How to make Vietnamese coffee: Celeste Wong's barista guide
Our expert barista takes a deep dive into Vietnamese coffee with coffee trader Vivian Vo, including traditional rituals, how to order it and the perfect recipe for at-home brewing
Want to learn more about Vietnamese coffee culture? Expert barista Celeste Wong chats to Vivian Vo, a Vietnamese coffee trader living in Sydney, Australia, who sells Vietnamese-grown coffee beans online via Viet Coffee Project. Celeste talks to Vivian about what is special about Vietnam’s coffee, how to order coffee in Vietnam and how to make Vietnamese coffee at home.
How is traditional Vietnamese coffee served?
The most popular traditional Vietnamese coffee uses a drip method brewed with a phin filter. Ground coffee is added and then a metal gravity press is placed on top before the water is poured over the coffee. This method originated during French colonial times and is unique to Vietnam. Unlike hot espresso drinks, Vietnamese coffee is typically served cold, over small ice cubes or crushed ice.
Vivian confirms that there is more caffeine in Vietnamese coffee as robusta coffee is used instead of arabica. Robusta has almost double the caffeine levels of arabica coffee. The beans used to make Vietnamese coffee are often mixed with other ingredients like cacao, mocha, or even corn, creating that very unique and pungent flavour. Apparently, for a lot of older generation Vietnamese, when they drink an espresso, they’ll joke that it’s fake coffee since the smell and the taste isn’t as strong. Due to the strong and intense flavour, Vietnamese coffee can’t be served in the same way as espresso. If you served Vietnamese coffee as an espresso or long back, it’d be quite bitter, which is why sugar or condensed milk is a common addition. Coffee to the Vietnamese needs to be drunk over time, diluted with melting ice. The traditional culture in Vietnam is to sit together with friends after dinner, enjoy the cooler night climate and sip on a coffee for hours.
How to order coffee in Vietnam
Here are some of the most popular Vietnamese coffee serves:
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- Cà phê đen: almost always served cold, unless specified. Depending on your preference, you can ask for with or without sugar.
- Cà phê sữa đá: iced coffee with condensed milk. You can ask for extra condensed milk or coffee. 'Đá' means ice.
- Bạc xỉu: condensed milk, milk and a dash of coffee. There’s a ratio of more milk than coffee.
- Cà phê Trứng: another very popular serve, mostly in the north (Ha Noi). Unlike the other three drinks, not every shop would serve this. However, if you really want to try it, Cà phê Giảng in Ha Noi is your spot — it's the inventor of Vietnamese egg coffee and has been serving this drink since 1946.
Vietnamese coffee trends
In Vietnam, coffee shops are experimenting with iced coffee serves and elaborate toppings. You will see coffee across the country topped with whipped cream and popping candy, and served over crushed ice with the condensed milk creating beautiful patterns in the glass. For example, Cong Caphe in Hanoi is even mixing aged tea with arabica coffee, topping with a creamy foam. Various coffee shops are inventing their own versions of Vietnamese iced coffee using fruits like strawberries, avocados and durian. As you can imagine, these drinks can be quite sweet as they combine fruits and condensed milk. A newer coffee drink that has gained popularity over the years is Vietnamese coconut coffee (iced coffee mixed with coconut shaving or coconut milk). Vivian says it’s delicious!
A coffee that Vivian recently discovered is called cà phê muối (salted coffee). It’s a traditional coffee, popular in central Vietnam, specifically in Hue and Da Nang, which she has not seen anywhere else. Usually when salt is added to a dish or in this case coffee, it is to neutralise or bring out a flavour in something. It may help to dial down the bitterness of coffee, but also intensify the sweetness of condensed milk.
Cafés are also using coffee as a base for alcoholic beverages. On a recent visit to Vietnam, Vivian came across Rang Rang Coffee, that has a whole section on the menu dedicated to coffee cocktails.
Vietnamese coffee beans
Vietnamese coffee has traditionally been dominated by multinational household names like Trung Nguyen, a major operator that you can get pretty much anywhere. However, a new generation of small-batch specialty coffee brands have emerged to challenge the status quo. Brands like Viet Coffee Project are building direct relationships with farmers in Vietnam to improve bean production quality, reduce environmental impact and increase end-value to farmers and their local communities.
How to make Vietnamese coffee at home
Vietnamese coffee kit you’ll need:
- Vietnamese coffee phin dripper
- Highball glass (generally used in traditional coffee shops)
Vietnamese coffee ingredients:
- Vietnamese robusta coffee beans (or arabica beans are fine too) or Lavazza Rossa
- Condensed milk or plant-based alternative
Vietnamese coffee recipe
- Put the dripper directly on top of a jug.
- Add two scoops of finely ground coffee (about 18g) into the dripper.
- Put the gravity press on top of the coffee.
- Pour hot water into the dripper.
- Let the coffee extract and drip over into the jug.
- Pour 30ml or 20g of condensed milk into a glass.
- Add ice to fill, then wait for the coffee to cool or pour directly over the ice.
- Use a hard reusable straw or spoon to stir.
- Add extra milk to taste and enjoy!
About the expert: Vivian Vo is a Vietnamese coffee trader living in Sydney, Australia, who sells Vietnamese-grown coffee beans online via Viet Coffee Project.
Image credits: Celeste Wong, Getty (Bloomberg / Contributor