Many coffee drinkers rave about Vietnamese coffee, but what makes it different from regular coffee? The Vietnamese coffee beans give coffee lovers a robust, slightly bitter, and boldly caffeinated coffee that’s distinctive in taste and color.
Vietnamese coffee grows in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, where it’s cultivated in volcanic soil. This soil contributes a slightly salty flavor with cocoa notes through sustainable farming. Vietnam ranks with Brazil and Colombia as the top three producers of coffee beans.
The rest of this article will focus on how Vietnamese coffee beans are grown and brewed, the differences between this coffee and regular brewed coffee, and the best ways to drink Vietnamese coffee.
What Is Vietnamese Coffee?
Vietnamese coffee is defined by where the coffee grows, brewing method, and type of milk added to create unique coffee drinks. This coffee has an unmistakable aroma and an extremely dark roast.
Many Vietnamese coffee roasters produce their coffee beans with sugar or butter to dilute some of the smoky flavor.
Vietnamese Coffee Producing Regions
There are five coffee-growing regions of the central highlands within the country: Kontum, Dak Nong, Dak Lak, Gia Lai, and Lam Dong. The top two beans are robusta and arabica.
Vietnamese Arabica coffee is a slower-growing plant that thrives in high altitudes. Vietnamese robusta grows in the central highlands and plains, where there’s a tropical climate. Robusto needs high humidity, hot weather, and weak sunlight, while arabica fares better in the cooler climate of the mountains.
The coffee beans are hand-picked and wet-processed. Many Vietnamese farmers employ a surprisingly successful intercropping practice, where they plant the coffee trees with pepper, passion fruit, and avocado.
Most Vietnamese coffee beans are Robusto which are naturally highly caffeinated but grow quicker for a faster crop that is resistant to insects and other pests. The Robusto beans have a bitter taste, and thus, the coffee is often mixed with sugar to cut the bitterness. Vietnam primarily exports coffee beans to the United States, Germany, and Italy.
How To Brew Vietnamese Coffee
Brewing Vietnamese coffee happens with a Phin filter which is like a cross between a French press and a pour-over. The Phin comes in various sizes: four, six, eight, eleven, fifteen, and forty-ounce brewing tools.
The most common Phin filter is 4 ounces (118.29 ml). To brew a cup of coffee in the Phin filter, follow the steps below:
- Measure 2 tablespoons (28.3 g) of Vietnamese coffee.
- Place the filter press on top of the ground coffee.
- Place the filter with the coffee over a coffee cup.
- Boil water to 200°F (93.33°C).
- Add enough water to cover the filter press 1/2 inch (3.05 cm).
- Let the coffee bloom. To bloom the coffee means to pour over a small amount of coffee and allow it to sit for thirty seconds. The coffee grounds will swell during this time, and tiny bubbles float to the surface.
- Fill the Phin with the final 4 ounces (118.29 ml) of water.
- The final drip should occur by the five-minute mark.
This YouTube video demonstrates how to use the Phin filter:
Drinking Vietnamese Coffee
Much of the time, Vietnamese coffee has milk or some other additive to cut the bitterness. If you find coffee in the streets of Vietnam, it could be thick and syrupy. The street vendors often add butter or sweetened condensed milk.
A common way to drink Vietnamese coffee is to add sweetened condensed milk. After brewing the coffee with the Phin filter, add 1 tablespoon (14.79 ml) of condensed milk and stir. You can drink this hot (called cà phê sữa nóng) or cold (called (cà phê sua dá) over ice.
Here’s a YouTube video to show you how to make brewed, iced, and shaken Vietnamese coffee:
What Is Regular Coffee?
Regular brewed coffee comes from roasted Arabica coffee beans, ground, and saturated with hot water. There are four roast types for coffee beans. Any brewed coffee is regular, from black coffee to coffee with cream and sugar.
Light Roast Coffee
Light roast coffee reflects its name as it spends the least amount of time in the coffee roaster. A light roast coffee bean reaches an internal temperature of 401°F (205°C) to finish roasting.
Surprisingly, the light roast beans have the most acidity and caffeine since the shorter roasting time pulls these out of the beans. The light roast beans often have a citrusy taste which pleases the palette.
Medium Roast Coffee
A medium roast coffee bean reaches a temperature of 428°F (220°C). The medium roast coffee has a balanced flavor profile and is the most common coffee type. If you ever had a cup of coffee in a café, you’ve probably had a medium roast.
Medium-Dark Roast Coffee
Roasting a medium-dark coffee bean reaches a temperature of 446°F (230°C). This bean has less acidity and a fuller-bodied, richer flavor. Some oil will show on the bean's surface since it has been roasted the longest.
Dark Roast Coffee
The final temperature for dark roast coffee is 482°F (250°C). The high roasting temperature allows the sugars in the bean to caramelize and the oils to come out.
It might surprise you that dark roast coffee beans have the least caffeine and acidity because the long roasting time removes them. The temperature of 482°F (250°C) is the highest a bean can sustain because any higher temperature burns the beans.
What Happens During the Coffee Bean Roasting Process?
A coffee bean is nestled inside a coffee cherry. When the coffee bean is removed and roasted, this process toasts the beans and imparts a chocolatey flavor. Coffee beans are stored green and then roasted to the perfect toastiness.
The heat of the coffee roaster brings out the moisture and releases the sugars that caramelize. The heat also causes chemical changes to the beans, turning them into regular coffee.
A coffee roaster uses three types of heat to transform the raw beans into coffee beans for coffee.These are:
- Radiant heat - is like what comes from the sun.
