Vietnamese Coffee

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Vietnamese Coffee is as much fun to make as it is to watch. A real treat, especially for those who enjoy their coffee strong and sweet.

What is a Vietnamese Filter?

A Vietnamese filter is a small coffee pot. It looks like a hat and sits upon the top of a coffee cup. Inside is a chamber for coffee and room for hot water. It is very basic and simple, and works.

Vietnamese-style Coffee Filter (Pack of 2)
Vietnamese-style Coffee Filter (Pack of 2)

What do I need?

A Vietnamese filter, coffee (optionally with chicory), and condensed milk. Condensed milk typically contains sugar and is heat processed with steam. Steamed milk has different physics from non-steamed milk and tastes better when used in coffee (ask any cappuccino drinker).

What type of coffee?

There are two schools of thought here. My understanding is that the authentic answer is coffee with chicory. I have very successfully used canned (!) coffee from Cafe Du Monde or French Market, both available in cans in supermarkets, both are coffee and chicory. (Chicory is a caffeine-free herb whose roots are dried, ground, and roasted and is used to flavor coffee.) I also have had great luck with fresh grinding my own beans without chicory. I often use Peets House Blend beans that I grind between drip and French.

2 (Two) Cans of Cafe Du Monde
2 (Two) Cans of Cafe Du Monde

My personal preference is sans chicory ... but then it's not Vietnamese coffee. Poetic license, I guess.

What type of coffee grind?

There is controversy here, I have read of anything from fine to coarse grind being used. The cans have what appears to be a French grind; I use a grind somewhere between French and drip. This does not fall through the holes in the filter and tastes great. If you are new to Vietnamese coffee, use a French grind since it is easier to get it right with a coarser grind.

What else should I know?

The typical way to serve the coffee is with condensed milk (not evaporated milk). This adds a wonderful sweetness and mouth feel to the coffee. Additionally, the water temperature is very important, see the notes in the French Press section at HowToBrewCoffee.com what else should I know?

Step 1: Put about 1/3 of an inch of condensed milk in the bottom of a coffee cup. I prefer a glass cup since this is cool to watch! If you store the condensed milk in the refrigerator, it will get very thick but still work fine, and your coffee will not be as hot.

Add milk
Add milk

Step 2: Open the device and unscrew to remove the filter's top screen.

Vietnamese Coffee Filter
Vietnamese Coffee Filter

Step 3: Place three rounded teaspoons of coffee with chicory OR three and a half rounded teaspoons of coffee into the device. Replace the screen and turn it until it starts to get snug. This takes a bit of practice but note, it should not be "tight" but snug.

Add Coffee
Add Coffee

Step 4: Place the filter on top of the coffee cup. Pour hot water into the device until it is about 1/4 full. Wait 20 seconds (yes, look at the clock). If all the water flows through in the time, you need to tighten the filter more.

Pour Hot Water
Pour Hot Water

Step 5: Unscrew the filter two complete turns. If it is too tight, you can typically use a quarter as a screw driver. Only loosen it two turns (but not less, either!).

Setup Filter
Setup Filter

Step 6: Fill the filter with hot water. Place the cover on and wait. Typically about 5 minutes. The water should not stream through, it should drip.

Coffee Brewing In Progress
Coffee Brewing In Progress

Step 7: When the dripping stops (i.e., all the water has passed through the filter), carefully remove the device, set aside, and start to enjoy. Personally, I stir up all the condensed milk, others leave it for the end.

Finished Brewing
Finished Brewing

Published: September 2004, Last Modified: March 2012