Monthly Archives: January 2017

Vietnamese coffee

Last week a dear friend from Colombia invited me to her house for a cup of coffee, and what a cup it was going to be! Nope, it was not some fruity, floral, smooth Colombian coffee, no.  Last year she visited Viet Nam, where she drank coffee almost every day and she liked it so much that she brought back some coffee together with the necessary items to prepare Vietnamese coffee. I was curious!

But first a little bit of history….
Viet Nam has produced and consumed coffees for decades and it all started around 1857 when Viet Nam was still a French protectorate. People started growing coffee in both the Central Highland and Coastal area as well as in the south east region. The production grew until the Civil war (1954-1975) after which it was collectivized as government owned leading to a decline in production. Things changed again in 1986 with the reforms called Do Moi that reintroduced private ownership. Coffee production now grew again, and to such a level that by the year 2000 it had doubled. That over-production had a devastating effect on the global price of coffee due to oversupply and so a massive price crash followed.
Nowadays Viet Nam is the second largest coffee producer in the world (after Brazil) with around 2 million tons per year. And eventhough 97% of their production is Robusta, production of Arabica is increasing.
The French not only introduced coffee to Viet Nam as a crop but also its consumption. During the colonial times French wanted to enjoy a cup of coffee with milk as they were used to. Unfortunately fresh diary product were hard to find in Viet Nam and a solution was fount in using condensed milk, which is produced and canned since the mid 19th century. And so traditional Vietnamese coffee is prepared with sweet condensed milk.

Vietnamese coffee is brew as a single serving using a phin. This is a gravity-based filter than is easily placed on top of a cup. The phin has a saucer (with holes), a cup to place the coffee in, a filter and a lid. But for instance in my phin the saucer and the cup are one piece. The recommended ground is medium to coarse but it is better to check the holes in the saucer and filter and accordingly decide how to grind the coffee. As you can see in the picture below, my saucer has rather big holes so I grind my coffee coarse as for french press.

Phin cup and saucer

Phin cup and saucer

How to prepare Vietnamese coffee
1. Preheat the phin and the cup by placing the phin on top of the cup and pour some hot water through. Then discard the water from the cup.
2. Scoop two teaspoons of sweet condensed milk in the cup. If you are not into sweet coffee then replace the condensed milk with regular milk (any kind you like) or nothing.

Condensed milk in the cup
Sweet condensed milk in the cup

3. Add ground coffee in phin cup and shake the phin to distribute the coffee evenly. I use 7 gr of coffee for 100 ml water.
4. Now place the filter on top of the coffee and level the grounds some more by twisting the filter while applying a little bit of pressure.Coarse ground coffee in the phin

Coarse ground coffee in the phin

Filter on top of coffee
Filter on top of coffee

5. Gently pour a third of the hot water in the filter. Allow the coffee to swell for about a minute.

6. Add the remaining the water in the filter and place the lid of the phin on top to retain the heat. For the next 4 to 5 minutes you can see the coffee brewing.Brewing

Brewing

Once ready, just take the phin off, mix the coffee and milk and enjoy!

When prepared dark the coffee is called Ca Phe Nau. Considering that in Vietnamese language words have only one syllable. This three words when said together may remind you of the french origin.. Cafe Noire.
When prepare with condensed milk it is called Ca Phe Sua. Other interesting variation is Sua Chua Ca Phe which is coffee brewed over yogurt. And even more interesting is Ca Phe Trung which is prepared with egg: egg yolk is whipped and mixed with condensed milk and then poured into already brewed coffee. This tradition started in the 1940’s when milk was scarce: egg was the replacement for milk. To be honest, I have never tried this.

As Viet Nam is a country with warm weather it is not strange that cold coffee is very popular. Ca Phe Sua Da is prepared in the same way as described above, just add ice cubes together with the condensed milk. The result is a diluted coffee, but sweet, creamy and fresh.

Now I will stop writing and enjoy my Ca Phe Sua!

Coffee tour in Barcelona

My own latest coffee tour in Barcelona had the best possible starting point: Nomad Coffee! Started and run by Jordi Mester, they have three spots in Barcelona and on top of that plenty of places also serve their coffee. But I was lucky enough that my hotel was just two blocks from the location where they in fact roast coffee: Roasters Home. So there I enjoyed a double espresso from Colombia while I watched them roast a new batch. This coffee was grown by Juan Pablo Penagos at Finca Santa Helena (1670 masl), a washed coffee varietal Castillo Naranjal. It has a good body, fruity sweetness, a hint of almonds in the aftertaste. I do appreciate acidity in my espresso, but i think it was a bit too acid. Talking to the barista, she agreed that the batch from which I was drinking was roasted a bit too light.

Colombian coffee at Nomad

Colombian coffee at Nomad

I then head to the downtown to buy one of my favorite cookies: alfajores. These are not traditional from Barcelona, but the best known brand (Havanna) from Argentina does have stores in Barcelona. Unfortunately as good as the cookies are at Havana, the espresso is not as remarkable. It was bitter and had almost no crema.

My next stop is Cometa: a cozy lunchroom and coffee place south from the downtown. Funny enough, I was not aware that they serve Nomad’s coffee. So well, instead of asking for an espresso to taste the coffee I had a cortado, my favourite coffee drink, and some cake. The menu said it was the same Santa Helena coffee that I had in the morning, but this time I didn’t feel the acidity nor the fruity sweetness. So, to clear up any doubt I ordered an espresso and I confirmed with the waiter that it was indeed the Santa Helena. But different barista, different taste: I think the espresso machine here is set to a too high temperature or the barista is just overextracting the coffee because it was not the same as directly from Nomad.

