How to Make Vietnamese Coffee Without a Filter

Want to recreate that delightful Vietnamese coffee at home? The first thing you’ll read everywhere is that you need to do a Phin to get the real thing. Is there an alternative? Here’s what you can do.

If you don’t have a Vietnamese filter (Phin), the best option is to use a French press with 25 grams of coffee and 70-80 ml of water. Brew for four minutes before pushing the plunger down. This way the coffee will be very strong like from a Phin.

Why a French press is the best option and how to go about making Ca Phe Sua Da, keep reading.

How to Make Vietnamese Coffee Without a Phin?

1. Use a French press

The closest you’re going to get to Vietnamese coffee in taste is by using a French press. With a French press, you can use a similar grind and brew time. The taste is dependent on using the correct coffee of course. A big part of the distinctive taste of Vietnamese coffee comes from the beans and roast.

Find out more about why Vietnamese beans taste different in this post (click).

A French press is not a drip method but there are some similarities to a Vietnamese filter. The biggest similarity is the grind size. In a Phin, the best grind size is medium-coarse, while in a French press, you are supposed to use coarse although you could use medium-coarse as well.

The brew time is also quite similar. In a French press, you have to let the coffee brew for about four minutes. In a Phin, the brew time is around 6 minutes but that is a drip filter.

What’s the best water temperature for brewing Vietnamese coffee? Find out here.

There are some differences as well of course. For normal coffee in a French press, you use a ratio of 1:10 (coffee to water in grams). However, in a Phin, you use a ratio of 1:2 to 1:2.5. For a single cup you use 25 grams of grounds for 50-60 ml of water (about 20 ml to let the grounds bloom). Yes, coffee from a Phin is very strong.

So to recreate that authentic strong Vietnamese coffee, it’s a good idea to follow the same ratio. For brewing a single cup of Vietnamese coffee in a French press, use 25 grams of coffee grounds for 70 to 80 ml of water. The extra 20 ml compared to a Phin is because you’d let the coffee bloom in a Phin but not in a French press. The extra liquid stays in the coffee grounds.

Let it brew for about four and a half minutes and then press down and pour into a cup immediately after that. You’re looking for an amount of liquid similar to a double espresso.

It should be really strong and slightly thick when you drink it.

This is the closest you’re going to get to Phin coffee without a Phin. After you’ve brewed the black coffee, you can add other things like ice and condensed milk.

2. Just get a Phin

Of course, you could just get a Vietnamese filter. They are cheap and simple to get on Amazon. That will complete the experience. If you don’t have a French press, you’ll have to buy something anyway.

If you want to know more about what a Phin is exactly and how to use it, read this post. It’ll tell you everything you want to know.

A Phin is cheaper than a French press so unless you’ve got one already, just getting a Phin is a good option for making Vietnamese coffee. You can also experiment with different beans and roasts when you run out of Vietnamese coffee beans. You might be surprised by the difference in taste. If you like a very strong brew, a Phin is actually a good, simple tool that does this.

On the other hand, a French press is a bit more versatile but also more expensive. If you like coffee and are interested in it, a Phin is a nice gadget to have anyway.

3. Espresso

Don’t have a French press and don’t want to buy anything? You could use an espresso machine. Since Black Vietnamese coffee is similar in strength to an espresso, that’s not the worst way to do it.

If you’ve got Vietnamese coffee beans, just make sure to grind them fine enough for the machine. The Phin grind won’t work. Espresso grounds are much finer. Putting the standard medium-course ground coffee in an espresso machine will likely leave you with a very weak cup.

The taste will be different since the brewing methods are very different. If you’re going to drink it black without anything, don’t expect it to taste like Vietnamese coffee.

Espresso vs. Vietnamese coffee. What’s the difference?

However, if you’re going to make Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk, espresso is a decent substitute. Because you’re going to put condensed milk in it, you’ll need a strong taste to balance out all the sweetness and creaminess. Espresso is good for this.

As said above, the amount of coffee you brew with a Phin is close to a double espresso. Since most machines have a button to double up anyway, it’s easy to get the right amount.

Get the other things right

You might not have a Phin to get the complete experience but that’s not the only part of Vietnamese coffee culture.  If you use another way of making Vietnamese coffee than a Phin, at least make sure to get the other parts of the experience right.

  • Get the right coffee. The beans and roast make a huge difference in taste. If you can’t get any beans from Vietnam, check out French market or Café du Monde. They are replacements often used in the US.
  • You can buy some Vietnamese coffee online. Find the best brands here.
  • Take your time. Vietnamese coffee is enjoyed slowly and usually in a social setting.
  • Serve in a glass. It’s the traditional way to do it. A mug is way too big. A small espresso cup could work if you drink it black but it’s not quite the same.
  • Add ice. Vietnam is hot. Iced coffee is almost standard. If you don’t order your coffee specifically hot, you get ice.
  • Add two or three tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk. This creates a thick, sweet, cold and thick drink that also has quite a bit of caffeine. What else do you want?

Making Ca Phe Sua Da with a French press

Cà phê sữa đá is Vietnamese for iced coffee with condensed milk;

  • Cà phê = Coffee
  • sữa = Milk
  • đá = Ice

Fresh milk is almost never used so the milk in this combination will always be sweetened condensed milk. I’ve you’ve ever visited a Vietnamese coffee shop, you might have noticed this is one of the most popular drinks.

How can you recreate this for yourself with a French press? It’s easy.

To make the coffee;

  • Weigh out 25 grams of Vietnamese coffee.
  • Grind to medium coarse or coarse.
  • Put it in the French press
  • Add 50 to 60 ml of hot water.
  • Wait 4 minutes
  • Press the plunger
  • Pour in a glass if you want to drink it black, otherwise read on.

Turn it into Cà phê sữa đá;

  • Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of condensed milk to a glass.
  • Pour the coffee over it.
  • Mix well
  • Take a tall glass
  • Fill the glass with ice
  • Pour the coffee and milk mixture over it

It’s much easier to mix the coffee and milk in a separate glass before pouring it over ice. Trying to mix it while the ice is already in the cup tends to make a mess and it makes it more difficult to mix well.


Welcome to CoffeeImproved! Since falling in love with coffee, I've been on a journey to improve my morning cup day by day. That means I've tried many different brew methods, beans and equipment and experimented with all of them to find what I like. This is where I share what I've learned with you.

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