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Traditional Vietnamese iced coffee is a strong, slow sipper with a big caffeine kick. It is sure to give you an energy boost (and the caffeine jitters if you are not careful). I have yet to featured the Vietnamese coffee maker known as the Phin in my manual coffee brewing guides. Talking about the Phin coffee filter along with it’s most popular recipe seems like the best way to introduce it.
Below is my Vietnamese iced coffee recipe, some discussion on sweetened condensed milk and a Phin coffee filter brewing guide.
What is Vietnamese Iced Coffee?
Vietnamese iced coffee is a drink containing a highly concentrated coffee (brewed with a Phin) combined with sweetened condensed milk and served over ice. It is also known as cà phê sữa đá and is a very popular way of brewing Vietnamese coffee. If you have a favorite restaurant that serves Vietnamese food, cà phê sữa đá is likely on the menu.
Phin Coffee Filter- The Vietnamese Coffee Brewer
The Phin coffee filter is the most common way to brew Vietnamese coffee. It is a small tubular brewer with four parts: a base, a body, a filter and a lid.
Brewing with the Phin is a sort of melding between infusion brewing (like the pour-over) and immersion brewing (like the French press). You don’t need a disposable paper filter for the Phin, it is a coffee filter on it’s own.
If you are the experimental type, an Aeropress filter will fit nicely inside most Phins. This is an interesting way to transform the brewer and try out new functions. For instance, a Phin and an Aeropress filter can brew Kyoto style cold brew.
It was hard to track down the exact history of the Phin. Some people believe it originated in Cambodia, some surmise it was invented in France.
Harvey Tong, founder of Phin Coffee Club, believes the Phin was designed in Vietnam as an affordable alternative to the French Press. Regardless of where the Phin got it’s start, it has become intertwined with Vietnamese iced coffee. You can’t really think of the one without thinking about the other.
While Vietnamese iced coffee is the most popular recipe to brew with the Phin, you don’t have to stop there. You can use the Phin to brew a cup of straight black Vietnamese coffee known as ‘ca phe den’. If you have a Phin, don’t be afraid to try running your everyday coffee through it at different ratios. You may be surprised by the outcome.
Putting Sweetened Condensed Milk in Coffee
I almost always drink my coffee black. Even when I am drinking a less than favorable cup of coffee, I prefer to drink it sans the additives. I get it—to the staunch black coffee enthusiast, combining coffee with sweetened condensed milk might chaff you a little bit.
If you had never combined coffee and condensed milk, I encourage you to give it a try.
Sweetened condensed milk is a staple in Vietnamese iced coffee. It is commonly thought that condensed milk became prevalent in Vietnam out of necessity. In the past, fresh milk was hard to come by and it was also hard to store. Conversely, condensed milk is much easier to store and adds a nice sweetness to the coffee.
When brewing with traditional Vietnamese Robusta coffee, the use of condensed milk is especially encouraged. The smokey and chocolate notes in Vietnamese coffee pair quite well with the condensed milk. Quite frankly, it would be overwhelming for the average coffee drinker to drink a Vietnamese ‘ca phe den.’ Straight black Vietnamese style coffee can be quite potent.
As a side note, I think ‘ca phe den’ brewed with Vietnamese coffee could be used to make an outstanding coffee ice cream. (I’ll work on a recipe).
Vietnamese Iced Coffee Recipe and Phin Brew Guide
Here is how I’ve been making my Vietnam style coffee over ice.
- 20 grams of coarse ground coffee. See the section below for coffee selection tips.
- 30-35 grams of sweetened condensed milk. You can find this in the baking aisle of most grocery stores. Make sure you get sweetened condensed milk and not evaporated milk.
- 160 grams of water
- Phin coffee filter
- Vessel for brewing coffee into. I have found a ‘rocks’ glass to be perfect.
- A few ice cubes or one large ice cube (for style points).
Vietnamese Iced Coffee Brewing Guide:
- Pour or spoon 30-35 grams of sweetened condensed milk in the bottom of a ‘rocks’ glass. You can adjust this amount based on preference. I find this amount to be moderately sweet.
