While it may be very similar in strength and taste to espresso, a Vietnamese coffee dripper doesn’t utilize pressure and therefore is unable to brew espresso.
The amount of coffee in the average Vietnamese coffee would most likely equal a double shot of espresso.
Vietnam has some of the most interesting and exciting coffee drinks you could find here on planet earth. With the use of unconventional ingredients such as egg yolk and yogurt, it has really carved a place for itself as an exciting coffee destination.
If you give Vietnamese coffee a try, you won’t regret it!
Photos from: Belkantus / depositphotos.com, anna.pustynnikova / depositphotos.com, tempakul / depositphotos.com and sipark / depositphotos.com.