How to Make Vietnamese Iced Coffee: Authentic Tips for Brewing at Home

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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In the bustling streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), a unique glass of liquid gold serves as a delicious escape from the sweltering heat. Today, I'll reveal its secrets by spilling the beans on how to make Vietnamese iced coffee like a Vietnamese coffee shop would.

In the bustling streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), a unique glass of liquid gold serves as a delicious escape from the sweltering heat. Today, I’ll reveal its secrets by spilling the beans on how to make Vietnamese iced coffee like a Vietnamese coffee shop would.

Vietnamese coffee is the perfect marriage of dark and velvety local Robusta coffee, sweetened condensed milk and ice. This coffee isn’t just a refreshing jolt of java goodness for those who love coffee. It’s an exotic world of aromatic indulgence worthy of a scene in The Quiet American.

Join me as I unveil the secrets of one of the best Asian coffee recipes. I promise you it’s a taste sensation!

Coffee Culture in Vietnam

I must give it up for the Vietnamese! They have a unique coffee culture that’s hard to find anywhere else.

The French may have introduced coffee to this country in the 1850s, but the Vietnamese took it and ran with it. While the French are more wine-oriented, the Vietnamese view their coffee culture much like sipping a rare, aged whiskey.

Locally produced Robusta and Arabica coffees blend well in traditional recipes, bringing out the best in these beans. These include iced, filter and curious coconut, rose water and egg coffees; unique to Vietnam.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee Recipe

Most Vietnamese brew coffee using a phin filter, a metal coffee maker similar to a pour-over coffee maker. Oh, and these people love their coffee at any time of day. The Vietnamese typically drink hot coffee at breakfast and iced coffee as the temperature ramps up throughout the day.

Fresh milk is hard to come by in Vietnam, hence the preference for shelf-stable condensed milk. Within Vietnam itself, coffee cultures differ. For example, due to the hotter temperatures, Southerners prefer iced coffee. On the other hand, Northerners tend to go for hot and strong filter coffees because their region is cooler.

Coffee is a ritual and social tradition. Walking around Saigon, you may hear shouts of “Cafe bệt!” This humorous term invites friends to sit and enjoy coffee together.

Hanoi is famous for its cà phê nâu đá, a bitter, specialty brown coffee. This coffee contrasts with the southern cà phê sữa đá. It’s far more bitter and served with condensed milk but without ice.

Another famous northern coffee creation is Hanoi egg coffee,cà phê trứng. It consists of coffee, egg yolk foam and sweetened condensed milk.

How to Enjoy Vietnamese Iced Coffee 

Part of learning how to make Vietnamese iced coffee is learning to enjoy your coffee like a local.

Why not try it with pandan waffles, summer spring rolls, noodle salad or the delicious bánh mi? This world-famous Vietnamese baguette sandwich will certainly help soak up the strong coffee.

You could even go a step further and have this coffee with a savory phở (Vietnamese chicken or beef noodle soup).

For the sweet tooth folks out there, Vietnamese coffee pairs well with a range of desserts. Rich chocolate cake, buttery croissants or New York cheesecake are glorious pairings.

You could take this culinary adventure further and turn your Vietnamese coffee into a dessert by making a coffee jelly or affogato! I mean, why not? The possibilities are endless!

What Sets Vietnamese Coffee Apart?

Vietnamese coffee is deliciously intense, and this is no accident. The Vietnamese focus on growing Robusta over Arabica beans. Local environmental conditions, low elevations and a hot, humid climate favor this coffee variety.

Robusta blends are more potent and caffeinated than Arabica blends. Because of this, Vietnamese coffee is almost always strong. It has an earthy, savory, nutty flavor profile and slightly bitter notes.

Another determining factor that sets Vietnamese coffee apart is the way it’s roasted. The dark roast profile has bold, intense aromas and flavors that come through in the final cup.

The traditional brewing method using a phin also contributes to the strength of Vietnamese coffee. This technique uses very little water for the coffee grounds, yielding a rich, aromatic and potent cup.

What’s the Brewing Method for Vietnamese Coffee?

Many Vietnamese coffee recipes start with the traditional phin and cafe sua da is no exception. Incidentally, this coffee maker gets its name from the French filtre (to filter).

As we’ve seen, this brewing method results in a much more potent brew than a French press, moka pot or household drip coffee maker.

To begin brewing, place ground Vietnamese coffee within a phin’s bottom chamber. Place a metal filter on top. Then, percolate hot water through the metal filter’s tiny holes and right through the bottom chamber for an optimal 4-5 minutes.

Brewing Method for Vietnamese Coffee

The metal filter also contributes to a flavorful and concentrated brew. Much like the moka pot, the lid also keeps the coffee from evaporating too much. This yields a deliciously thick and potent brew.

Finally, the gravitational drip brewing of a phin enables a slow and leisurely brew time. Robusta blends have a particular harshness and bitterness. However, this brewing method balances the caffeine content and bitter compounds in the final cup very well.

