Coffee enthusiasts, coffee connoisseurs, or travelers who just so happen to drink coffee while visiting Viet Nam may be aware of the bold and strong taste of Vietnamese Coffee. Its rich heavy flavor is very distinct to traditional drip coffees in the USA. Viet Nam is actually a very large producer of coffee. We were told it is the second largest export in the country (first being rice). Go ahead, google “Coffee in Vietnam” and a million sites will chronicle the long history.
We were eager to try given over the last few years we have upped our coffee drinking game. Not necessarily by drinking a double macchiato no fat something something everyday, but with using a french press and being total snobs about where our coffee comes from. We had a hand held grinder to make ideal coarse grounds and perfected the steeping process. Then we left all that behind when we came to Viet Nam, a.k.a coffee land.
It’s safe to say that coffee in Viet Nam is not the same as it is back home, but there is a reason it’s gaining worldwide popularity. It’s incredibly full bodied and super strong. It’s brewed differently, too. At least in the Mekong Delta, coffee is most often served using a Phin filter. Some people enjoy it with sugar or milk (condensed milk) and many like it over ice, called cà phê đá. Because neither us drink milk, we usually take our coffee black.
That’s what we did for our first drink. Some students had invited us for coffee three days in to our stay and we gladly accepted. Around 7pm we met with them at a local cafe and ordered cà phê đá, iced black coffee. We had a lovely conversation and went home to get ready for bed. Well, four hours later our bodies were still buzzing with the caffeine swimming through our blood. We had learned our lesson, no drinking Vietnamese coffee at 3pm. We’ve learned a lot since then, including how to make drop coffee with the Phin filter.
Some interesting factoids we learned from this experience was twice brewed coffee. After the phin filter brews a powerful first cup, a second cup is made that is less strong, and cheaper. People who drink a lot of coffee prefer the second cup. That knowledge would have helped us our first couple of days; however, we’ve adjusted and made the classic rule: no coffee at 5pm. Also, twice brews can be bagged and sold to bakers who make sweets infused with coffee.
Most cafes give the coffee cup with the phin filter on top and so the customer watches the coffee brew. The coffee is so strong, about only 2 to 3 ounces are given to the customer, so think, more so, like an espresso-like serving over ice.
Some cafes use coffee beans roasted in butter or animal fat to enrich it’s flavor and we try to stay away from that; however, it can be difficult at times, but we look for cà phê, không bơ (coffee, no butter). And in fact, in the North it may even come with an egg yolk! It also can come with a lot of sugar, to help subdue the boldness. For a watered downl less strong flavor, we let the ice melt, too! In a rural province like Tra Vinh, it’s rare to see variations of coffee but we stick to cà phê đá and it hasn’t disappointed us yet.