I’ve been quite into Southeast Asian food for years now, especially Vietnamese cuisine. Routinely every time I find myself at a Vietnamese restaurant, I order Vietnamese Iced Coffee. When ordering Vietnamese iced coffee, it typically comes one of two ways, either with sweetened condensed milk or without. When ordered without condensed milk, it would be known in Vietnamese as “Ca phe da” literally, coffee iced. When ordered with sweetended condensed milk it’s known as Ca phe sua da or cà phê sữa đá, pronounced “KAH FEH SUE DAH”, literally “coffee milk iced”. Wikipedia says that in the north it’s also known as “iced brown coffee” (cà phê nâu đá), but most of the Vietnamese community in the states are from the south so I actually don’t have any one to confirm or deny the prevalence of that term.
Vietnamese Iced coffee runs $3-5 from a restaurant, and the cost drove me to look into how to make it for myself, as you no doubt have too. I have effectively switched entirely from Italian coffee to Vietnamese coffee, which surprised even me.
Like much Vietnamese cuisine, Vietnamese Iced coffee is a byproduct of French colonialism. Coffee was first introduced by French colonists to Vietnam, and the “phin” or drip filter is in fact a French drip filter.
I would recommend the sweetended condensed milk version for most people, even if you’re not a dairy fan. Personally, I thoroughly dislike cream in my coffee but I find even a small amount of condensed milk thickens the coffee in a really pleasant way and opens up a lot of unexpected savoriness in the coffee. One $1 can of sweetened condensed milk seems to last me almost a month at the amount that I put in my daily coffee. Your results will vary though as many people like a lot of cream.
Firstly, you’re going to need a French drip filter or a “Phin” (cà phê phin), here is an amazon list of your options. I ended up buying this one. Although it was not very expensive to begin with, I ended up finding it at a local Vietnamese market here in Chicago for a couple bucks cheaper. I imagine most people aren’t going to have a vibrant Vietnamese community three blocks away, so Amazon might be the better option. As far as quality goes, there seems to be almost no difference in quality among the metal ones. They’re all cheap stamped metal, but all seem to do their jobs very well. I have seen some free or very inexpensive plastic ones however, which I’m slightly weary of, perhaps without cause. But for $5-$10, the metal ones are so inexpensive that I haven’t bothered trying the plastic ones. In general the Phins come in two sizes, a single serving size, and a larger one that is good for 4 or so cups. After buying the single serving size, I ended up buying the larger one down the street. I would actually recommend buying both sizes. Typically I’m a huge fan of one-size-fits all. But the convenience of the single serving Phins are excellent for your daily coffee. However making four servings one at a time is a time consuming task. Furthermore, the larger Phin is excellent for use with Thai iced tea, which I’ll cover in another article.
You’re also going to need some Vietnamese coffee. After trying to figure out which brand was best, I eventually settled on the biggest name in Vietnamese Iced Coffee Trung Nguyen. You can get it on Amazon with Prime for $12, here. There are a few other vendors for less, but I’ve reached the point where if it doesn’t come Prime, I’m not really interested in waiting. I was fortunate enough where I live in Chicago, I am able to get it local for about $6 for the same tin. A tin lasts me about a month of once a day coffee production, with occasional guests.
- Unscrew tiny filter from inside of Phin, typically you would just TURN it counter-clockwise.
- Rinse out Phin, to remove any gunk.
- Add ground Vietnamese Coffee, I use Trung Nguyen, you can get it on Amazon here.
- You will want to add just enough Coffee whereas you can still get the filter to screw back on. The filter will hold the grounds down when you add water.
- Place your Phin on top of a cup or glass, or pot in the case of the larger Phins
- Heat up water in a pot or kettle. Ideal temperature is 185-190F or 87C. I use a $20 IR Thermometer. You could of course just boil the water, turn off the pot and wait a couple minutes. But…science!
- When the water gets warm, add approximately a teaspoon of water to the Phin. This will help to engorge the coffee grounds to prepare them for steeping.
- When the water reaches temperature, fill the Phin to the top with the hot water.
- Immediately put the lid on, I didn’t realise this until I forgot the lid off one day how much it helps to keep the water hot and increases the quality of the coffee
- When the Phin is empty of water, and stops dripping coffee your coffee is done.
- Remove the Phin from the top of your cup.
- Add sweetened condensed milk and/or sugar. I use a small amount of milk and a packet of stevia for my coffee. Many recipes will suggest putting the condensed milk in first, although I think that is wise, I prefer to add mine in little by little and stir it aggressively until it reaches the wanted consistency. As a trick I’ve found that a fork is strangely easier to use than a spoon when adding and mixing the condensed milk. As the sweetened condensed milk has a tendency of sticking to everything it touches.
- Once you’ve reached a consistency that you’re happy with, add ice. Let cool, and serve.
- I often times will use my large Phin to make several ice cubes worth of Iced Coffee, then I will add those to my finished coffee to prevent ice cubes from water down my coffee.