- Put 20 grams of coarse ground coffee into your Phin coffee filter. If you have the option, grind you coffee to a French press grind size (larger than most coffee pre-ground for drip). If all you have is pre-ground coffee, go ahead and give it a try. (You may end up clogging the coffee filter).
- Shake the Phin gently to level the coffee bed.
- Place the filter piece inside of the Phin. Gently apply pressure to compact the coffee bed. You do not want to press too hard, just a little bit of force here.
- Pour 20-40 grams of water just off of boil over the filter and coffee bed. Let the coffee bloom for 30 seconds.
- Slowly pour the rest of your water over the filter. Place the lid on top of the Phin.
- The coffee should slowly start to drip down onto the condensed milk. Be patient, this process should take around 5 minutes. If it takes longer than this, consider changing your grind to coarser and/or compacting the coffee bed less.
- When the coffee is done filtering, stir the coffee and milk mixture until well combined.
- Add ice and enjoy.
Bonus Tip: If you want a frothier Vietnamese iced coffee you can brew into a mason jar instead of a ‘rocks’ glass. After the coffee is brewed, put a lid on the mason jar, add ice and give it a good shake (like an Iced Aeropress shake up). This method also makes it easier to combine the coffee with the condensed milk.
How to make Vietnamese Iced Coffee Without a Phin
There are quite a few ways you could make Vietnam style coffee over ice, even if you do not have a Phin. Here are some of my favorites:
- Cold Brew Vietnamese Iced Coffee: This will take 12-24 hours of waiting, unless you want to do a vacuum cold brew recipe. I recommend a 1:8 coffee to water ratio. If you are using a traditional Vietnamese coffee, don’t make too much cold brew. It is better fresh. Combine your cold brew with sweetened condensed milk to taste.
- French Press Vietnamese Iced Coffee: Use a coffee to water ratio of 1:8 in a French press. Let the coffee steep for 4 minutes. Filter and decant over 30 – 35 grams of sweetened condensed milk.
- Aeropress Vietnamese Iced Coffee: Brew this like the Phin Vietnamese iced coffee recipe. If you have a metal Aeropress filter, I recommend using that instead of a paper filter. You may also want to grind the coffee a little finer than when using a Phin. Place your coffee in the bottom of the Aeropress (over your glass of condensed milk), bloom and slowly pour the rest of your water over the coffee grounds.
Where to Buy Vietnamese Coffee
A proper Vietnamese iced coffee should be brewed with traditional Vietnamese coffee. This is a little hard to come by in the United States.
Last week I discussed Phin Coffee Club. Harvey, the founder of Phin Coffee Club, sent me a Phin and some of his coffee. That is what I have been using to test out Vietnamese iced coffee recipes. Harvey sells traditionally roasted Vietnamese Robusta coffee at the Phin Coffee Club website.
Another option is Nguyen Coffee Supply out of Brooklyn, NY. I have not personally tried their coffee but they also feature coffee from Vietnam. Nguyen takes a more modern approach to roasting their coffee, bypassing some of the traditional methods like combining the coffee with a cacoa butter and slow roasting the coffee with wood. (Nguyen Coffee Supply roasts on a Loring).
There is also a contingent of people who use Cafe Du Monde coffee when brewing with a Phin. I am personally not a fan of the brand but it seems that you can approximate the taste with this New Orleans style chicory coffee. You can read about my experiments with chicory and Cafe Du Monde here.
Lastly, you can try brewing a Vietnamese iced coffee with what you have on hand. (Just know you are not getting the full Vietnamese iced coffee experience. )
I received a lot of help with the post from Harvey Tong, founder of Phin Coffee Club. Harvey grew up on a Vietnamese coffee farm which his family still owns. If that is not enough credential for you, his family also owns a factory that manufactures Phins.
Harvey graciously gave up his time for a phone interview about the subject and even sent me a sample of his coffee and a Phin. Harvey’s valuable advice and insight on Vietnamese coffee inspired me to look at more than just a coffee recipe. Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee in the world and the largest exporter of Robusta coffee by far. Read more about coffee from Vietnam here.
Phin Coffee Club also has a video tutorial on brewing Vietnamese iced coffee. You can find it here.
Let me know you thoughts, tips and tricks for brewing a Vietnam style coffee over ice in the comments below.