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.
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!”
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.
Stir coffee & condensed milk
Cà Phê Sữa Đá- pour over ice
Cà Phê Sữa Nóng – At many street side coffee stalls that we visited, our hot Việt coffee was served in a hot water bath.
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
- 1 1/2 T Coarse Ground Coffee
- 2 T Sweetened Condensed Milk
- Hot Water (almost to a boil)
- Vietnamese Coffee Filter
(use a strong roast suitable for espresso, the grind the same as for a french press)
- Pour the 2 T Sweetened Condensed Milk into an 8-10 oz glass.
- 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.
- 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.)
- When water has passed though filter, remove filter from glass. Stir coffee and sweetened condensed milk together. Add ice and enjoy.
- (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.
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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:
- Heading to Viet-Nam & Twitters
- Return from Viet-Nam, fresh perspectives
- An American in the family
- Pineapple peddler in Hanoi
- When Oranges are Green
- The Face – elderly woman in Hoi An