It’s easy to fall into a rut, and coffee becomes merely a caffeine fix. Drop it in a cup, drink it down, get your boost and move on. But for people like us, coffee is more than that. It is an experience where taste, smell, and sound fill the senses. A moment to stop and savor something special.
At Good Fika, we experience coffee. We explore the different tastes and brewing methods that produce unique tastes and styles. The Vietnamese Drip Filter is one way to enjoy a coffee that we’ll explore here.
Coffee and Vietnam
Coffee first arrived in Vietnam in 1857, bought in by French colonists (precisely one colonist who was a priest), when they introduced the Arabica bean. But it was to be the robusta bean that would thrive in the climate and terrain and become the main ingredient in Vietnamese Coffee.
But Vietnamese coffee is not just about the beans grown in Vietnam. It is also a particular style of coffee found in the country which combines the Robusta beans and condensed milk. Traditionally, there was not a lot of milk available in Vietnam. What there was didn’t last very long before souring in the tropical climate. Enter condensed milk. Able to be stored more effectively, the sweetened milk mixes with the bold, bitter, and nutty beans to create a unique coffee.
Vietnam has built its own set of customs and culture around drinking coffee. The brew is often poured over chilled ice. It is a drip coffee but not the usual brew.
Vietnamese uses a traditional phin (dripper); it is similar to a pour-over but takes longer. The resulting coffee mixes the sweetened milk with the bitter robusta beans. Vietnamese coffee is thick and robust and sipped slowly, allowing you to enjoy the lingering chocolatey taste.
The origins of the Phin are murky, lost in the mists of time. It shares some of the attributes of both the French Press and the pour-over, which originated in Italy.
The Phin is small and cup-shaped, and made from stainless steel or aluminum. It has a filter chamber and a lid that allows coffee to be slowly brewed. This type of brewing is called drop by drop drip, which is known for producing a rich, concentrated cup of coffee.
The Robusta Bean
Vietnamese coffee gets its unique, intense taste from the beans and the way they are roasted. The beans ripen throughout the year in Vietnam, so to mask any differences in the taste, the beans are roasted for longer. This means they have a more intense flavor. Extra flavors like vanilla, butter, and chocolate can be added during the roasting.
Making Vietnamese coffee using a phin is straightforward. You will need the following at the ready:
- Robusta Coffee beans
- A grinder
- A kettle to boil water
- A spoon
- A glass or mug
- A phin (Vietnamese coffee filter)
- A spoon
- Sweetened condensed milk
- Fish sauce (optional)
How to make Vietnamese coffee
You can serve Vietnamese coffee hot or cold. We’ll cover how to make both - it just comes down to adding ice or not.
1. Pour condensed milk into your glass
You only need to add a small amount because condensed milk is quite sweet and packs a strong punch. Remember, you can always add more later to taste. Begin with enough to cover the bottom of the glass - approximately one centimeter high. Don’t reach for the ice just yet; we’ll be putting that in later.
2. Remove top screen of phin (filter)
Now, remove the top screen of the phin so that you can pour the coffee underneath it.
3. Place coffee in the phin (filter)
Put a tablespoon of ground coffee in the filter. There are many views on the best grind level, which is how fine your coffee is grounded, ranging from coarse right down to fine. When in doubt, start off at a medium grind level. Some recipes contain chicory, but using this comes down to personal taste. If you’re so inclined, you can use a coffee that has chicory in it. If you add it yourself, 1/2 a teaspoon would be the maximum you need.
4. Place the top filter on
Next, screw the phin back on, making sure it is quite tight. You need to give this step extra attention if you choose a fine grind in step 3.
5. Place brewer over the mug or glass
A mug is always a safe option, but using a glass instead of a mug lets you watch the brewing take place.
6. Pour in hot water
Fill the phin with boiling water that you have left cool for approximately 30 seconds. Now, you wait for the water to pass through the filter, which takes a couple of minutes. If it’s going through too quickly or too slowly, you may need to tighten the phin further or use a different grind level.
You can choose if you’d like to place the lid on top of the phin, but it may be better to leave it off so you can monitor the brewing more closely.
7. Watch the brew
Now sit back and watch your brew appear. The first few times you make a Vietnamese coffee, it will pay to use a timer. If you’re outside the 4- 5 minute range, you can alter this by adjusting the grind’s coarseness or the tightness of the filter, as explained in the step above. You should see the coffee layer on top of the condensed milk.
8. Add the condensed milk into the coffee
Pour the condensed milk into the coffee and mix them together. Give it a taste and add extra sugar if you like.
9. Add fish sauce (this is optional!)
In Vietnam, some places will dip a toothpick into fish sauce and stir it into the coffee. Adding a small amount can smooth out any bitterness in the coffee, but this is only relevant if you used a darker roast.
10. Bring in the ice (also optional!)
If you’re going to enjoy this cold, drop some ice in your glass and enjoy your first sip! If you prefer hot, you’re already done.
Popular variations of Vietnamese coffee.
Sometimes ingredients are added to help smooth the bitter and intense Vietnamese Robusta.
One common method is to top the coffee with an egg custard. Blend egg yolks and cream milk and pour it over the coffee. It becomes similar to a smooth thick cappuccino, without being too rich. You can enjoy this variation hot or cold.
Mixing Vietnamese coffee with coconut milk, yogurt, coffee, and ice creates a version that hides the darker flavors of the Robusta and is lighter and sweeter. Adding extra condensed milk will also do the trick.
Good Fika’s Final Thoughts
Vietnamese coffee offers a journey into a different coffee style. It is inexpensive and easy to get started. You can find a phin anywhere there’s a Vietnamese community, and they usually cost around $7.00.
The brew can take a bit of time to make, but for coffee lovers like us, that is just a chance to get lost in the process and mesmerized by the dripping coffee. It may take a few shots to find the recipe that works for you, but the results are worth it. The different variations should at least give you a chance to take your taste buds on a journey. Happy brewing!