There is no shortage of reasons to go adventuring in Vietnam: The nature is so gorgeous and unique that putting it into words is near impossible, the food is world renowned for a reason, the people are welcoming and friendly, and the cityscapes tend to have some of the most incredible mixtures of city and nature, with the two often blending together beautifully. As an added bonus, the country is located in close proximity to other Southeast Asian must-visit locations like Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia – the region is pretty much begging you to go on a multi-destination adventure.
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Even when listing out all these reasons to go experience Vietnam, this article is dedicated to a very specific subsection of the Vietnamese cuisine: Coffee.
It’s a little-known fact that Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer of coffee, second only to Brazil in the amount of coffee produced in the country. Where Brazilian coffee export is often associated with arabica beans, Vietnam is one of the main producers of the robusta species.
Vietnam’s history with coffee is a tale of circumstances breeding innovation, and it’s absolutely fascinating to see the creative (and delicious!) solutions that shortage of certain food resources has led to.
Whether you’re a coffee afficionado, with an elaborate homebrewing setup, or you’re perfectly content with having a mug of instant coffee as your start to the day, Vietnamese coffee is just a ton of fun, and something that you have to experience when visiting the country! Hopefully these 5 Vietnamese coffees can inspire you, to go coffee-adventuring in Vietnam, or maybe just add a bit of fun and experimenting into your day-to-day coffee brewing.
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A brief history of Coffee in Vietnam
The Vietnamese coffee culture is believed to have originated when they were under French rule, back in the 18-hundreds. Here, the people of Vietnam were introduced to coffee by the French.
Since then, many circumstances have affected the brewing of coffee in Vietnam: A shortage of fresh milk led to the use of sweetened, condensed milk. A shortage of milk in general, led to them using whipped egg yolks, in some cases mixed with condensed milk.
The brewing method of Vietnamese coffee is also quite unique, as their main brewing vessel is the phin: A small French press-like drip filter. This is a small metal brewer, that you position on top of the cup, put coarsely ground beans in, add hot water, and then the water will slowly trickle through the beans, resulting in a strong, dark brew. If you find yourself in Vietnam, the phin is a lovely souvenir to bring home, either for yourself, or a friend with a soft spot for coffee.
Due to these circumstances, the Vietnamese people have developed a coffee culture that is completely unique to the country, and nothing short of a blast to experience.
Ca Phe Phin / Den
The traditional Vietnamese black coffee, brewed through the previously mentioned phin brewer.
This style of brewing is the base brew for all the subsequent coffees in this article, and the qualities that the phin promotes in the coffee, is a big part of what makes the creative serving formats work: Phin coffee is typically brewed with a quite high coffee-to-water ratio, creating a very strong, intensely flavored cup of coffee. Due to it being a metal-filtered immersion brewer, the resulting cup naturally has a lot of texture and oiliness, that almost coats the mouth, leaving behind a very powerful, no-nonsense coffee presence. Combine these properties with the Vietnamese affinity for the robusta beans species, and more dark roasting profiles, and you have a flavour profile that can be quite intense on its own.
Whether the phin flavour profile is for you or not, is ultimately a matter of preference, but one quality of the brew is quite undeniable: The high caffeine content, both from the robusta beans and the water-to-coffee ratio, will have you feeling cooled down and refreshed, when exploring Vietnam. It’s a similar effect to the one you’ll have when enjoying an espresso in Italy – through the power of caffeine, your body will feel a bit cooler.
Ca Phe Nau / Ca Phe Sua
As mentioned, just having a straight phin coffee can be a bit intense, especially if you’re not into the more deep, bitter, roasty coffee flavours. But fear not, because every one of the Vietnamese coffees to come, have some unique way of playing around with, and balancing out, this intensity.
First up, we have the most commonly encountered type, ca phe nau (ca phe sua, if you’re in the south of the country). The name literally translates to “brown coffee”, but there’s a bit more going on here than mere brownness. The coffee is simply a phin brewed coffee, served with a generous splash of sweetened condensed milk. This results in a very (at times extremely) sweet cup of coffee. If you enjoy drinks with a lot of sweetness, and a nice backdrop of coffee in the flavour profile, where the bitterness and sweetness get to balance each other out, this is absolutely the drink for you.
This drink is very common, and can be found at most cafés and coffee shops. If you want my recommendation, some of my personal best memories from Vietnam was starting my day with a bahn mi and a ca phe nau at a sidewalk café in Hanoi – that’ll get your endorphins flowing and set you up for a day of adventure in no time!
Ca Phe Trung
Being arguably the star of the show, and the most well-known Vietnamese coffee serving format, ca phe trung is a must-try when visiting Vietnam, regardless of whether you’re into coffee or not.
Ca phe trung originated due to a period with a lack of access to the sweetened, condensed milk usually used to sweeten up the phin coffee. As a solution to this, people started using whipped egg yolks and sugar as a topping instead - and ladies and gentlemen, they struck gold. The thick, frothy, and sweet egg yolk mixture compliments the intense, bitter phin coffee fantastically. The drink is in many ways more of a desert, due to the foamy topping making it much more filling than your average cup of coffee.
When visiting Vietnam, this drink has to be experienced! And if you do, don’t forget to tag Tryp.com in a story of you, stirring the thick foam topping – it’s almost hypnotic to look at!
Ca Phe Cot Dua
Coconut coffee! Another super creative way of mellowing out the phin flavour profile, the usage of either coconut milk, or sweetened condensed coconut milk, serves as the perfect, unexpected companion to the phin coffee. The coconut milk contributes with both some fattiness, sweetness, and, of course, beautiful coconut flavour! The combination might sound slightly odd at first, but it genuinely works so, so well (if you like the flavour of coconut, of course).
Note: While traveling Vietnam, I sometimes saw this drink sold under the name Bac Xiu. Bac Xiu, however, can refer to a wide array of “white” coffees, so be sure to check which variation the establishment you’re visiting serves.
Sua Chua Ca Phe
Alright, for our final Vietnamese coffee, you’re going to have to hear me out: Coffee. On. Yoghurt. That’s right – and, once again, the Vietnamese creativity triumphs. Because this drink genuinely works so well: You have the intense phin coffee, used as a topping on a refreshing, acidic yoghurt. What you end up with, is a beautiful drink, that in some ways is greater than the sum of its parts. If you’re looking for a lovely drink to start your day of adventuring in Vietnam out on, this right here is the answer you’re looking for – do absolutely not knock this one until you try it!
Enough reading - time to go on a caffeine-fueled adventure through Vietnam
The coffee culture is just a small piece of the massive puzzle that is Vietnamese cuisine, and an even smaller one of the overall experience that traveling in Vietnam is. Even with that being said, the coffee drinks here are such beautiful examples of creativity with food, and trying them out will both be fun and delicious!
Thank you for reading along until the very end. If you end up trying out any of these while traveling Vietnam, do shoot us a message, or tag us in your stories – we love keeping up with your adventures!
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