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In this cold coffee how-to, we’re going to focus a bit on styles of cold coffee served in the far east, but not from Japan, the land of the iced coffee towers. There’s an iced coffee beverage that has been around so long that it has been somewhat modified and dare I say it – bastardized (a bit) – in the United States. That iced coffee method is known as Vietnamese Iced Coffee, or as the Vietnamese call it, ca the sue dah.
At its core, Vietnamese iced coffee is a combination of concentrated coffee brew, condensed (very sweet) milk (nb: do not use evaporated milk; always condensed milk), and ice. Super-sweet condensed milk is used for a few reasons, not the least of which is the bitter nature of most authentic Vietnamese coffee brews, which I’ll go into detail below.
I say “bastardized” because of the common misconception these days that Vietnamese iced coffee must be made with coffee and chicory. In many of the how-tos and videos online showing you this style of brewing, you’ll note Cafe Du Monde coffee from a famous New Orleans coffee shop and roaster is mentioned as the defacto standard coffee to use. People say this because it is a coffee and chicory mix, and according to these how-tos, chicory is a required ingredient.
That’s just not true. Vietnamese iced coffee, as done in Vietnam (and other parts of southeast Asia) does not use chicory. What they do use is whole, 100% coffee. The problem those in the specialty industry may have with this iced coffee style is the type of coffee used, and the roast levels: most of Vietnam coffee is robusta, and it is roasted very, very dark. This combination of roast style and coffee type, along with the amount of coffee used all lead to a fairly bitter beverage, and hence the need to sweeten things up. Since condensed milk is commonly available in Vietnam, this was a natural choice. Also if you’re looking for a much more in-depth discussion on Iced Coffee and Espresso Theory, we wrote an extensive article on the subject.
What is Vietnamese Coffee?
Everyone has heard of coffee from Africa and South America. However, you might be surprised to learn that Vietnam is the second-largest producer of Coffee in the world – after Brazil. What’s especially unique about this is the type of coffee beans grown in Vietnam. Instead of the commonly grown Arabica bean, Vietnam predominantly grows Robusta beans.
These beans are generally considered to be of a lower quality, possessing much less desirable traits than the more expensive Arabica beans. However, this didn’t stop the Vietnamese from drinking coffee. Instead, they innovated how coffee should be brewed. By creating a slow, drip-brewed coffee and combining Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, the Vietnamese have created a delicious style of coffee not commonly found in the Western world.
Vietnamese Coffee Maker How To Use
There are two ways to make Vietnamese coffee — the authentic way, and the more Americanized way. We’ll show you how to do both. For this recipe, we suggest using a dark roast coffee like our H.C. Valentine Signature Blend (buy it here).
If you want to make Vietnamese coffee the authentic way, first pour a bit of sweetened condensed milk (About 2 tablespoons) into a tall glass. To make your coffee, you can use one of these little brewing systems (buy one here for about $7). To use this brewing system, simply grind your coffee beans to a medium grind; scoop a heaping tablespoon of grounds into the brewer; cover the system with the top filter; place the brewer over the top of your glass, and pour one cup of boiling water over the top.
The water should take roughly five minutes to pass through the system. If it’s too fast or slow, adjust the top filter to be more or less snug. Once the coffee is finished brewing into your glass, add ice cubes and quickly stir the mixture together until the coffee is completely chilled. Enjoy!
Vietnamese iced coffee! The other, easier way to make Vietnamese iced coffee is to use a French Press. Grind your coffee to a medium-coarse grind and place 2 heaping tablespoons into your French Press. Then, add 2/3 cup boiling water over the top, stirring gently. Place the top back on your French Press and steep the mixture for 4 minutes.
While the coffee is brewing, add 2 tablespoons of sweetened, condensed milk into a heatproof glass. Press, strain, and pour coffee from French Press into the glass. Add several ice cubes, and stir vigorously until the coffee mixture is cold. Enjoy!
How is Vietnamese coffee produced?
The private sector owns most of the coffee production in Vietnam, but there are few state-owned plantations. Some of the brands are Vinacoffee (Vietnam National Coffee Corporation), Hung Phat Company Ltd., etc. Almost all of the Vietnamese coffee is Robusta. It is low-maintenance and less prone to disease. It has a greater yield. Robusta is less acidic and bitter. It has more antioxidants and is used to make instant coffee and fillers for different coffee blends.
The actual process of making Vietnamese coffee beans is not an easy one. The farmers pick the ripe berries and sort them, removing all dirt and unripe coffee berries. The selected berries then go for grinding. The grinder removes the cover from the flesh. The next step is to keep the beans for fermentation for about 24 to 36 hours. The beans are then dried on racks. It is very important to protect the beans from the sun, rain, and insects at this stage. The resultant beans are then roasted until they are dark brown. This is what your coffee goes through before coming to your cup. Vietnam’s contribution to the world’s coffee production is 40%.
What is so special about the Vietnamese coffee filters?
Just like Vietnamese coffee, Vietnamese coffee filters are also very famous. The traditional coffee filters in Vietnam use stainless steel. It is easy to use and really easy and quick to clean. Place the coffee filter over a mug, fill it with fine ground coffee and pour the piping hot water, and enjoy watching it flow through the filter.
Vietnamese coffee is served in a way that makes it irresistible to coffee lovers. It is served with a thick layer of condensed milk in a small glass with a filter on the top. The coffee keeps dripping out of the glass, mixing with the condensed milk.
Vietnamese like to enjoy their coffee in a peaceful environment, having slow conversations. There is no set time to enjoy Vietnamese coffee. Morning, evening, or night, the coffee becomes the need of the hour. It is mostly served cold with ice because of its hot and humid climate.