For the love of Vietnamese Iced Coffee – Hot Coffee (Ca Phe Sua Da – Ca Phe Sua Nong)

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Enjoying Cà Phê Sữa Đá & Chinese checkers (Cờ tướng) in Đà Nang, Việt-Nam

It was another warm, humid summer night in Đà Nang, and I was cruising on the back of a scooter behind Quang, one of Diane’s cousins.  He’s the cousin I consider the cool, savvy intellectual.   He turned his head and asked, “So, do you like beer?”  I don’t think there was a moment the whole time we were in Việt-nam when a beer didn’t sound good, but I knew Quang was asking more than a simple question.  It had the depth of the lyrics Louis Armstrong so beautifully sang…”I see friends shaking hands, sayin’ ‘How do you do.”  They really sayin’, “I love you.'”

I answered, “I like coffee.”  He turned his head a little more to catch my eye, smiled, and replied, “Me too.”

One of my biggest concerns going to Việt-nam was whether or not to brave the street ice and have a cà phê sữa đá (Việtnamese iced coffee.)  The first few days in Hanọi, it was only cà phê sữa nóng (Việtnamese hot coffee) we dared drink.  That was hardly a sacrifice since they are one of our preferred morning coffees, outside of a perfectly, velvety cappuccino. But for afternoons, all I could do was to gaze longingly at the refreshing Vietnamese iced coffees, and weigh the odds of proper digestion. By day three, I could wait no longer. By now we had braved cooked foods straight off of the street, ate a couple small bowls of phở out of a locals-only place, and had consumed iced water at the hotel. With no signs of ill effects, we were feeling confident. Besides, we hoped, the acidity of the Vietnamese iced coffee should help deal with any issues that may arise.

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Việt-Nam nights come alive

We hit the streets that night, prowling for answers to our cravings. Diane had been salivating over the street corn vendors goods every time we saw her. We sought her out and ordered up some sauteed corn with chili and dried shrimp.  It felt like a drug transaction as we slipped her the money while the police were prowling just across the street.  We scampered away with our goods, and hunted down a non-touristy cafe to grab a table and order up “hai ly cà phê sữa đá” (2 vietnamese iced coffee!).  With cravings in hand, we settled into the warm sauna of Hanọi’s night air and watched the night scene unfold before us.  We looked at each other and smiled, “We’re in Việt-nam!”

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Slow brew in the Vietnamese coffee filter

For those un-initiated to Việtnamese coffees, here’s a brief summary of the more popular offerings:

Cà Phê Sữa Đá (literally – Coffee Milk Ice)  A base of sweetened condensed milk, over which about 2 oz of potent coffeữe is brewed using a individual serving size filter.  The coffee itself is syrupy and strong, similar to an espresso.  Add ice and enjoy.  The combination of the caramel sweetness of the milk, the potent brew of the coffee, and the cool refreshing addition of the ice is heavenly.

Cà Phê Sữa Nóng (Coffee Milk Hot) Same concept as above, except omit the ice and in Việtnam they often warm the whole glass in a cup of hot water.  Again, the taste is heavenly, especially when enjoyed over a casual morning taken in small sips at a time.

Cà Phê Đen (Coffee Black) Just the coffee this time, no sweetened condensed milk.  Not for the weak.

Cà Phê Đen Đá (Coffee Black Ice)  I think you can figure this one out.

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Stir coffee & condensed milk

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Cà Phê Sữa Đá- pour over ice

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Cà Phê Sữa Nóng – At many street side coffee stalls that we visited, our hot Việt coffee was served in a hot water bath.

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Ready to stir and enjoy after the slow drip has finished brewing.  Isn’t it beautiful seeing the layering of the sweetened condensed milk and coffee?

Ca Phe Sua Da Recipe (Iced Vietnamese Coffee)

Yield: 1 Drink

Total Time: 5 Minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 T Coarse Ground Coffee
  • (use a strong roast suitable for espresso, the grind the same as for a french press)

  • 2 T Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Hot Water (almost to a boil)
  • Ice
  • Vietnamese Coffee Filter

Directions:

  1. Pour the 2 T Sweetened Condensed Milk into an 8-10 oz glass.
  2. Remove the top screen from the coffee filter. Put the ground coffee in the filter, screw screen back on, compacting the grounds. Place filter on the glass with the sweetened condensed milk. Pour just enough hot water to cover the grounds and let sit for 30 sec.
  3. Loosen the filter screen screw at least 2 full rotations. Pour hot water to top of filter, cover and let sit until water has gone all the way through filter. (should be @ 5 min. at a rate of 3-4 drips/sec. If it is faster, coffees grind is too coarse. If slower, coffees grind is too fine.)
  4. When water has passed though filter, remove filter from glass. Stir coffee and sweetened condensed milk together. Add ice and enjoy.
  5. (For a quick version, replace the Vietnamese style brewed coffee with a 2oz shot of espresso.)

