Creating Vietnamese Iced Coffee: A Simple Recipe to Follow

10 min read DEC 15, 2023

Vietnam is a nation fueled by the love for coffee, where locals and visitors kick start their day with a delightful cup of ca phe. Although French colonists introduced this tradition in the 18th century, the Vietnamese have skillfully transformed it into a truly unique experience, capturing the essence of Southeast Asia.

Now, let's embark on a journey into the captivating world of Vietnamese coffee as they explore the art of crafting this exquisite beverage.

A Brief Journey Through the Origins of Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Vietnam's vibrant coffee culture boasts a rich history from the 18th century. It all began when French and Dutch colonial settlers introduced coffee and its plants to the region, laying the foundation for thriving coffee plantations. However, their influence extended beyond just coffee. The French also introduced a crucial ingredient that would shape Vietnamese coffee: sweetened condensed milk. This delightful addition added a unique twist to the Vietnamese coffee experience, enhancing its flavors and creating a truly distinctive taste.

The settlers brought condensed milk due to the challenges of obtaining fresh milk in Vietnam, where milk consumption was not widespread. They soon discovered that Vietnam's diverse micro-climates in its mountainous regions provided an ideal environment for cultivating coffee plants. This discovery propelled the coffee industry forward, igniting a passionate pursuit of success.

While the French played a significant role in establishing the coffee culture, the Vietnamese took ownership of it once the colonial power departed. Over time, they have further developed this coffee tradition and achieved remarkable success, positioning Vietnam as one of the world's foremost coffee-producing nations.

Like Turkish and Cuban coffee, Vietnamese coffee has earned its place in the global coffee hall of fame. Several factors contribute to its well-deserved recognition.

The 3 Unique Elements Of 'Ca Phe Sua Da

If you're curious about mastering the art of crafting Vietnamese coffee, here's a list of essential items to kickstart your journey.

'The Phin' (Vietnamese Coffee Maker)

Vietnamese coffee stands out with its unique brewing apparatus called the Phin. This affordable and low-tech device combines the functionalities of a drip coffee filter and a coffee press. It consists of a simple stainless steel coffee press atop a mug.

To brew, medium-coarse ground beans are placed in the Phin and gently compressed with a thin top screen. Hot water is poured, and a cover is placed over the Phin to capture the steam. A delightful drop of filtered coffee slowly seeps through the grounds, filling the waiting mug.

While the process may not be swift and only yields one cup at a time, this leisurely pace is part of its charm. Brewing Vietnamese coffee becomes a meditative practice, where the unhurried rhythm mirrors the relaxed nature of its warm climate origins.


One distinguishing feature of authentic Vietnamese coffee is the utilization of Robusta beans for its dark roast. Despite being easier to cultivate and containing a higher caffeine content, high-end brands often disregard these beans due to their unfortunate bitter taste, often described as "burnt rubber." However, in Vietnam, where Robusta plants dominate their coffee plantations, they have mastered transforming these beans into a delectable brew.

Vietnamese coffee is renowned for its robustness; the secret lies in the Robusta beans. For an authentic experience, it is recommended to choose Café du Monde coffee or Trung Nguyen with chicory when selecting beans for Vietnamese coffee. If these options are unavailable, any dark-roasted Robusta beans will suffice.

In addition to the choice of beans, the traditional Vietnamese coffee experience also incorporates concentrated milk flavors and sugars from condensed milk. This, in combination with the darker roast coffee commonly used in Vietnamese coffee drinks, yields a distinct and delightful taste.

Vietnam's commitment to Robusta cultivation is evident as they account for 95% of these coffee plants worldwide. Their expertise in maximizing the potential of the initial "burnt rubber" profile is a testament to their mastery of the craft.

The next time someone inquires about the strength of Vietnamese coffee, the answer is simple: Robusta. This particular variety of coffee, with its unique characteristics, contributes to Vietnamese joe's bold and flavorful nature.

Condensed milk with a touch of sweetness

The secret to this delectable concoction lies in the rich, sweet, condensed milk. This not-so-secret ingredient is also used in Southeast Asian beverages like Kopi Sanger and Nanyang Kopi. Developed to withstand long storage periods in hot climates without refrigeration, this thick and syrupy beverage has gained immense popularity throughout the region.

While combining an Arabica brew with sugar condensed milk might result in an overly sweet taste, it perfectly complements the bitter flavor of Robusta beans. This unique combination has propelled Vietnamese coffee into the spotlight.

In Northern Vietnam, this delightful drink is known as ca phe nau, or "brown coffee," while in Southern Vietnam, it goes by ca phe sua, or "milk coffee." To add another layer of complexity, when served warm after the lengthy brewing process, it's referred to as cà phê sữa nóng. When poured over ice, it transforms into cà phê sữa đá.

If you prefer black coffee, you might consider expanding your horizons with a trip to Vietnam or settling for a bold and bitter morning cup of coffee. However, if you appreciate a robust coffee experience, Vietnamese coffee beans are perfect for pour-over brewing, using a French press, or creating other delightful coffee beverages.

Essential Requirements

  • Two heatproof glasses
  • 1 Vietnamese phin coffee dripper
  • 1 cup of ice cubes
  • 1 cup of hot water
  • Two tablespoons of ground coffee
  • Two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk

A Guide to Crafting Authentic Vietnamese Coffee

After relishing a bowl of tantalizing oriental spices, they often crave a rejuvenating and smooth Vietnamese iced coffee. There's nothing quite as delightful as sipping on an authentic cup of Vietnamese-style iced coffee reminiscent of the ones cherished at your beloved Vietnamese restaurant. Now, allow me to unveil the secret to recreating this exquisite pleasure in the cozy confines of your abode.

