Cubans sweet their espressos with raw sugar cane and yet, the sweetest coffee is still the Vietnamese coffee. I still remember the first time I tried it. I was at a Vietnamese restaurant with my dad and as I ordered it he said to me “You won’t sleep again.” He was right and it was worth it.
Coffee arrived in Vietnam in the 19th century. French missionaries introduced the bean to the Vietnamese fertile soil and coffee has been growing in the country ever since. Nonetheless, coffee was not an important crop until the 80s and 90s when it played a pivotal role in helping Vietnam recover from the devastating war. According to the BBC, coffee crops increased between 20% and 30% per year during the nineties. Most of these crops were owned by small farmers, which ensured that the economic profit gained from coffee actually went to the pockets of the coffee farmers.
Just as in most Asian countries, the Vietnamese people prefer tea over coffee, so the crop is mainly exported. It can be said that as devastating as the war was for Vietnam and all the bad PR it got in the West, it was also the West’s chronic coffee consumption that gave economic opportunities to the underprivileged farmers who had lived in poverty for generations.
The brewing method is unique and a sort of in between espresso and drip coffee. The filter is made out of a metal drip filter called phin cà phê similar to the filter used for espressos. As you pour hot water the coffee starts to drip and this will be the base of your Vietnamese coffee.
The most popular way to drink your Vietnamese coffee is with sweet condensed milk! This came about due to mere necessity as whole milk was traditionally harder to access as it would spoil quickly in the hot weather of Vietnam.
Start with a dark brew. Ideally, you should brew your coffee with a Vietnamese metal filter, but if you don’t have one, simply brew dark roast coffee. Pour it on a glass with ice and two (or more! Nobody’s watching) tablespoons of sweet condensed milk.
This is an ideal desert as the caffeine curves your appetite and the sweetness of the condensed milk is more than enough to end your meal on a high note.
There’s a country-favorite variation to this recipe: Vietnamese Egg Yolk Coffee! This recipe also came about during the times when milk was scarce in Vietnam. The Vietnamese people replaced dairy for what we could call an “egg cream” which consists of beating egg yolk with sugar and sweet condensed milk under heat. Once your egg cream is ready you can pour your dark brew and start enjoying it!
Ready to try it? Let's go!