What is Vietnamese Coffee?

Vietnamese coffee brewer - phin on top of a glass mug with layers of sweetened condensed milk and coffee.  A bag of Talking Crow Coffee Roasters single origin specialty decaf Colombia next to it.
Vietnamese coffee is, well, two things:

1.  Coffee grown in Vietnam (which by the way, is mostly Robusta, which is more bitter and has nearly twice the caffeine content than Arabica coffee beans).  Vietnam currently produces 20% of the world's coffee.
2.  It's a specific brewing method. 

In order to brew up a Vietnamese coffee you need just 3 ingredients:

  • coffee
  • hot water
  • sweetened condensed milk
It requires a special dripper called a "Phin", which sits on top of the cup. The beans are weighted down with a thin filter, hot water is added to the phin, and then the water slowly trickles through into the cup onto the sweetened condensed milk.  It creates two distinctive beautiful layers of sweet milk and strong coffee.

Here is exactly how to brew up a delicious Vietnamese coffee

  1. Heat water to 195° -205°F in a kettle. If you don't have a kettle with a thermostat, bring water to a boil, and let it sit a minute to cool down.
  2. Get a glass and pour two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk into it, or a bit more if you like it sweet.
  3. Rest the Vietnamese coffee press (PHIN) on top of the glass with the sweetened condensed milk inside.
  4. Add one or two tablespoons of ground coffee to the coffee press and then put the filter on top of the coffee grounds.  (For the most authentic - use Vietnamese coffee, or at least Robusta beans.  Chicory isn't mandatory for Vietnamese coffee, but it is a popular addition. You can also add ½ teaspoon (1 g) of chicory root if you don’t have flavored coffee.
  5. Use the filter screen to tamp down the coffee. Tighten the screw in the center of the filter screen clockwise until the screen is snug against the coffee. Don’t overtighten the screw, or the coffee won’t have room to bloom.  Some Vietnamese coffee filters don’t have a screw to tighten. Instead, they use gravity and the weight of the water to brew the coffee. Skip this step if your filter doesn’t have a screw.
  6.  Pour in enough hot water to fill the brewing chamber a quarter full. Leave the grounds to bloom, or absorb water, for 20 seconds.  Monitor the drip rate during this time. When the water starts dripping through, it should drip slowly, rather than in a stream.
  7. If the water is draining too quickly or slowly, you can adjust the drip rate by tightening or loosening the screw.  If the water streamed through the filter instead of dripping slowly, turn the screw clockwise one full turn to tighten the filter insert. If the water didn’t drip through in the 20 seconds, turn the screw counterclockwise one full turn to loosen the filter insert.
  8. When the coffee has had time to bloom and you’ve adjusted the drip rate, fill the brewing chamber with hot water. Place the lid on the brewing chamber to keep in the heat as the coffee brews.  If the water is still dripping too slowly or quickly, adjust the drip rate by turning the screw.
  9. When the filter insert is properly tightened, it will take about 4 minutes for the coffee to brew.  The coffee is ready when the dripping stops, and the brewing chamber is empty. Hold the entire filter assembly by the spanner on the bottom and carefully remove it from the mouth of the glass.
  10. At this point you can choose to enjoy your coffee one of two ways.  Either leave the layers undisturbed enjoying the black coffee first and finishing with the sweet coffee-flavored condensed milk OR you can stir and mix it together.  
  11. Enjoy either hot or iced.  
If you haven't ever had a Vietnamese coffee you should treat yourself!

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