For a hot version, just omit the ice at the end of the recipe. In Vietnam the hot version will often be served in a cup of hot water to help keep it warm longer.

Recipe Source: WhiteOnRiceCouple.com.

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Recipe Note for Salt: All recipes containing salt are based on kosher or sea salt amounts, not table salt. If using table salt, reduce the amount used to taste.


Previous Viet-Nam posts you might enjoy reading and viewing:

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. ben@automatic espresso machines reviews

    LOVE Vietnamese Iced Coffee. Kind of spoiled out here in San Gabriel Valley where it is very accessible (I say this as I’m drinking one right now). Nice recipe too! If you’re in for a really quick fix, we’ve found Trader Joe’s instant coffee (both regular and decaf) with condensed milk to have a very very close taste to our beloved Cafe Sua Dua. Just throwing that out there. Thanks!

  2. Patrick Nguyen

    Hello,

    Wonderful post and story regarding cafe sua da! I grew up fascinated by coffee but with parents that were sensitive to caffeine I never grew up around it. Even though it was a Vietnamese household! Anyways, I’ve always been searching for the perfect recipe and technique to make the thick coffee that coats the back of your throat with caffeine goodness – that of which I have found only in the back alleys of Saigon.

    In this post it mentions both of your notes –

    http://www.latimes.com/features/printedition/food/la-fo-banhmirec5b-2008nov05,0,2461850.story

    My question is what type of glass or set is the cafe sua da in?

    (http://latimes.image2.trb.com/lanews/media/photo/2008-11/43189663.jpg)

    I have been searching far and wide for a similar piece. Was this shot taken in a restaurant perhaps? Is the piece available for purchase?

    Thank you!

    Patrick Nguyen

  3. Quyen

    I just found your site via Blazing Hot Wok. Love the photos of Vietnam. I know I’ll be checking in with you often!
    I use Cafe Du Monde Coffee for my ca phe sua da. So addictive!

  4. Zoë François

    Addicting indeed! My co-author and I pretty much wrote our first book in a banquet at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. We were fueled on by the coffee and the Pho. We are back there again for the second book.

    I have all of the equipment to make my own, but it never tastes as good. With your tutorial I’ll have my beloved drink at home!

  5. Nan Slaughter

    I just had my first Vietnamese coffee a few weeks ago – it was different than I expected but SO good! In fact, it was so good that I didn’t mind the $3.95 I was charged!! Thanks for your great posts about Vietnam – I’ve read and reread them – the mister is heading there soon, I thought I’d be going with him but he’s going solo – but NEXT time I’m going – I don’t care WHAT he says!

  6. Jen Yu

    Oh, that looks amazing and I don’t even drink coffee! Dare I show this to Jeremy? I have to say though, the coffee you (Todd) made for Jeremy was out of this world, according to the guy. He loved it. This post was particularly delightful – the imagery… You two are so cute. xxoo

  7. White on Rice Couple

    canarygirl – You might be able to find them online. They are usually sold as “Vietnamese Coffee Filter.” I’ve seen them on Amazon, but they were a bit overpriced. If you really want one, email us & we can pick one up for you. Don’t worry about not having chicory coffee either. You can still make a great one with your favorite full-bodied coffee. We use an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and love it.
    Julie – It was so fun how the nights came alive in Vietnam. It seems like everyone came out to walk, eat, cruise on the scooters, etc.. One of our favorite times of day while we were there.
    Lori Lynn – In the afternoons we were frequently double fisting. Ca phe in one hand, beer in the other!
    sweetbird – Hope he loves them as much as we do. Tasty, tasty, tasty.

  8. sweetbird

    These look outstanding. My husbands love of all things coffee means I’ll definitely be trying these out.

  9. Lori Lynn

    Oh that layering is so neat.
    I love drinking coffee like the locals while traveling. It helps me immerse in the culture first thing in the morning. By the afternoon, I ‘d be enjoying the beer however. haha

  10. Julie

    I love that picture of the night scene in Hanoi — so atmospheric, as is your description of the “warm sauna of Hanoi’s night air.”

    Cà Phê Sữa Đá is my favorite way to drink coffee. It’s wonderful stuff.

  11. canarygirl

    Vietnamese coffee is my favorite! It kicks the ass of any expresso I have ever met. I have been searching high and low for the brewer thingie, and cannot for the life of me find one. :( Besides, I don’t think we have chicory coffee here, either. Have one for me, ok? :)

