Growing up in the world-renowned coffee-growing Central Highlands of Vietnam, I know everything about traditional Vietnamese coffee like the back of my hand. Not to exaggerate, but I grew up with coffee, and to experience all that in Da Lat is every coffee lover’s dream childhood. When we moved to the urban jungle of Saigon, we brought coffee with us. I used to help my mom run a Vietnamese coffee cart in an alley somewhere in District One. And to me, Vietnamese coffee is everything — it’s not just my childhood, it’s become my passion, and I intend to share it with the world.
Don’t confuse Vietnamese coffee when we point at a bag of coffee beans or order a glass of one. We refer to both the coffee beans and the Vietnamese preparation of coffee made with condensed milk. While Vietnam sustains the world as the second-largest coffee producer, Vietnamese coffee is the lifeblood of every citizen in the country. Vietnamese coffee always tastes like home, whether it’s from a street cart or made with extra touch at a third-wave coffee shop.
What makes Vietnamese Iced Coffee special?
To me, cà phê sữa đá is the most special one — cà phê means coffee, sữa means milk, and đá means ice!
But what makes it unique? Two significant factors define Vietnamese coffee, one is the phin filter, and the other is condensed milk. It’s not like the usual coffee machine + creamer or sugar + ice combination. With cà phê sữa đá and all other Vietnamese coffee, we use a slow-drip method and condensed milk to impart sweetness and thickness. The result is creamy coffee with a distinctly more robust flavor and an almost caramelized milky undertone.
If you’ve been to the busy streets of Vietnam, the taste of Vietnamese coffee varies. Just a heads up, Vietnamese coffee is not always 100% precise. But hey, if you’re making your own, feel free to adjust the ratio of condensed milk to find your desired level of sweetness and creaminess.
How to make Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Vietnamese iced coffee is typically made of 100% robusta beans in Vietnam. Still, we prefer our version with our District One 50/50 blend or arabica and robusta for a more nuanced and lighter palate. However, if you want to go bolder and darker, Nam Coffee offers a 100% robusta expression called Da Lat.
Ready to drink? Here’s my go-to recipe for Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Cà Phê Sữa Đá).
- Phin Filter - A single-serve, slow-drip coffee brewing tool used all over Vietnam. At Nam Coffee, we love how the phin makes for a romantic morning ritual, like using a Moka Pot or French press to brew your coffee.
- 20 g Condensed Milk, preferably Southern Star brand
- 25 g Medium-Coarse Ground District One 50/50 Coffee
- 110 g Boiling Water
- Pour 20 g of condensed milk into a cup or mug.
- Pour the 25 grams of medium-coarse District One 50/50 ground coffee into the phin filter, making the ground level.
- Gently place the gravity press on the coffee grounds, and set the entire phin filter on top of the cup or mug containing the condensed milk.
- Boil 110 g of water, preferably in a kettle, for easy pouring. Once boiling, pour 25 g of water over the gravity press and let the coffee bloom for one minute. After blooming the coffee, pour an additional 60 to 80 g of boiling water into the phin filter. For a stronger brew, add less water.
- After the coffee has finished brewing and there is no more water left in the phin filter, carefully remove the phin filter and set it aside. Stir together the coffee and condensed milk with a spoon, and if preferred, add a few ice cubes to cool.
Not a fan of condensed milk or experimenting with other flavors? Might we suggest a few options for you to try:
- Sữa Chua Cà Phê - use yogurt to achieve a similar creaminess with a hint of refreshing tang
- Cà Phê Trứng - use egg yolk for extra foam and a lovely frothy texture
- Cà Phê Cốt Dừa - use coconut milk and a blend of fresh milk for a refreshing and trendy cup of coffee