Cortado and cake at Cometa

Cortado and cake at Cometa

One more place in my list was Satan’s Coffee at Gran Via. I heard about Satan’s as being one of the first specialty coffee bars in Barcelona set up by Marcos Bartolomé. They serve coffee roasted by Right side coffee. Satan’s Coffee is located inside the design hotel Casa Bonay. The space is nice, open and light and it reminds me of places in Australia, actually. The day I was there they were serving Colombian coffee from La Victoria in the Huila region. Grown at 1900 masl this Caturra was grown and washed by Yisela Piso and roasted one week ago. The espresso blew me away! It was very nicely balanced; it had acidity as from cider, a herbal flavour in the mouth and an aftertaste like pears and caramel.

 

Brew bar at Satan's coffee corner
Brew bar at Satan’s coffee corner
This espresso blew me away!
This espresso blew me away!

Pretty high on caffeine by now I moved on to another legendary coffee place in Barcelona: Cafes El Magnifico in the Gothic neighborhood of downtown Barcelona. When I entered this coffee temple I ran into Salvador Sans, the current owner. He is the third generation now in charge of this place that was founded in 1919. The baristas were busy with a short queue and so there was not much time to chat. I ordered first an espresso: the coffee served that day was Red Bourbon from Montecristo, Nicaragua. This coffee is grown by Jaime Jose Molina Fiallos, at 1300 to 1450 masl and the process is honey. It was strong and had a full body but a bit on the bitter side for my taste. As the small sitting area emptied I take my chance to taste something else so I ordered an Aeropress with coffee from the farms Himalaya and Divisadero from El Salvador. Their coffee menu is extensive. After a few minutes I decided to taste this coffee grown by Mauricio Salaverria at 1500 masl. The varietals are Red Caturra and Pacamara and the process is honey. I followed the barista next door, literally, to enjoy the ritual that you can see in the video.

 

A legendary place in Barcelona
A legendary place in Barcelona
The barista guiding me to enjoy the aroma
The barista guiding me to enjoy the aroma

Served in a wine glass, I enjoyed the chocolate and praline fragrance. In the mouth it has a medium body and low acidity. The first taste was silky followed by sweet with hints of candied fruit, caramel and a spicy finish. While drinking I have the opportunity to chat with Mr. Sans, a coffee connaisseur.

Every time I come to Barcelona I discover new places, or traditional places with new coffee offers. Time always come short, see you soon Barcelona!

Barcelona coffee culture

It is simply not possible to walk around Barcelona and not stop for a cup of coffee. Whether this is your first visit and you want to see everything in a short period of time or this is just one more visit to your friends that are lucky enough to live here at the “Ciudad Condal”. Either way, there are just too many attractive coffee places where customers enjoy beverages and life that you can only fill the need to join them and discover why coffee culture in Barcelona is so appealing.

Espresso before sightseeing
Espresso before sightseeing

Coffee consumption in Spain can be traced back to the 18th century, a bit later than for other European countries. Eventhough, some stories mentioned that Emperor Charles I (1500-1558) tried coffee and found it energizing. By drinking some of this black medicine he was able to stay awake and work extensive hours. But as this magic potion was considered an evil drink by the religious authority its consumption didn’t spread. Only after it was cleared from its unholy reputation it was the nobles who started drinking it first before the rest of the population gained access to it.

Coffee culture in Barcelona nowadays means that on the way to work people stop first at the local coffee corner for a cortado and a croissant or “bocadillo” (a salty snack) while after work they again first go for a cafe con leche – espresso and milk – or cafe solo – espresso – before heading home. Around 18:00 many coffee places are filled up with families returning from picking up the kids from school. There the kids have their “merienda” (snack before dinner) while the parents have some coffee. But on top of that coffee is also consumed after lunch or during a morning break. And obviously, with such a demand the offer is extensive. In most of the places the quality of coffee is good and improving to even excellent while the prices are considerably lower than in the northern European countries: 1€ to 2€ for an espresso.  Cafe con leche are almost cappuccinos, the main difference is that here cappuccinos have always cocoa powder.

IMAG2842_1
Cappuccino here has cocoa powder

A relic from the past, but less and less common, are places serving cafe torrefacto. Torrefacto is the process where sugar is added to coffee during it last roasting stage. The common practice is to add 15% sugar by weight. When the sugar is added the temperature in the roasting chamber is around 200°C and so the sugar caramelizes forming a shiny layer around the coffee bean. This layer will make the coffee look uniform but it also make the taste uniform, deep, bitter and uniform. Additionally it covers up the aroma (too bad!). The main reason that people did this to coffee is need! Torrefacto started during the 1940s when coffee, among other goods, was in short supply. By partially replacing the coffee with sugar during roasting and making it more bitter, less coffee was necessary to prepare the beverage. But as mentioned, the torrefacto process makes the coffee bitter and destroys any good aroma and therefore cafe torrefacto is nowadays considered a bad habbit.

In my next post I will tell you about my coffee tour in this beautiful city, stay tuned!

Lupita

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Not forget to visit the iconic places in Barcelona