Is Vietnamese Coffee The Same As Espresso? Differences and Similarities


Vietnamese Coffee Vs. Espresso header image

Vietnamese coffee has a strong taste and high caffeine content. So it’s easy to think it’s the same thing as espresso. Are they the same? What are the differences and similarities?

Espresso and Vietnamese coffee are not the same type of coffee. While both are strong tasting and high in caffeine content, the brew method and type of beans are quite different. Espresso is made with finely ground Arabica under high pressure. Vietnamese coffee is made with Robusta in a drip filter.

For a more in-depth explanation of all those factors, keep reading.


Differences Between Vietnamese Coffee And Espresso

Let’s just start with the obvious; Vietnamese coffee is not the same as espresso and Vietnamese iced coffee with milk isn’t traditionally made with espresso.

There are a lot of differences between traditional Vietnamese coffee and espresso. Besides the different geographic origins, there are quite a few things that make them completely different. Let’s take a look at what the differences are.


Coffee type

The first difference is the type of coffee that’s used. Vietnamese coffee is made up of Robusta (sometimes blended with some Arabica), while espresso is mainly Arabica beans blended with some Robusta.

Those two types of beans have a very different flavor profile which creates a different tasting coffee already. Even though both types of coffee are often blended, the blends of beans is inverted in both types of coffee.

Robusta has a much darker taste with more bitterness and less acidity. There tend to be some negative tastes in Robusta most people are not a fan of. That’s why Robusta is usually roasted very dark which removes the bad notes but adds bitterness. This is a big factor that contributes in the thick, bitter taste of Vietnamese coffee.

What’s similar is the dark roast. Dark roasted beans are more porous and therefore easier to extract. The higher extraction means you have more soluble material in your coffee which makes it thicker and almost syrupy.

Looking for good Robusta from Vietnam? Click here to buy them fresh on Amazon.


Grind

Besides the type of beans and the roast, the way the beans are ground is also quite different.

Espresso is one of the finest grinds you can find where the grind for Vietnamese coffee is definitely coarser. If you have the coffee grounds side by side this will be one of the biggest differences. Coffee ground for a Phin will be medium or medium-fine while espresso is ground finely, almost like flour.

The reason for this difference in grind size is the brewing method. The grind sizes are suitable for the different ways the different types of coffee are brewed.

An espresso machine pushes the water through the coffee grounds at high pressure. The bed of coffee has to produce some resistance so the water doesn’t all shoot out because of the pressure. In a Phin, gravity is doing the job of pushing water through the coffee grounds. Gravity obviously doesn’t produce the pressures of an espresso machine so the bed of coffee shouldn’t have as much resistance. If you would put medium coffee grounds in an espresso machine, the coffee would flow way too fast and if you put finely ground coffee in a Phin, it’ll drip way too slow.


Brewing method

The brewing methods for Vietnamese coffee and espresso couldn’t be further apart. An espresso machine is a pretty complicated piece of equipment that costs at least $100 and can cost up to thousands of dollars. An espresso machine works under very high pressure. The hot water is pushed through the coffee grounds.

A Vietnamese coffee filter (called a Phin), is a very simple item that consists of a few pieces of metal. That cost about a dollar. No electricity or maintenance needed. You just wash it when you do the dished and you’re good. Instead of pressure, gravity does its thing. You put hot water in the filter and wait until it’s dripped through. Where espresso is one of the more complicated coffee styles to brew, Vietnamese coffee is one of the simpler ones.

The high pressure of an espresso machine, extracts the fine coffee grounds very quickly. A shot of espresso only takes about 30 seconds to pull. A phin needs much more time to extract a similar amount of grounds. If takes up to 6 minutes for all the water to drip through. Those differences result in different tastes even if you’d use exactly the same beans.

Want to try out Phin coffee? They’re cheap on Amazon, click here to find a good one.


Cup

It’s a small thing but the cup it’s served in is quite different as well. While that doesn’t make a difference in taste or brewing method, the cup does make a difference in drinking experience.

Espresso is traditionally served in a smaller version of the quintessential coffee cup. You can probably see it in your mind just from seeing “coffee cup”.

Vietnamese coffee is almost always served in a glass. A long drink glass for iced coffee with milk and a short glass for hot. It’s a small difference but, it does make a difference in experience when drinking it.

The amount of actual coffee is quite similar between espresso and Vietnamese coffee. A shot of espresso is about 28 ml but most people drink double espressos which means about 56 ml. Vietnamese coffee differs a little but it tends to be 40-60 ml so the size is quite similar.


Taste

There are differences and similarities in the tastes. The similarities are described below so let’s take a look at the differences here.

Big and bold tastes are found in both types of coffee. The brewing process and type of beans do bring some differences. Espresso tends to be slightly more bitter and acidic but with a ‘wider’ flavor profile. Vietnamese coffee is often very smoothed out in the roasting process but loses some depth of taste in that process.

