Vietnam is a beautiful country with breath-taking landscapes, rich culture, and excellent cuisine. Regardless of the origins and preferences, most visitors and locals have one thing in common. They love the strong and sweet taste of local coffee. So, what makes Vietnamese coffee so unique and different? Keep reading to find out the answer.
What You'll Learn Today
What is Vietnamese coffee?
Even for many coffee connoisseurs, Vietnamese coffee might be something new. This is especially true when they have not visited this tropical country in Southeast Asia.
Basically, Vietnamese coffee is a type of coffee brewed by using a traditional coffee maker called “phin” in Vietnamese. This is a set of tools that include a cap, a filter press or insert, a filter chamber, and a cup spanner. All components are made of stainless steel or aluminium and have a compact design.
The filter of a Vietnamese maker contains many small holes, which allow coffee grounds to pass through. This helps bring a stronger and bolder taste than that of paper filters in other methods.
Overview of the coffee culture in Vietnam
Coffee was first introduced to Vietnam in the 19th century by French colonists. From then on, the industry started to develop quickly. Today, Vietnam is one of the largest coffee exporters in the world with unique coffee culture.
Vietnam has a perfect topography for growing coffee. The mountainous regions scatter around the country with local microclimates. Also, the soils, conditions, and other environmental elements are completely different in various parts. This brings a variety of coffee species and species.
Unlike most African and South American coffee producers, Vietnam mostly exports robusta beans. They contain more caffeine and create a stronger and bolder taste. This is one of the most important factors that make the coffee culture in this country so unique.
The four unique elements of Vietnamese coffee
There are many factors that differentiate Vietnamese coffee from other drinks. If you really want to enjoy a true and authentic drink, below are some unique elements to know.
1. The Phin
The first unique feature of Vietnamese coffee is the use of the “phin”, which is a traditional Vietnamese coffee maker. It is an inexpensive and low-tech tool to brew the drink. Typically made of stainless steel or aluminium, this dripping method allows medium coarse grounds to pass through a filter after hot water is poured over.
Compared to using a modern coffee machine, using a phin is slower. It takes around 4 to 6 minutes. The slow drips can help extract more flavours and substances in the beans. As such, Vietnamese coffee is known for its super strong taste.
2. Robusta beans
Vietnam is the largest exporters of robusta coffee beans in the world. Therefore, it is not surprising that this is an important part of the drink. Compared to arabica, robusta beans are simpler to grow in different climates. They also contain higher caffeine content and create better crema. The result is a bitter and strong taste that many people might hate or love.
3. French roast
Vietnamese coffee uses dark French roast beans. They go through a roasting process with longer time and lower temperature. This results in a dark tone without burning or bubbling, which can break down oils and sugar in the coffee.
More importantly, they are often roasted in butter oil. This is an adapted version of French roast in Vietnam that helps create a caramel-like coating. The effect is quite similar to using a small amount of oil, sugar, or a touch of cocoa or vanilla. Therefore, it is easy to understand why Vietnamese coffee offers a variety of flavours and tastes.
4. Sweetened condensed milk
Not everyone likes the strong and bold taste of Vietnamese coffee. But it is not a problem with sweetened condensed milk. Unlike regular milk, this ingredient is tasty, sweet, and thick. Local producers developed this syrupy beverage to allow for a long storage period without fridges.
All you need is to add a bit of condensed milk to the glass before brewing. The exact amount depends on your taste. Its sweetness and creaminess will perfectly counteract the bitter and strong flavour of dark roast robusta beans. In fact, local people have a special name for this version: “ca phe nau” or “ca phe sua”, which literally means brown coffee or milk coffee.
So if you want to enjoy the true taste of Vietnamese coffee to the fullest, dark roast robusta beans and a phin are all that you need. For those who want a bit of sweetness, simply add sweetened condensed milk and everything will be perfect.
The unique café scene in Vietnam
Coffee plays an essential part in the daily lives of many people in Vietnam. You can easily notice a bunch of coffee shops in this country, from enormous metropolitans to small cities and even less densely populated countryside.
In the capital Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City – the largest city in Vietnam, you can find a café within a few steps. They are almost everywhere and on every single block.
Young people in Vietnam love hanging out with friends in a coffee shop. They order their favourite drink among a variety of coffee versions and share stories. Even business partners can meet and talk in one of these places.
Of course, the styles of Vietnamese coffee shops are very different from those in Europe or North America. They are mostly small and cosy stores filled with small chairs and low tables. As such, people can set close together and share the same space. That’s why it is one of the best ways to meet new people and build friendships in the country.
The bottom line
Although the coffee culture was brought to the country by the French a few centuries ago, Vietnamese people have refined it into a distinctively Asian experience that everyone should try. Fortunately, you don’t have to travel that long to enjoy it. With a few simple tools and ingredients, it only takes you several minutes to enjoy the strong and bold flavour of this coffee style.