  12. White on Rice Couple

    Dani – Good things spread far and wide. Hard to imagine a day without a tasty ca phe.
    Kitt – Beer can also be the perfect beverage at times. It just isn’t a daily requirement 😉
    sharon – Isn’t it great how food and beverages are so closely linked to our memories and emotions.
    Marc @ NoRecipes – We’ve converted many a “non-coffee drinker” with these nummy brews. That’s part of why we always feel obligated in warning about their addicting potential.
    noobcook – Be careful. You may be forever hooked!
    Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy – We actually had both. What can we say… It was muggy.
    chefectomy – Despite all of the warnings, I don’t think we could have resisted even if we really wanted to. That’s why we got prescription intestinal meds, just in case. We went to Vietnam to eat & drink!
    Christie@Fig&Cherry – Just wait until you try it! Soooo good. Call us the ca phe pimps.
    maybelles mom – Nearly every Vietnamese in the community here warned us not too. Several of the girls at the nail shop have gotten sick going back. I’m glad we were too bullheaded to listen to them. It wouldn’t have been a complete trip without ca phe sua da. We had them everyday, once we crossed the “no ice” warnings.
    RecipeGirl – It’s worth being done in by! 😉
    mikky – Three words why, “Tasty, tasty, tasty!”
    Rita – We puffed out so much on that trip. Our toes were starting to look like sausages!
    evil chef mom – A little won’t hurt her. Go on. Oops, are we being bad influences again. Corrupting the youth. At the internet cafes in Vietnam, we would see 8-10 year olds smoking and drinking coffee at 8 in the morning. Crazy. Even that was over the top for us.
    Passionate Eater – Another joy to the palate that shouldn’t be forgotten. Regular doses recommended!
    Chez Us – Dust ’em off and fill them up. Ca phe time!
    Helene – Hopefully our sharing will be inspirations for others to explore as well. Thanks for the compliments.
    Tony – we are always up for another trip. We just have to save up. Damn fuel costs keep bumping up the airfares.
    Simply…Gluten-Free – We’ll find a way to sneak you. We’d love to have you as our travel buddy.
    Alex – I think they’ve developed these drinks to contend with all of their spicy chilies. Need something to put out the flames.
    alexandra’s kitchen – At home we were getting lazy about making them, and were just using espresso. But after coming home from Vietnam, we savor that slow drip and relaxed time of brewing it in the filters. Makes you take the time to “stop and smell the coffee, I mean roses”

  13. alexandra's kitchen

    I haven’t had one of these in ages. my favorite part about drinking Vietnamese coffee is pouring it through that gadget/filter that sits on top of the cups. I love hearing about all of your adventures.

  14. Alex

    Great post. I had something similar whilst in Thailand this summer. Wonderful blog

  15. Simply...Gluten-free

    For me coffee always trumps beer. I love reading these posts! They are fabulous and I can barely wait for my next fix. Next time you go I am sneaking onto the plane with you – :)

  16. Tony

    I’m going to need some of that coffee in the morning. It’s 2:30am and I still have so much left to do before going to bed…. better yet, I need a vacation… are you guys up for another trip to Viet-Nam?? :)

  17. Hélène

    I’m just so jalous of your trip. I like to read about it. You write so well.

  18. Chez us

    reminds me that we have a couple of those in the cabinet along with some condensed milk … hmmm, may be time to break it out!

  19. Passionate Eater

    Sigh, that is so stunning. Vietnamese coffee is unrivaled, thanks for reminding me to make myself a cup soon.

  20. evil chef mom

    nancy wanted to let you guys know that she really thinks the coffee looks good and could i make it for her? you are responsible if i have a ten year old coffee addict! seriously for the last 2 hours she’s been bugging me for this.

  21. Rita

    I love the Vietnamese Coffee…. Sweet Condensed milk is very popular in Brazil, like a pantry staple, really. And I love coffee, as most Brazilians, but I had never saw the two together back home. When I first saw and tried it in Canada at at Vietnamese Restaurant, it was like a dream! Two of my favourite things together!
    I am glad you overcame your “street ice-fear”…you what they say, if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you fatter, hahaha!

  22. mikky

    they sure are gaining popularity… :)

  23. RecipeGirl

    They sure look good, but the caffeine might do me in!!

  24. maybelles mom

    Oh, I would have had the same reservations about ice coffee (as I love it so) and I would have broken too. looks delicious.

  25. Christie@fig&cherry

    Great shots! I never knew iced coffee could look so seductive 😉

  26. chefectomy

    Your initial retience to having iced coffee had me somewhat gripped. Glad to see you came through in the end…and great photos!

  27. Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy

    I’d have chosen that coffee over the beer too! I love it!

  28. noobcook

    I don’t drink coffee…. but your post makes me want a Vietnamese coffee so badly right now =D

  29. Marc @ NoRecipes

    Mmmm I love these things. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but you put one of these in front of me and I’ll make it disappear.

  30. sharon

    For me, its quite a toss up between Bia Hoi and an iced coffee! I grew up sneaking sips of my dad’s “coffee milk ice” and having my parents wonder if I’d ever go to sleep that night. Bia Hoi reminds me of visiting my now husband in Vietnam while he was traveling. Ahh, both bring back good memories! :)

  31. Kitt

    Oh my. Want some iced coffee now. It’s way better than beer!

  32. Dani

    Good essay! I’ve found a source of Vietnamese coffee here in The Middle, so have a good cuppa every morning. Civilization out here in the outback of America. 😉

    Dani
    http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com

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