Vietnamese coffee is thick and strong but espresso takes it up another notch. (Good) espresso also has a wider range of flavors in one cup. It tends to be a bit thicker as well.

Suggested post: Why does Vietnamese coffee taste like coffee?

Besides taste, espresso has a little foam (crema) on top. This is a result of the brewing method. Vietnamese coffee doesn’t have this.


Similarities Between Vietnamese Coffee And Espresso

While there are lots of differences between Vietnamese coffee and espresso, you could be forgiven to think they are similar at first sight.


Amount

Both types of coffee are served in pretty small quantities. Both types are pretty strong in both taste and caffeine content. That’s one of the biggest reasons why they’re compared and confused.

So, both those characteristics mean that they’re served in smaller quantities. Usually espresso will be served in even smaller amounts than Vietnamese coffees. A double espresso is roughly the same amount of liquid you’d get in a cup of Vietnamese coffee.

It’s just the quantity that people can handle. Something strong tasting can be great but usually you don’t eat or drink huge quantities of it. And it’s the same with caffeine. There is only so much caffeine people can comfortably handle although you can get used to higher doses.


Taste

Should the taste be a difference or similarity? You could argue both and that’s why I’ve listed it under both. While there certainly are differences in taste between espresso and Vietnamese coffee, there are also some similarities.

The biggest similarities are a really big, strong taste. Sure, there are differences in flavor profile but the punch in the tongue strength coffee taste is comparable. This makes them suitable for doing similar things in the way of using them for other recipes and mixing with other drinks.

Suggested post: 12 Amazing Tastes to MIx With Your Cold Brew


Caffeine

Another reason that makes people wonder, is the caffeine content. Both types have relatively high caffeine content per milliliter. Because the serving size is smaller, the actual caffeine content per cup might be the same or even a little bit lower than the a mug of drip coffee.

Technically Vietnamese coffee is drip coffee but, since Vietnamese coffee is made with mostly Robusta beans the caffeine is more concentrated. Robusta beans have almost double the caffeine content so that makes the drip coffee made with them much stronger as well.

Suggested post: Why is Vietnamese coffee so strong?


Can You Make Vietnamese Iced Coffee With Milk Using Espresso?

This is probably where most of the confusion between Vietnamese coffee and espresso comes from. Many recipes for Vietnamese coffee call for mixing espresso with condensed milk.

So it seems to be word confusion. Most people think Vietnamese coffee is strong coffee mixed with condensed milk and ice. And Espresso fits perfectly in the “strong coffee” category.

However, Vietnamese coffee is just coffee made in Vietnam with Local beans and the traditional brewing method.

But, if what you want to make is Vietnamese style iced coffee with condensed milk, espresso will actually work fine. The condensed milk and ice will cover up a lot of the taste differences so if you’ve got an espresso machine but no Phin, it’s a good substitute. There will be some slight differences in taste but it won’t be too much and most will be covered up by the the condensed milk.

One final reason why espresso is a good substitute is the consistency.  If you’ve ever had Ca Phe Sua Da in Vietnam (iced coffee with milk), you will have noticed that it is very thick. Part of that is just the condensed milk but there are also differences in the brewing that can cause this. Since espresso is one of the thicker feeling coffees, it’s actually a good match.

Suggested post: Why is Vietnamese coffee so thick?


Can You Make Vietnamese Coffee In An Espresso Machine?

It’s not a good idea to try to use pre ground Vietnamese coffee in an espresso machine. The grind is much coarser than standard espresso coffee which won’t make the machine very happy.

What about grinding a Vietnamese coffee blend to espresso powder and using that? Yeah, that’s fine. Your coffee machine doesn’t care where your beans come from.

The result will be a very strong tasting espresso with even higher caffeine content. If you want to have an even bigger kick from your espresso that’s a good way to go. The taste might be a bit harsher though. This makes it even better to mix with condensed milk.

Favorite Vietnamese Coffee Products

To make Vietnamese coffee you don’t need many things so makes sure the things you use are correct!

Vietnamese Coffee: Get your traditional coffee from Nguyen coffee supply. It’s freshly roasted in the USA so it’s much fresher than imported bags. The used beans are 100% Vietnamese. Here’s a combo pack (Amazon) to see what you like best.

Phin: The only way to brew Vietnamese coffee is with a Phin. This one (amazon link) works well is cheap and reusable.

Scale: Even though a Phin isn’t super picky with weights, to brew and adjust your cups to be consistently delicious, a simple scale helps tremendously. I’ve been using this one (Amazon link) for over a year and while it’s not the most aesthetic, it works well.

Condensed milk: To make the delicious ca phe sua da, you need condensed milk. This one (Amazon link) is organic and works perfectly.

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