The Subtle Art of Vietnamese Coffee

The French Touch on Vietnam’s Coffee History

The layers of a flawlessly crafted glass of Vietnamese coffee (cà phê sữa đá) – condensed milk, coffee, and ice – offer a glimpse into the history of this beloved beverage. Introduced to Vietnam by French colonizers in the 19th century, coffee found a fertile home in the country’s highlands. To combat the oppressive heat, the French added ice, creating a refreshing beverage. However, the addition of fresh milk proved problematic due to the underdeveloped dairy industry in Vietnam. In a stroke of brilliance, canned condensed milk was used instead, and the rest is history. This innovative twist birthed the iced Vietnamese coffee that is cherished today.

 

Vietnam has embraced coffee as an important crop, with its rich and aromatic flavour becoming a favourite among the Vietnamese. Anyone who has visited Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) can attest to the abundance of coffee. Scooters permeate the city’s busy streets with takeaway cups of “cà phê” hanging from their handles; street carts pour out thick robusta coffee into pools of condensed milk, and the sound of coffee filtering through ‘phins’ in cafes across the city is almost audible.

 

Cà Phê Sữa Đá is a Way Of Being

Coffee is an integral part of Vietnamese culture. The locals cherish it not only as a drink but also as a way of life and being. Throughout the country, you’ll find numerous coffee shops where people gather to socialize and relax. These establishments come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from simple sidewalk cafes to elegant establishments, each with its own unique atmosphere and charm.

Vietnamese coffee culture is known for its relaxed and unhurried pace. It is not uncommon for locals to spend hours in coffee shops, savouring their favourite brews and engaging in deep conversations. Coffee shops are considered havens for creativity and places of refuge where people build friendships, exchange ideas, and share stories. Coffee is also an important part of Vietnamese hospitality, with serving and sharing coffee being viewed as means to strengthen bonds and foster meaningful connections.

Many tourists visiting Vietnam fall in love with Vietnamese coffee, treating it like an exotic new friend. They often try to take it back home and incorporate it into their daily lives, but this is where they may make a mistake. Vietnamese coffee is not just another beverage; it’s a way of life and a practice that requires a certain level of sensibility and patience, denying one the pleasure of instant gratification.

Vietnamese coffee is not suitable for fast-paced lifestyles where coffee is consumed as a quick fix while rushing to work.  Unlike other coffee preparations, Vietnamese coffee requires a slow and romantic process that is almost poetic in motion.  It demands time, patience, and complete devotion to fully appreciate the brew as it slowly trickles down, drop by drop, into the glass.  In fact, in many Vietnamese coffee shops, customers are served a cup of Chinese tea while the coffee is filtered slowly, a process that takes between 5 to 10 minutes.

Make Vietnamese Coffee at Home

Making Vietnamese coffee at home is simpler than you might think. With just a few ingredients and the right equipment, you can recreate the authentic Vietnamese coffee experience in your own kitchen. You’ll need four ingredients: ground Vietnamese coffee beans (different coffee will not have same results!), condensed milk, hot water, and ice cubes. You’ll also need a ‘phin’ filter. More importantly, you’ll need time and patience.

Here is how you can make it:

  1. Put a spoonful of condensed milk in the bottom of a cup.
  2. Place the phin filter on top of the cup and add the desired amount of coffee grounds.
  3. Gently press down on the coffee to ensure even distribution.
  4. Pour hot water into the phin and let it drip slowly through the coffee.
  5. Once the dripping stops, remove the phin and stir the coffee to mix in the condensed milk.
  6. Add ice if you like, and enjoy your homemade Vietnamese coffee.

To find your perfect cup of Vietnamese coffee, you can experiment with different coffee beans, brewing times, and ratios. Don’t hesitate to add your own twist to the traditional recipe and get creative. Vietnamese coffee is a versatile and adaptable drink that can be tailored to individual preferences, making it a beautiful experience.

In Vietnam, coffee is not considered as just a drink, it is a cultural phenomenon that has captivated people’s hearts and taste buds worldwide. It embodies the essence of Vietnam and its people, from its humble beginnings to its position as a global icon. The art, culture, and tradition that surround Vietnamese coffee make for a truly special and enchanting experience.

As you enjoy a cup of Vietnamese coffee, take a moment to appreciate its flavours and the stories and traditions that have contributed to its creation. Let the rich aroma and velvety texture transport you to the bustling streets of Vietnam, where coffee is a universal language.  Whether you relish it in a conventional coffee shop or in the comfort of your own home, Viet coffee encourages you to slow down, connect with others, and celebrate the beauty of life, one sip at a time.

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