Step 1:

Begin by heating the water until it reaches a rolling boil. Once boiled, remove it from the heat and let it rest for 60-90 seconds. It allows the water to cool to the ideal temperature range of 195–205°F. Remember, using boiling water can scorch the delicate coffee grounds.

Step 2:

Take an empty heatproof glass and add two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk. Adjust the amount according to personal taste preferences. Feel free to add a little more if you prefer a sweeter coffee.

Step 3:

Next, add two tablespoons of medium-coarse ground coffee into your Phin. It is similar to the grind size used for a French press brew. Any brand of high-quality, premium coffee would work. Our recommendation is Midnight Roast from Lifeboost Coffee.

Step 4:

Insert the top screen or metal coffee filter onto your Phin, pushing it down and twisting it. The pressure will impact the final brew, so note the pressure used.

Step 5:

Place the Phin on top of the glass with the sweetened condensed milk.

Step 6:

Fill the Phin almost to the brim with hot water, then cover it with a small top. Allow three to five minutes for all the water to drip down through the filter and into the glass.

Step 7:

Once the coffee has finished brewing, take a spoon to stir and dissolve the condensed.

Step 8:

Finally, fill another glass with ice cubes and gently pour your coffee concoction over it. Enjoy your refreshing iced coffee.

Additional Brewing Tips

This Vietnamese coffee recipe may seem simple, but a few subtle adjustments can make or break your brew. Keep the following tips in mind:

1. Preparing Your Water – Aim for water just below the boiling point instead of boiling water. Bring the water to a boil and let it sit for about a minute. It will allow it to cool to the optimal temperature range of 195–205°F, as extremely hot water can scorch the coffee grounds.

2. How much sweetened condensed milk to add? – The amount of sweetened condensed milk you add depends on your preference. Feel free to add a little more if you prefer a sweeter coffee. However, be cautious not to overdo it, as the condensed milk is already quite sweet.

3. Preparing Your Phin – Once you've added the ground coffee, it's time to insert the metal filter. Take care to apply just enough pressure to ensure proper extraction, avoiding both excessive and insufficient pressure. Over-applying pressure will result in under-extraction while under-applying pressure will lead to over-extraction.

If your Phin filter has a screw-on press, tighten it accordingly. However, if your Phin doesn't have a screw-on press, simply press the filter down firmly and slightly twist it.

4. Brewing the coffee – There's no need for anything fancy here; just patiently wait for the coffee to drip. If you've used the correct grind size and applied the right amount of pressure, the coffee should take approximately 3-5 minutes to drip.

First-time tip: Take note of your grind size, the pressure you applied (e.g., "pushed hard for 2 seconds and twisted"), and the brewing time. If you don't get it right the first time, you'll know how to make adjustments for next time.

Side note: If you prefer your coffee hot ("cà phê sữa nóng" in Vietnamese), you can stop after stirring. Due to the lengthy brewing process and the temperature difference between the coffee and condensed milk, this coffee isn't truly hot.

Frequently asked questions:

How many cups of coffee will the Phin make?

This depends on the size of your Phin; a standard-sized Phin can usually brew up to two cups of coffee. To avoid over-extraction and bitter coffee, it's best not to fill the pot more than halfway.

Can I use pre-ground coffee for this type of brewing?

Pre-ground coffee is too inconsistent and will result in an inferior cup of Vietnamese drip coffee. For the best results, they recommend grinding your whole beans before you begin brewing.

Is there any way to speed up the brewing time?

Unfortunately not; since this type of brewing relies on the slow, steady flow of water through the bed of coffee grounds, there's no way to expedite the process without compromising the quality. The best thing you can do is be patient and take your time.

Is Vietnamese drip coffee vegan?

Yes! Traditional Vietnamese drip coffee typically contains no animal products, making it a great choice for vegans. If you'd like to add sweetness or creaminess, choose plant-based options such as coconut milk and agave syrup.

What else can I do with my Phin?

The possibilities are endless! You can use your coffee press to make cold-brew coffee, tea, and even homemade cocktails. Try some of these recipes for inspiration.

Does Vietnamese drip coffee contain caffeine?

Yes, it does! The amount of caffeine in Vietnamese drip coffee will vary depending on the type and roast of beans used. Generally speaking; however, you can expect to get a medium-to-strong dose of caffeine from this type of brew.

How should I clean and maintain my Phin?

To keep your coffee press in good working condition, it's a good idea to thoroughly clean it after each use. Start by disassembling the parts and washing them with warm soapy water. Then, rinse everything thoroughly with fresh water and let it air dry before reassembling. Doing this will help to ensure that your Phin continues to brew great-tasting coffee for years to come.

Are there any tips I should remember when brewing Vietnamese drip coffee?

You'll want to use freshly ground beans and remember not to overfill the filter. After pouring the boiling water into the filter, stir the mixture before allowing the coffee to drip into your cup. It will help ensure that all the grounds are evenly saturated and have an even flavor in each cup. Lastly, discard any remaining coffee after 5-10 minutes since extended brewing time can lead to bitter or over-extracted flavors.

    Check out Lifeboost Coffee Blonde Espresso.


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