Vietnam is a country with a strong coffee tradition. Vietnam harvests large amounts of coffee year after year, with the vast majority of their crop consisting of robusta beans. Robusta is often considered to be lower quality, while Arabica is grown at higher altitudes with a more delicate flavor. But a few objective facts help explain robusta’s enduring appeal around the world. Robusta beans are easier to grow and the plants produce a higher yield, resulting in prices that are often much, much lower than Arabica's. Yet despite costing less, robusta can contain almost double the caffeine, giving drinkers the morning jolt they crave.
Coffee is a powerful ritual. Rituals, by definition, have deep roots. When Vietnam’s coffee industry was developing in the wake of French colonization, the dairy industry was similarly nascent and fresh milk was a little hard to come by. A high sugar content preserves sweetened condensed milk, making it easier to store and transport. The intensity of the robusta bean, combined with the logistics of pre-industrial dairy farming and the human love for sugar, helped to create a specific coffee culture that still endures today.
In Vietnam, the world’s second-largest coffee-producing country, drinking sharply bitter and strong robusta coffee with condensed milk (called ca phe sua da) remains as popular as ever. In fact, many homegrown Vietnamese chains are expanding rapidly, exporting Vietnamese coffee culture to other parts of Asia and into the west as well.
- 30 grams ground Vietnamese coffee (about 4 tablespoons)
- 600 grams water (about 2 1/2 cups)
- Sweetened condensed milk (to taste)
Gather the ingredients.
Heat the water to 200 F.
Place the coffee into your filter of choice. A French drip filter positioned over a cup or glass works best.
Very slowly pour the hot water through the coffee grounds, letting the liquid slowly drip through to the glass or cup below. Don't add the water too fast to ensure the filter stays positioned at the top of the glass.
Add condensed milk to taste, and enjoy hot or iced. Hot Vietnamese coffee is stronger and thicker, similar to espresso.
To serve cold, pour the coffee and condensed milk into a tall glass filled with ice. Serve immediately.
- Traditionally Vietnamese coffee is brewed directly into a glass using a phin drip filter made specifically for this purpose. If you don't have a phin, the method in this recipe will work almost as well.
- For an easier brewing method, add the coffee grounds to a cup and pour the water over. Let steep for four minutes before quickly straining the mixture through a filter and into a glass. A French press can also be used.