Vietnam is a country that absolutely adores its coffee. It’s not just a drink, but a social aspect of life, particularly in the capital city, Hanoi. Morning, noon and night, Vietnamese people meet with friends, family, partners to sit, chat and sip cups of coffee, the streets lined with quirky independent coffee shops, some fancy, others basic, the pavements outside filled with tiny plastic stools that are stacked and un-stacked as people come and go. It’s a pretty amazing sight, and a pretty amazing atmosphere, coffee is for people of all ages and all classes, in this country it brings people together.
It’s no surprise being the world’s second largest coffee producer that Vietnam has come up with a few variations on how they take their coffee. Traditional Vietnamese coffee isn’t served how many of us would expect, and cappuccinos, lattes and espressos aren’t readily available unless you visit a coffee chain like Starbucks. Most commonly in Vietnam coffee is brewed in individual portions per person using a phin. A phin is a small cup, a small filter chamber and a lid placed on top. The coffee is brewed in the chamber, and very, very slowly drips down into the cup. In a country so busy and bustling like Vietnam, it’s a strange how long they are willing to wait for such a small cup of coffee, but it goes to show that when it comes to their love for this hot beverage, they are willing to wait.
The small sized servings of their coffee is mainly due to the fact that it’s such a strong and bitter taste, created from the popular robusta coffee beans that are widely used and sold throughout Vietnam. But luckily, they have the perfect ingredient to counterbalance the bitterness of their coffee. The answer to that? Sweetened condensed milk. After the French introduced coffee to Vietnam during the 19th century, they struggled to get their hands on any fresh milk, hence the use of condensed milk which didn’t go bad and was easily acquired. Since then, condensed milk has always been the first choice when it comes to coffee in Vietnam, and it’s not hard to understand why, the bitterness of the coffee and the sweetness of the milk compliment each other perfectly.
Aside from condensed milk, Vietnamese people have a few other extra ingredients that they regularly add to their coffee. A popular one with both locals and tourists alike, and one of my personal favorites, is coconut milk. Many coffee shops serve a shot of robusta coffee with iced coconut milk, which on a hot summers day in busy Hanoi, is just perfect. It is also one of few coffee’s that is served without condensed milk. The sweetness of the coconut milk is just enough to deter the harsh taste of the coffee; a definite must try if you ever get the chance.
Ca phe sua chua, or to us, “coffee with yogurt”, is also a popular coffee in Vietnam. Again, the yogurt is mixed with a slight amount of condensed milk and drizzled in to the coffee, which can be served hot or cold. A strange combination to those used to a classic latte perhaps, but it works nonetheless, and you can even have it served with fruit if you fancy a healthy twist.
But there’s one Vietnamese style of coffee that’s not to be missed, and that’s ca phe trung. A popular coffee with locals and definitely one to be tried by tourists, ca phe trung is roughly translated to egg coffee, and consists of egg yolks beaten and mixed with sweetened condensed milk and sugar, and poured over the top of a shot of robusta coffee. Egg yolks were used as a replacement for milk during the 1940’s when milk was a rarity and eggs were readily available, but it would seem the drink became popular and the recipe has become a traditional drink in its own right. Egg coffee looks very much like a cappuccino, with the egg and milk mixture whipped into a light and creamy froth, it certainly does look appetizing. Many cafes also offer the egg coffee with additional butter and cheese – if you think you can handle it.
From my cup to yours – until next time!
Your friendly barista