Using medium-coarse grounds, you should aim for a brewing time of 5-10 minutes to maintain this balance. Too fast, and the coffee will taste bland and hollow. Too slow, and the coffee will be bitter and over-extracted.

How to Make Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Now we get to the exciting part: how to make Vietnamese iced coffee. In southern Vietnam, you’d order this iced coffee as cà phê sữa đá, and in northern Vietnam, cà phê nâu đá.

I’m confident you’ll love Vietnamese iced coffee if you’ve never had this recipe before. You’ll also agree with me that it’s one of the best summer iced coffees around.

This is an authentic Vietnamese coffee shop recipe. It calls for single-origin, fresh-roasted Vietnamese coffee beans or premium blend Robusta beans if you can’t abide pure Robusta.

Cafe du Monde French Roast or Cafe du Monde Chicory Blend are good approximations. Note that the chicory-infused Café du Monde Coffee isn’t pure.

This blend is New Orleans French in origin and is quite popular for making a Vietnamese iced coffee recipe. In fact, it was the only blend approximating Vietnamese coffee that immigrants could find when they arrived in the 1970s.

As a plus, the chicory mellows the bitter edge of the dark roast coffee.

Condensed Milk for Vietnamese Coffee

You’ll also need Vietnamese sweetened condensed milk (coconut condensed milk is a nice vegan touch). Try to source the Trung Nguyen Gourmet Blend or another Trung Nguyen brand.

If you can’t find this brand, substitute it with the Longevity Brand Sua Ong Tho or other generic condensed milk.

Let’s get to brewing this refreshing and sweet coffee! This Vietnamese iced coffee recipe makes a single serving. You may double or triple the ingredients to make more.

Ingredients

  • 25 grams premium blend Vietnamese coffee grounds (medium-coarse ground coffee)

  • 2-3 tablespoons (28-52 milliliters) Vietnamese sweetened condensed milk (use unsweetened condensed milk if you prefer)

  • 2-4 ounces (80-120 milliliters) boiling hot water

  • Plenty of ice cubes or crushed ice

Equipment

Vietnamese Iced Coffee Recipe

  1. Add sweetened condensed milk to the tall glass. One to three tablespoons are the recommended amounts. You may add a little more if you have a particularly sweet tooth.

  2. Unscrew the phin’s top coffee filter from its bottom filter.

  3. Measure out two to three tablespoons of Vietnamese coffee grounds.

  4. Pack the grounds onto the bottom base of the phin filter. Leave just enough room for the coffee to bloom.

  5. Gently screw on the top coffee filter onto the bottom filter to sit right on top of the coffee.

  6. Place the phin onto the tall glass filled with sweetened condensed milk.

  7. Boil water in a stovetop or electric gooseneck kettle.

  8. Slowly pour a little hot water (20 milliliters or so) onto the coffee grounds. Add just enough hot water to wet the ground coffee to allow it to bloom.

  9. Cover this wet coffee with the phin’s lid and let it sit in the hot water for 20-30 seconds.

  10. After this little wait, remove the top lid.

  11. Slowly pour the remaining boiling water into the phin’s top chamber from your kettle. A slow pour ensures you add just enough hot water and achieve a slow and leisurely brew.

  12. Cover the phin with its top lid again.

  13. Watch the hot coffee drip slowly into the tall glass with the condensed milk. The coffee filter should take 4-5 minutes to finish brewing.

  14. Once your coffee has finished brewing, remove the top lid of the phin and set aside.

  15. Stir the hot coffee and condensed milk mixture using a long-handled spoon.

  16. Add ice cubes (preferred) or crushed ice to the tall glass.

  17. Stir the finished beverage in the tall glass with your long-handled spoon and enjoy!

Useful Tips and Tricks

The above is an authentic Vietnamese iced coffee recipe.

To go next level on this cafe sua da recipe, you may brew your coffee in an ice bath before you add your sweetened condensed milk and brewed coffee.

Alternatively, place your tall glass with sweetened condensed milk on ice. Doing this before brewing brings the glass and condensed milk to a lower temperature and reduces the dilution in the finished drink.

Some Vietnamese coffee shops do it this way, and if you have the time (and patience), you should give it a try! Much like flash brew coffee, this method ensures the coffee cools as it brews, concentrating and mellowing the flavors.

Iced Vietnamese Coffee

If the hot coffee drips too fast, turn the filter clockwise with a knife or fork. If it brews too slowly and only half the water goes through the press, turn the coffee filter anticlockwise. Make adjustments until you achieve your desired drip rate. You may always use less coffee if you prefer a lighter brewed coffee

Do not shake the phin to even out the ground coffee. Doing so may cause the ground coffee to clog the bottom metal filter. Still, the filter may occasionally clog toward the end of brewing, causing suction.

To remedy this, carefully lift the top part of the phin by the handles, gently tilt it, and place it at an angle on the base. This will compromise the seal, causing the air filter to leak and work again.

