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Vietnamese Iced coffee - technique, equipment, ingredients

I am on a quest to make "perfect" Vietnamese Iced Coffee at home... so my questions for those who have achieved this goal:

which brand of coffee? Cafe BeauMmonde? Mr. Phong's private reserve? another brand I need to find??
sweetened condensed milk - borden? some other brand I should use that's better?

Equipment - Phin range in price from 2.50 to $6 or $7...
when I search on amazon, they all look like they have the same picture... is there anything in particular I should look for to get the 'right' one??

Technique coffee in the phin, hot water over the coffee... allow to drain...what more do I need to know? how much coffee to water?
how hot should the water be?

Thanks all in advance for sharing your wisdom!

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  1. cgarner, let me introduce you to my favorite supplier and technique for making Vietnamese iced coffee. They do a much better job and the visual is what you need. Once you see it, you'll understand the simple process beautifully. Plus, the online store offers some fantastic bargains.



    8 Replies
    1. re: HillJ

      that's a great video! and a terrific website. the 'gold" box is a real deal with two phins...

      thank you HillJ!

      1. re: HillJ

        hmmm i imagine her coffee would be too weak. she is using the slightly larger size (8 oz) and only 1 rounded tbsp of coffee, and then letting it drip for only 4 min. i would use 1.5 tbsp for the smaller filter (6 oz) and when the coffee drips through it quickly like 4 min, it produces weak coffee imho.

        but then again, i only tried this before i learned of doing the first pour of just a little water to expand the grounds.. perhaps that slows down the rate of drip or makes it richer? i don't know. 4 min + bigger filter + 1 rounded tbsp of coffee seems like it would produce weak coffee to me though..

        1. re: helenhelen

          Are you using the same coffee brand/strength?

          1. re: HillJ

            yup, trung nguyen coffee that a friend just brought back for me from vietnam about 2 weeks ago.

            i also have coffee beans from another brand brought back from vietnam. i grind as i use them.

            i have also tried many cups of coffee in vietnam (i am vietnamese) and they are good and STRONG. perhaps trung nguyen is trying to market to the north american palate on this website, since most people in north america like much weaker coffee...? how else to explain the popularity of tim horton's and coffee time? :) and even the invention of americanos (though i do like those too)...

            1. re: helenhelen

              I was just wondering on the strength. I have no doubt you're experimenting to your own liking. I like strong Vietnamese coffee myself and not too sweet. I think the video aims to demonstrate the steps to using the filter properly for those who have never made Vietnamese coffee but brand and strength does take time and experimentation if you are looking for the ideal cup. I'm enjoying an iced Vietnamese coffee right now using the G7 packets.

              1. re: HillJ

                yeah, i am trying to get it to taste like it does when i have had a cup in vietnam.

          2. re: helenhelen

            Come to think of it, since the video is only 5 mins long ...how are we to know how long they brewed the coffee...for editing length alone the tape could have been shortened...and probably was.

            I haven't timed my own brew...but for the sake of the video I think the 10 min rule didn't apply in any case.

            1. re: HillJ

              she mentions in the video 4 minutes, i think.. or it's mentioned somewhere on the website anyway

        2. Tighten screw for stronger coffee. Loosen for weaker.

          Don't use Borden, use a brand of sweetened condensed milk from the Asian market, like Longevity Brand. There really is a difference.

          1 Reply
          1. re: luckyfatima

            lucky for me that I have an Assi right near by!

