If you’ve read my other blog posts, you’ll know that I live by an unnatural sleep schedule. My first alarm goes off at 3:50 am (I usually drag myself out of bed at 4:20), and by 5:10, I’m out the door. Why? Because I’m insane. Also, if you’ve ever had to commute south on the 101 during morning rush hour and north on the 405 in the afternoon, you’ll understand the pain of making a 2-hour drive in what would normally take 40 minutes. #lalyfe
Because of that, when I wake up on Monday mornings, the first thing I want (besides more sleep) is coffee. However, even that can get old; sometimes your mouth just wants variation and other flavors. And then, something miraculous happened. I discovered a coffee that filled that void ― a coffee so delicious that it actually made me excited to wake up in the morning and drive to work. I’m talking Vietnamese-style coffee.
I’ve always loved Vietnamese iced coffee, but I never even thought about drinking it hot or making it at home. And I gotta tell you, my life will never be the same. So for today’s Monday Muse, I thought I’d share exactly what you need to make your own Vietnamese-style coffee in the comfort of your own home or office.
Phin (Vietnamese coffee filter)
If you’ve never had this drink before, Vietnamese coffee is very concentrated. Think of it as stronger than normal coffee but a tad weaker than an espresso. Because of that, you need a special brewer called a phin to make your Vietnamese coffee. I got mine on Amazon for about $10. They sell different sizes based on your preference, but I got the 11-ounce version, which is a large and makes your basic-sized cup of coffee.
There are two types of phins to choose from: the screw-down filter and the gravity insert. I got the screw-down because it’s easier to control the grounds, and it’s less messy. In contrast, the gravity insert just kind of sits on the water and goes down as the water level decreases (hence the name). The gravity insert is the easy choice, but if you want easier cleanup, I’d suggest the screw-down.
Trung Nguyen Vietnamese coffee grounds
To make a proper cup of Vietnamese brew, you can’t use just any coffee. Vietnamese coffee is a dark or Robusta roast and has a very specific flavor, which comes from chicory ― a plant root that’s ground and mixed into coffee. Nowadays, it’s added to soften the bitter bite of dark-roast coffee, but that wasn’t always the case.
In the past, people added chicory to stretch their coffee supply when coffee became scarce, especially when there were times of hardship, like the Great Depression, and international disputes like the American Civil War (this especially became a problem when we switched from tea to coffee #Murica). Chicory, which was brought over from Europe, has a similar flavor to coffee, and even in times of peace, people enjoyed the taste ― especially the French Louisianans. This is why the famous chicory brew from Café du Monde in New Orleans is often used in Vietnamese coffee ― because it has that similar chicory flavor.
If you can’t get your hands on Trung Nguyen, you can absolutely use Café du Monde for your Vietnamese coffee, as some grocery stores (and places like Cost Plus World Market) actually sell it. However, if you want to be more “authentic,” try Trung Nguyen Premium Blend. I got a 15-ounce can of grounds on Amazon for $11.25. It smells AMAZING.
Sweetened condensed milk
This part’s the easiest. Just go to your local grocery store and buy any sweetened condensed milk ― the kind where the ingredients are just milk and sugar. I got Nestle’s La Lechera brand, and mine came in a squeeze bottle for about $3.39. It’s SO convenient and less messy than a conventional can.
Bonus: Glass mug or cup
Vietnamese coffee can be made in any container that holds liquid, but traditionally, people like to brew it in glass mugs or cups because they can watch the process taking place. Plus, you can automatically tell it’s Vietnamese coffee by how it looks ― dark, bitter coffee on top of a layer of white sweetened condensed milk. It’s lovely to see. But if not, just use a regular mug.
Now, let’s brew some coffee!
When you buy your phin, it’ll come with directions specific to the size you bought. However, if you actually like coffee (and if you don’t, get out), you’ll want to at least get the 11 ounce. So I’ll share what I do for that one.
Sweetened condensed milk
3 heaping spoonfuls of Trung Nguyen coffee grounds
Boil some water.
Place the phin on your mug, unscrew and lift out the filter, and put in 3 heaping spoonfuls of coffee grounds.
Screw the filter back on tight to pack in the grounds. Then loosen it with 1-2 turns.
Pour a half inch of water, and wait 30 seconds. Dump out the grounds that fall into your cup.
Coat the bottom of your mug with sweetened condensed milk, up to ¼ inch. Add a splash of half and half if desired.
Pour in the rest of the water, and wait for it to drain. Refill as desired.
Remove the phin, and mix the coffee and milk.
Drink, and enjoy!
And that’s it! If you’re still confused (trust me, I probably would be), read on as I break it down.
Boil your water. If you don’t know how to do this, maybe you shouldn’t be making Vietnamese coffee...
Place the phin on your mug, unscrew and lift out the filter, and put in 3 heaping spoonfuls of coffee grounds. While you wait for your water to boil, unscrew and lift out the filter from the phin. Dump in 3 heaping spoonfuls of your coffee. When I say spoonfuls, I mean measured with a normal, conventional spoon. It’s something I always have on hand at work, so it’s really easy to just measure with this since you might not always have proper measuring utensils.
Screw the filter back on tight to pack in the grounds. Then loosen it with 1-2 turns. After you dump in the coffee, screw the filter on tight just to pack in the grounds so everything is level. However, after you pack it down, you should unscrew your filter 1-2 turns to leave the coffee a bit of room since it will expand when it gets wet.
Pour a half inch of water, and wait 30 seconds. (A quick note: Your water should be hot but not boiling.) Pour in your half inch of water ― just enough to see the grounds just beginning to float ― and then wait about 30 seconds. This is to let the grinds expand. Now, a few stray grounds will fall into the mug; it can’t really be helped. Once the water drains, dump out the stray grounds if you don’t want those floating around in your coffee.
Coat the bottom of your mug with sweetened condensed milk. The sweetened milk is traditionally poured in before the actual coffee. The heat will melt it a bit and make it easier to mix later. The exact amount you put in will depend on how sweet you want it, but the recommended amount is to put a quarter inch on the bottom. For me personally, I put just enough to coat the bottom of the mug. If you want the coffee less sweet but not as strong, you can always add a splash of half and half.
Pour in the rest of the water, and wait for it to drain. Refill as desired. Pour in your water so that the phin is filled. As the water level goes down, you can add more water as needed, depending on how much you want in your mug and how strong you want your coffee to be. I usually let the first pour go all the way down and then refill the phin to the top one more time.
Remove the phin, and mix the coffee and milk. After the water is all drained, your coffee will have defined layers, with the white layer of condensed milk sitting beneath your dark Vietnamese coffee. Mix it all together, and add more sweetened condensed milk if you want it sweeter.
And there you have it! Honestly, it sounds more complicated than it actually is, but once you have it down, you’ll want to drink Vietnamese coffee 24/7. You can enjoy it hot or pour it over ice for the classic Vietnamese iced coffee. Either way, you have two versions for hot and cold weather that are strong, unique, and utterly delicious. If this doesn’t motivate you on Mondays, I don’t know what will.
Stay (and drink your coffee) strong,