Polite Note: don’t throw away your used ground coffee after making cafe sua da. There’s so much you can do with the used coffee grounds!

What If You Can’t Get Vietnamese Coffee Essentials? 

If you don’t have the essentials to make the authentic Vietnamese iced coffee recipe above, you may substitute with other coffee. A premium blend of French roast, cardamom-laced Thai coffee, Indonesian Sumatran blend or an Italian dark espresso roast ground will do.

Instead of authentic Vietnamese sweetened condensed milk, use sweetened whipped cream. Also, change up ice cubes with crushed ice. However, note that these substitutions may not replicate the same great strong flavor of true cà phê sữa đá.

You may condense milk at home to make your own sweetened condensed milk, but that’s a whole other recipe!

I wouldn’t recommend using evaporated milk as a substitute for sweetened condensed milk. For one, it’s not traditional. Secondly, although it may have the same texture, it won’t have the same sweet intensity of condensed milk.

Remember, serving Vietnamese iced coffee means serving calories! If you’re avoiding a saturated fat diet or prefer your iced coffee black, leave out the condensed milk.

All these Vietnamese specialist ingredients are easily available in the US. Check out reputable online retailer, Nguyen Coffee Supply, which delivers countrywide. Your nearest Asian market or specialty coffee shops may also have these niche ingredients.

As for brewing, you may substitute with a French press or moka pot. An espresso machine or AeroPress also works for brewing this sweet coffee.

But again, I must stress that only a traditional Vietnamese coffee filter that brews slowly and leisurely gives the real-deal phin drip experience. This coffee filter yields authentic brewed coffee, guaranteeing you the real Vietnamese coffee experience.

Use a medium-coarse grind for the best results. If the grind setting is too fine, the water won’t flow through; if it’s too coarse, it will whizz past the filter.

The Best Beans for Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Vietnamese iced coffee calls for premium beans, preferably Robusta beans or blends from Vietnam.

These coffees have an earthy, savory, nutty flavor profile with slightly bitter and chocolate notes. Robusta beans dry rather than ferment, so the aroma is intense and the flavor profile harsher than Arabica coffees. Such coffees complement the sweetness of the condensed milk perfectly.

Robusta Coffeebeans

Vietnam has the perfect climate and topography for Robusta cultivation. The Central Highland regions of Dak Nong and Dak Lak are the biggest production centers. Robusta coffee trees here are hardy and disease-resistant. They do well with low elevations and higher sun exposure.

Most Robusta coffee trees here grow at altitudes of less than 1000 meters, experiencing rainfall of just over 39 inches (1,000 millimeters). The ideal growing temperature is 78-89 degrees Fahrenheit (26-29 degrees Celsius).

If you can’t find Vietnamese Robusta beans to make this traditional iced coffee recipe, there are alternatives.

The Arabica Moka and Catimor varieties from the Lam Dong region are pretty good. Vietnamese Moka coffee has a pleasant aroma and is slightly bitter, with a saturated fat taste and a sour finish. The Catimor variety has an intense aroma with a strong bitter taste and sour finish.

You may use substitutions if getting specialty Vietnamese beans for your Vietnamese coffee recipe proves a challenge. A dark roast French or Italian espresso roast would do nicely. Even better, use an Indonesian Robusta blend from Sumatra for a sublime coffee experience.

Final Thoughts: Vietnamese Iced Coffee Is Asian Coffee Excellence!

In conclusion, Vietnamese iced coffee isn’t your average Asian beverage. It embodies bold, velvety coffee flavor, intense sweetness, mouth-watering creaminess and refreshing coolness.

The magic of Vietnamese iced coffee lies in its simple yet sophisticated taste profile.

But don’t let the simplicity of this coffee fool you. It’ll surprise you that a device as simple as a Vietnamese coffee filter takes time to master, enabling you to brew this iced coffee just right.

Now that you know how to make Vietnamese iced coffee, share this recipe with friends. Enjoy the bold allure of this well-crafted iced drink together. When coffee meets culture, it’s one of the simple joys that make life oh so delicious!

Now you know all about Vietnamese iced coffee! Are there any tips you feel I could have included? I’d love to hear your views in the comments section below!

Vietnamese Iced Coffee FAQ

Vietnamese iced coffee contains sweetened condensed milk and ground coffee. Brew this coffee with boiling water and top with ice.

Coffee and condensed milk are the main ingredients. However, an authentic Vietnamese coffee recipe uses medium-coarse coffee grounds from local Robusta coffee. You should also brew this coffee using a Vietnamese coffee filter (phin).

A true Vietnamese iced coffee recipe uses indigenous Robusta dark roast coffee. This coffee is quite strong with earthy, savory and sometimes bitter undertones.

Vietnamese coffee recipes use low-elevation Robusta Vietnamese ground coffee. These coffees are strong, earthy and slightly bitter. Also, Vietnamese roasters often add flavors such as butter, fresh ginger, chicory, whiskey and even fish sauce. These flavors are unique and explain why strong coffee advocates love Vietnamese coffee.

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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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