Egg Coffee is For Real in Vietnam
Staring at the coffee dripping into a clear glass. Vietnamese coffee made with the country’s own phin filter takes about 4-5 minutes of patient waiting to be enjoyed. When the wait is finally over, you have a glass of coffee full of aroma and flavor. What more would you need?
Exquisite is the word that came to my mind after sipping the first coffee in Vietnam. It was Ca Phe Sua Da, also known as Vietnamese iced coffee that has the dark, slightly bitter flavor of concentrated caffeine mixed with the extreme sweetness of condensed milk that make you grimace. The moment that odd mixture of darkness and sweetness spread through my body, I felt a burst of energy despite the languor the hot weather had given to me. The city of Ho Chi Minh, the economic capital of Vietnam, is full of vibrant energy than any other place I’ve seen. The same goes for cafes along the streets–from a rustic cafe playing the role of a matchmaker in town where coffee is made using the traditional method of brewing, to a specialty cafe offering various brewing styles using hand-picked coffee beans directly bought from the farm and roasted in the shop. In delightful coexistence of tradition and the modern, the lights stay on in the cafes in Ho Chi Minh from early morning till late night.
The strong, bitter flavor of Robusta coffee is better than any other caffeinated drinks to beat the sweltering weather of Vietnam.
Flavor Comes from Vietnamese Coffee Beans
The strong, harsh flavor of Vietnamese coffee comes from Robusta coffee. Vietnam is the second largest coffee producers in the world, after Brazil. First introduced by the French in 1857, the coffee industry gained full support from the Vietnamese government in the 1990s in accordance with Doi Moi, the state-led economic reform policy. Robusta coffee is currently produced in Dak Lak and Lam Dong Provinces in the Western Highlands in Vietnam as well as Gia Lai and Kon Tum Provinces. Due to the growing demand for specialty coffee, the regional production is on the sudden increase in Dien Bien and Son La Provinces in northern mountainous Vietnam and Da Lat in southern Vietnam where Arabica coffee is produced.
Compared with Arabica, Robusta which accounts for 95-percent of Vietnamese coffee production has more harshness to its flavor and a higher percentage of caffeine, while maintaining a relatively low production cost thanks to its resilience to disadvantageous growing environments. That is why Robusta is largely used in blending with different coffee beans or making instant ground coffee. In general, Robusta is suited for dark roasting or medium-to-dark roasting during which additives like butter or whiskey is put in to produce coffee with more diverse, richer aromas. The strong, bitter flavor of Robusta coffee goes well with the sweetness of condensed milk or coconut syrup, and is better than any other caffeinated drinks to beat the sweltering weather of Vietnam.
Ca Phe Den Nong, Basic Black
The most basic of Vietnamese coffee is black coffee called Ca Phe Den Nong. It’s the best option to experience the famous bitterness of Robusta beans and you need a little metal filter called “phin” for brewing. What’s unique with this equipment is that it takes about 5 minutes up to 10 for the drip to be finished. One of the advantages of the phin filter is that it’s easy and simple to use for anybody.
First, you put a saucer and a phin cup on top of a glass and pour a little bit of hot water to preheat the cup. Throw away the water in the glass and put two and a half tablespoons of ground coffee beans in the cup. Flatten the surface. Put a filter on top, pour about a third of two-thirds cup of hot water (150ml), and allow the coffee to bloom for about a minute. Slowly pour in the rest of the water onto the filter and wait 5 minutes or so until the last coffee drop to fall. Add ice to enjoy an iced black coffee called Ca Phe Den Da.
Condensed Milk and Eggs as Topping
Ca Phe Sua Nong is a hot Vietnamese coffee brewed using the phin filter and mixed with condensed milk. If you add both condensed milk and ice, you get Ca Phe Sua Da. First you put in two tablespoons of condensed milk in a small glass, then add ice and pour freshly-brewed coffee to finish. If you can’t withstand the bittersweet flavor of coffee with condensed milk, you have to wait for the ice to melt. Condensed milk works like magic in adding sweetness and body to strong coffee. It’s not just condensed milk that can be mixed with coffee.
In the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, Ca Phe Trung, a so-called egg coffee using egg yolks as a topping, has been enjoyed since the 1940s. It is believed to have begun with a bartender using eggs to create a coffee menu because fresh milk was hard to get. The eccentric topping is made by beating egg yolks and adding condensed milk, cheese, or butter to double the creamy texture and sweet flavor. An egg coffee is closer to a savory dessert than a coffee. You can try having a spoonful of egg foaming on top first and then slowly stir it to mix with the coffee as you drink.
Variations of Vietnamese Coffee
Besides coffee, there are other popular, trendy items on the menu created by adding various food ingredients to the flavor of coffee. One example is Ca Phe Dua, a coconut coffee introduced to Korea by a local Vietnamese coffee house that expanded its business overseas. If you think condensed milk is too sweet to mix with coffee, you should try the coconut coffee using the less-sweet coconut creme for a more savory taste. In the drip coffee, add a tad of salt and sugar and blend with coconut cream and ice for a coconut smoothie. Similarly, you can find avocado smoothie on the menu in several Vietnamese cafes, using avocado, ice and drip coffee. From a glass of coffee with diverse flavors of condensed milk or eggs as well as coconuts or avocados. If you are hoping to experience the aesthetics of coffee in street cafes, Vietnam is the place to be.