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