Vietnamese coffee is strong, thick and delicious. The first sip in the morning feels like one of those zoomed-in shots in movies where your pupils suddenly dilate. It’s powerful stuff. The process to make proper Vietnamese coffee is a bit more tedious than other styles, but for good reason. So let’s get you on your way to making your own invigorating cup of coffee, Vietnamese style.
To make Vietnamese-style coffee, you need 100% Robusta beans. Compared to the more abundant Arabica strain, the Robusta strain is less acidic and much more bitter. It’s often added to espresso blends to add a punch to the flavour — and some extra caffeine. Turns out Robusta beans have almost double the caffeine content. That jolt you feel when drinking Vietnamese coffee isn’t in your head. It really is that much stronger.
Vietnamese style coffee uses a French press setup, but rather than using a kind of pump to force water down through the grinds, the Vietnamese let gravity do all the work. It’s not as fast, but it does allow for more of the flavour to seep into your finished coffee.
To brew the authentic Vietnamese way, you’ll need two glasses. The first, which is used for the brewing part, is usually shorter and wider. The second glass — the serving glass — should be tall and thin. The more ice you can fit into the serving glass, the better.
People drink their coffees ice cold in the south. On a warm day in lovely Saigon, when the sun’s hot enough to bake the moisture from your very soul, an iced coffee is the perfect way to cool down for a few minutes. If that sounds nice to you, have a cup of ice ready to go. People in the south also like to drink sweet condensed milk with their coffees, because it helps to take the edge off the harsh taste of the Robusta beans. Sugar helps, but condensed milk is definitely tastier. If you’ve never had iced coffee with sweet condensed milk, well get ready for a new favourite drink.
How to make Vietnamese style coffee
1. Grind the beans
If you have a coffee grinder that let’s you choose your grain size, set it to medium coarse — or just buy medium coarse coffee grinds from the store. If the grinds are too fine, they’ll just fall through the holes in the filter.
2. Boil some water
Make sure to only use the finest artisan tap water…
3. Prepare your brew cup
If you want to drink coffee like they do in the south, drizzle at least one tablespoon of condensed milk into the hot brewing glass — the shorter and wider one. If you don’t have any condensed milk, or if you’d rather have black coffee, then add some sugar to the cup. You’ll have to experiment to see how much is right for you, but you really should add at least a tablespoon. Straight black Vietnamese coffee is very bitter. And don’t wait until after you’ve iced the coffee to see how much sugar you want, because it won’t dissolve.
4. Coffee into the filter
The coffee filter has three parts: the main filter cup, the twist-on piece, and the lid. First, unscrew the piece from the middle of the filter cup. Then, scoop two tablespoons of grinds into the filter cup and spread them around evenly. Next, twist the piece back in until it presses against the coffee grinds. Don’t twist too hard, though.
5. Time to brew
Put the filter cup on top of the hot brew glass and fill it up with boiling water. Be sure to check how fast the coffee is dripping. If the coffee is coming out faster than a few drops per second, then use a knife or a spoon to tighten the twist-on piece. It has a groove on the top. Likewise, if no coffee is dripping through at all, loosen the piece.
It usually takes a few minutes for your coffee to be ready. In the meantime, fill your tall serving glass with as much ice as it’ll hold. If you have a straw available, jab that thing in as well. Bonus points if it’s decorative.
7. Stir it up
When the coffee finishes dripping — or when you’re just sick of waiting for it — remove the filter and stir everything until it’s a uniform mixture. By now the smell should have you on the verge of just chugging the steaming hot coffee, but wait, we’re almost there.
8. The big pour
Pour your coffee into your serving glass and let the ice handle the rest. If you’ve used condensed milk, notice how the coffee changes into a caramel color when it cools. Whenever we see that color, we start salivating like Pavlov’s dog.
Congratulations! You’ve made Vietnamese-style coffee. As you become familiar with the process, play with the proportions and try out some different brands of coffee beans. Over time, you’ll find the perfect mix for you. Hope you enjoy your new addiction!