          2. If you have an espresso machine, a double shot of espresso in a boston shaker filled with ice, along with 1-3 tablespoons of condensed milk (depending on how sweet you want it) shake that for about 30 seconds then Strain (it is important to strain it) that over ice in a different glass

            You results will be very similar to Vietnamese Iced coffee - and IMO that is a bit faster way to do it

            Equipment: Boston Shaker, Hawthorne Strainer, Espresso Machine, Coffee Grinder
            Items: Espresso / Dark French Roast Beans, Ice, Condensed Milk

            1 Reply
            1. re: Dapuma

              do you use vietnamese grinds in your espresso machine? i find there is no really great substitute for using the proper coffee grinds. i have tried using the single cup phin filter with some costa rican beans i had and it was good but didn't have the right flavour. even when you smell freshly ground vietnamese grinds, it smells nothing like other types of coffee grinds. i find viet coffee has an almost chocolatey smell and flavour. apparently, it is in the way they blend and roast the beans in vietnam.. slow roasting it, and using a "butter oil roasting" method, whatever that really means (i doubt that real butter is often used since it is expensive and harder to come by in vietnam). and it's not just trung nguyen's premium blend (to which they do add chocolate flavouring).. their other blends do not add any flavouring (strictly beans) and it still has that aroma and flavour, as do other brands i have tried from vietnam.

              i have never tried cafe du monde so i don't know how that compares. i know they add chicory but i kinda dislike the idea of that since they do not do this with real vietnamese coffee.

            2. i have been experimenting at home and trying to figure out what is perfect brewing time & amount of grounds.

              i typically use 3 very heaping tsp of ground vietnamese coffee (got it from friends and fam visiting vietnam recently) though i may up it to 4 tsp or about 2 tbsp next time. i like only a little sweetened condensed milk (less than a tbsp). i used boiling water (keeping the water at a boil until just time to pour) because i find it cools down too fast since you have to wait for the drip.

              i have the single cup screw-on vietnamese "phin" filter but i don't like it as much because i find it harder to control the rate of dripping and amount of tamping than the phin kind with the filter/tamp part that you just press down. i made a few recently that dripped far too slowly so i think i screwed it on far too tightly (then the little handle for the screw filter broke because i perhaps twisted too hard and it popped out of the hole). when it drips too slowly, it produced overly bitter coffee. i like my coffee strong, but bitter doesn't necessarily have to be part of that (i think it means it brewed for too long so the bitter taste starts coming out of the beans?).

              anyway, i screw on the filter till it is finger tight and then screw more in order to tamp down the coffee so it feels pretty tight (this may be my problem). then i loosen it about a turn or two. i pour in a just little hot water so the grinds absorb them and expand in order to get a more even drip and i guess it also helps to slow down the amount of dripping? then once it is absorbed, i pour in boiling water to the top of the filter.

              today i made a cup and it tasted pretty good but i can tell it could be better. it dripped for about 10 min.

              i read online that 4 minutes may be optimum but that seems so short? whenever i have let it drip that quickly, i ended up with a weak cup.. although this was when i didn't do the initial pour to expand the grinds.

              any thoughts on the optimum amount of time to brew? or any other aspects of making the perfect cup?

              i like my coffee strong and flavourful, but not overly bitter.

              1 Reply
              1. re: helenhelen

                I agree that 4 minutes is too short. Mine usually take at least 10 minutes and more often around 12. At the few pho restaurants around me that will still make a fresh one (instead of pre-dripping it in a phin), I'm usually done with my pho before the coffee is done dripping. I then stir up my coffee and pour it into a to-go cup.

              2. Remember to drip your coffee on to the condensed milk. This heats the milk and "cooks" it and, to me, gives it a richer flavor. I am never satisfied with my coffee if I stir in the milk after the fact.

                Do NOT drip your coffee onto ice as I have seen some people do.

                1. The most important factor will be the beans.

                  Robusta is most commonly used in Vietnam, and the varieties that are used are extremely potent: whereas Arabica contains around 1-1.5% caffeine by weight, the varieties that I saw in markets in Vietnam contained up to 5%.

                  Like any other coffee, vacuum-sealed bags of Vietnamese brands will be stale (oxidised, volatile/aromatic compounds gone and lipids rancid) long before they reach you. I can't imagine that you'll ever be able to make anything good, let alone perfect, with them. Equally, finding fresh Robusta beans of the kinds that are used in Vietnam will probably be next to impossible.