- Conduction heat - is similar to what you get in a frying pan.
- Convection heat - gives heat like a popcorn popper.
Each type of heat is necessary to achieve the proper roast of the beans.
Bean Roasting Steps
The general rule for roasting coffee looks like a mathematical equation. The right amount of time + green coffee beans + right amount of heat = great coffee. The coffee bean roasting process looks like this:
- A coffee bean has the strongest, stiffest cell wall membrane of any plant in the plant kingdom.
- As the coffee bean roasts, the water inside the coffee bean shifts to vapor and creates pressure.
- The bean bursts from the pressure, which is termed the "first crack."
- As the coffee bean continues to roast, the "second crack" sound indicates that all the water is gone and the bean no longer is green.
- As the bean roasts, the color moves from green to yellow to brown.
- The internal temperature indicates the level of roast the beans achieved.
Methods To Brew Regular Coffee
There are multiple ways to brew regular coffee, and most coffee lovers have a specific preference for brewing. While brewed coffee is technically coffee grounds, a filter, and water, many coffee drinkers want a particular taste, smooth texture, or water to coffee grounds ratio.
Pour Over Method
Coffee lovers swear by the pour-over method, saying it produces a tea-like, juicy, smooth cup of coffee. They love the clarity and polish of the finished product. The paper filter retains the oils and coffee particles that can detract from the coffee. The pour-over method focuses on:
- A conical shape to the filter allows the water to saturate the coffee grounds for the right amount of extraction.
- A pour-over dripper with interior ridges that holds the correct amount of water.
- The pouring method is critical. This involved four different pourings of water to produce the perfect cup of coffee.
The French press produces a full-bodied, heavier coffee than the pour-over method. This brewing method is an immersion process in which the grounds are fully covered in water and the coffee extracts through a metal filter.
The coffee grind should resemble coarsely ground black pepper, and the filter allows the oils and undissolved coffee to pass through. French press coffee is delicious black or with cream and sugar.
The siphon method uses a glass siphon bottle with water at the bottom and grounds in a small hopper above. The siphon sits over a heat source, and as it begins to bubble, the water flows up and pulls the coffee grounds into the bottom. The brewer moves the siphon off the heat and lets the grounds steep in the water. This method produces the most tea-like cup of coffee.
Automatic Drip Coffee Maker
The primary appeal of an automatic coffee maker is convenience. Having the ability to make multiple cups of coffee at one time is handy. Similar to the pour-over method, the automatic drip coffee maker uses a paper filter.
Add the right amount of medium grind coffee in a grind similar to sea salt crystals. Fill the coffee maker with fresh, cool, filtered water and touch the start button.
Cold Brew Method
Cold-brew coffee also uses the immersion method to produce a light, fruity cup of coffee. The grounds are immersed in room temperature water for eight to twelve hours. The entire contents is then poured through a filter.
Cold brew coffee is perfect for a summertime drink when you don’t want hot coffee. Another advantage of cold brew is the option to make a large jar at a time.
Comparing Vietnamese Coffee and Normal Coffee
There are some distinct differences between Vietnamese coffee and normal brewed coffee. A comparison of the two coffee types will highlight these distinctions.
Differences in the Two Coffees
|Vietnamese Coffee||Normal Brewed Coffee|
|Brewed in one manner, the Phin filter||Brewed in multiple ways, from automatic drip to siphon|
|Quite bitter once brewed||Can be brewed as a mild black coffee to bold, French roast|
|Seldom consumed as plain black coffee||Many people drink as plain, black coffee|
|Brewed coffee tastes like a middle ground
between normal brewed coffee and espresso
|Brewed coffee can taste as mild as a cup of tea and as bold as espresso|
|Most often sweetened with condensed milk, sugar, or egg custard||Can be sweetened with sugar or no-calorie sweeteners|
|Seldom diluted with milk||Frequently consumed as a milky coffee drink such as latte, cappuccino, and frappuccino|
|Most often robusta coffee beans||Most often arabica coffee beans|
|Thicker than brewed coffee||Only as thick as normal water|
Where To Find Vietnamese Coffee
If you’re intrigued and want to try Vietnamese coffee, you can find it at an Asian market near you. The Trung Nguyên Vietnamese Coffee (available on Amazon.com) has a deep intense flavor.
Nguyen Coffee Supply Ground Coffee Bean (available on Amazon.com) has a robusta arabica blend. There’s also the Trung Nguyen G7 3 In 1 Instant Coffee (available on Amazon.com). It’s easy to prepare and you can enjoy it on the go. Large cities like New York City and Los Angeles have Vietnamese coffee shops where you can drink and buy this type of coffee.
The Popularity of Coffee in Vietnam
In the capital of Ho Chi Minh City, there’s an entire block dedicated to Vietnamese coffee. There are street vendors, mom-and-pop coffee shops, coffee houses, and hotel coffee shops, but the most interesting might be The Cafe Apartment.
This spot is an apartment building that was scheduled for demolition, but people who lived there turned the apartments into shops, boutiques, and businesses. Locals will tell you that The Cafe Apartment is ideal for coffee lovers with the many coffee shops located within.
Why Vietnamese Coffee is So Good
Vietnam produces the second most coffee beans in the world. The Vietnamese coffee from the beans is bold and bitter. Brewed through a Phin filter, Vietnamese coffee can be consumed, brewed, shaken, and iced.
This coffee bean is a heavy-hitter that gives the coffee drinker a multi-dimensional experience. Almost always pour-over, Vietnamese coffee is seldom brewed in any other manner. Bold and complex, drinking coffee from the Vietnamese coffee bean is an experience.