                  All that I can suggest is that you try Vietnamese stores and see whether any import green beans.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: mugen

                    green beans would be hard because you would have to know how to roast them the way they do in vietnam (slow roasting over low heat with "butter oil") and i haven't a clue. :)

                    next best thing we can get here is probably roasted beans that we grind ourselves (actually, can we get that, or are they all pre-ground? the beans i have come straight from vietnam through my sister who was there very recently).

                    i guess what i want to know is how to make the best possible cup under the limited conditions we have here (i.e. not the most fresh beans compared to over there)

                    1. re: helenhelen

                      One thing that came to mind is cold-drip coffee. I had some recently, and found it (even with an Arabica blend) to have a consistency and flavor almost like syrup/liqueur. It is about the closest thing that I can think of to the rich, unctuous, caffeine-daze-inducing stuff that I had in HCMC.

                      1. re: mugen

                        Excellent comparison. I make cold drip quite often with a variety of beans in order to achieve a handy syrup for use in cold drinks and cocktails.

                        1. re: mugen

                          how is this done? if it is cold, i assume you have it as "cafe sua da" then?

                          1. re: helenhelen

                            No - in the West it is just a preparation that involves very slowly allowing iced water to drip through the grounds, to produce a coffee that is almost like a shot of liqueur - but the result is very similar to ca phe den nong i.e. basic hot, black coffee. It could therefore be used as the coffee base for your ca phe sua da.

                    2. Here is my own recipe for ca phe sua da (Vietnamese Iced Coffee): This is not exactly authentic; however, I find it superior to the versions I've sampled at 25+ Vietnamese restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area.

                      Use a phin, a traditional Vietnamese coffee filter. Add about 28 grams of freshly ground, medium grind French roast coffee. I use Trader Joe's organic French decaf. Then add 1 Tablespoon of Cafe Du Monde pre-ground coffee. It's a lot of coffee; it fills the coffee filter about half way. This combination of coffee gives me the right amount of caffeine. In place of the Cafe Du Monde, I also use Trung Nguyen, or decaf Cafe Du Monde. Then place the strainer over the coffee, and press down with medium force. Leave the strainer sitting on top of the coffee.

                      scoop about one heaping spoonful of Sweetened Condensed milk into a glass; I use Borden fat-free; After much experimentation, I have found that it is indistinguishable from regular sweetened condense milk. Then add 1 Tablespoon of French Vanilla creamer; the creamer is not authentic, but the result is twice as addictive. If you don't want to use the vanilla creamer, just use another scoop of sweetened condensed milk.

                      Put the coffee filter over the glass. Bring about 1/2 cup water to a boil, then let it stand for 1 minute to cool off a little, then pour it into the filter so that it covers the strainer by 1/4 inch. Let that soak in for a minute or two, so that the coffee can "bloom." Then add more water to the rim.

                      Wait until the coffee is finished brewing: You know it's done when you don't see any drips hanging off the bottom of the filter. It takes about 20 minutes.

                      Then remove the filter, and stir the coffee and milk/creamer until well combined.

                      Then fill a styrofoam cup half way with smallish ice cubes, or coarsely crushed ice; don't do this until you have completed the brewing and stirring process: you don't want the ice to melt even a tiny amount before you pour the coffee over the ice. Then pour the coffee over the ice in the styrofoam cup; the coffee will rise to the level of the top of the ice, filling the cup half way. Then, add ice to fill the cup to the top; this ice won't come in contact with the coffee; it just keeps the coffee colder. The idea is that you don't want to pour the coffee over a cup filled to the top with ice: the coffee can either melt too much ice, or too much residual coffee can hang out near the top, and get diluted. Always use a styrofoam cup; a regular glass doesn't have enough insulation to keep the coffee cold enough, even if it's full of ice.

                      Then insert a straw and enjoy.