What Is a Vietnamese Phin And How Do You Use It?


What is A Phin article header

You might have read or heard the word Phin in relation to Vietnamese coffee . What is a Phin and how can you use it correctly to recreate that distinctive tasting Vietnamese coffee at home?

Phin is the Vietnamese word for the traditional Vietnamese filter. It consists of four different parts that all play their role in the brewing process. The bottom of the filter is perforated to let the brew but not the coffee grounds through.

There are some things to know and tips to follow to use a Phin correctly. Keep reading to find out if you want to make the best Vietnamese coffee at home.


What is a Phin?

A Phin is the Vietnamese word for the traditional Vietnamese coffee filter. It’s a simple metal filter that works plays a part in the distinctive taste of traditional Vietnamese coffee. They’re almost always made from metal (aluminum or stainless) although ceramic filters also exist.

With a Phin, there is no need for a paper filter or any other machine to make coffee. The water can pass through the perforated bottom of the filter cup and dish. The coffee is ground relatively coarse so it can’t pass through the same holes.

Most Phin are for a single cup of coffee. You just put them on top of your cup and wait. There are also bigger versions that are sometimes used in coffee shops so they can make bigger batches in one go.

A Phin consists of four different parts.

  • Dish
  • Filter cup
  • Strainer
  • Lid

Lid

Starting at the top, we have the lid of the filter. This covers the top of the filter.

There are two used to the lid. The first is to cover the filter so nothing gets into it while brewing the coffee.

The second use is to provide a little dish you can put the filter on after brewing. This helps you to keep the table clean.

Strainer

Next is the little strainer that goes into the filter cup. You put this on top of the coffee before you pour in any water. This strainer helps you keep the coffee on the bottom of the filter.

Without this little strainer, the coffee grounds will move when you pour water on it. This will cause a hole in the bed of coffee grounds. This hole is the easiest way for the water to get through. That will mean the brew time is shorter and the water doesn’t pass through all the coffee which makes you lose taste.

The strainer also helps you compact the coffee in the filter evenly.

Filter cup

The biggest and most important part of a Vietnamese filter is the filter cup. This is where the coffee and water goes. The top of the cup is open like a normal cup. The bottom of the cup is perforated. The holes are small enough to let the brew pass through but not big enough to let the coffee grounds out.

This is why you don’t need any other paper filter or something similar. If the coffee is ground to the right size, nothing (or very little) will end up in your cup.

Dish

The bottom part of the Phin is the dish. The filter cup, slots into the hole in the middle of the dish. The hole is once again perforated to let the brew through. The dish is necessary to make the filter stay on top of the cup.

The rim of the dish is what rests on top of the rim of the cup. The indentation for the filter fits completely in the cup. This helps prevent a mess of coffee running out of the sides.

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Those are the different parts of the Vietnamese coffee filter. But how can you use it correctly? Keep reading to find out.


How to use a Phin

Now you know what a Phin is and why it is still so popular, here’s how you can use one to de-stress your own coffee drinking routine and recreate that relaxed Vietnamese coffee experience.

While it’s not a very difficult piece of equipment to use, there are some things you should know and steps you should follow to get the best results.

Here’s how you brew authentic Vietnamese coffee in a Phin;


1.     Get Vietnamese Coffee

This seems like an obvious step but it does make a big difference in the final taste and feel of your drink. Vietnamese coffee is a bit different than the coffees in most other countries.

Vietnamese coffee tends to have a much higher percentage of Robusta beans than coffees in other countries. This and the roasting methods contribute to the distinctive taste of Vietnamese coffee.

Of course you can use other types of coffee beans in a Phin, as long as the grind size is right, the taste just won’t be quite the same.

Find the 5 most famous Vietnamese coffee brands here


2.     Weigh out 25 grams of coffee

It’s important to get the right amount of coffee in your Phin. The bed of coffee has to be thick enough to get the right brew time. 25 grams of coffee grounds is what gets you the right ratio of coffee to water. It also helps you to have a brew time that’s long enough.

There are small differences in Phin size and shapes. With filters that taper slightly at the bottom you could get away with about 20 grams since the taper means you still have the thickness of the coffee bed.

If you have ground coffee and don’t want to weigh on a scale; With three heaping table spoons you get really close to 25 grams.


3.     Put coffee in filter

After weighing and grinding the coffee, put it in the cup of the filter. It’s very simple and there is nothing fancy here. Don’t put any paper filter inside the metal cup or anywhere.

The tiny holes in the cup and dish of the filter should keep any grounds out of your cup if you get the grind size right. That’s why you shouldn’t use a fine grind for a Phin. If the grounds are too fine, it will go through the holes and end up in your cup.


4.     Compress coffee

Here is an important step: you have to properly compress the coffee once it’s in the filter.

Shake the filter a little so the grounds are evenly distributed. Then put the little strainer on top. Push down to compress the coffee a little. You want to go about 50% from loose to fully compacted. Don’t push too hard to the point where all the air is out. That might cause the liquid to not go through. If it’s too loose, the water can go through too quickly.

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5.     Put filter on cup

Simply put the complete filter, except the lid, on the cup. Don’t add the water before you do this. If you add the water too early, you might make a mess.

The best container for Vietnamese coffee is a simple round glass. A mug is way too big for the amount of coffee you’re going to make and a glass lets you keep an eye on the progress.

If you’re going to make iced coffee with milk, that fits better in a long drink glass. However, the filter doesn’t fit on a long drink glass and you don’t want the ice to melt while still brewing the coffee.

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So in that case, you use two different glasses. One lower glass to collect the coffee and mix it with condensed milk. And then put ice in a long drink glass and pour the mixture over the ice.


6.     Let coffee bloom

Now you’re ready to start the actual brewing process. It’s a good idea to let the coffee bloom first. Just pour a little bit of water (15-20 ml) into the Phin. It should be little enough for the coffee grounds to absorb the moisture without any liquid dropping into the glass.

Wait 20 to 30 seconds for the liquid to be absorbed.

Especially with freshly ground beans, the coffee tends to expand a bit. That’s fine. Just leave it alone. The strainer on top is there to keep everything in the right place.


7.     Add water

Now, add about 60 milliliters of water. No, this isn’t much. The end result will be more like a double espresso than a full mug and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

You’re probably not going to measure 60 ml of water so just fill the filter up to about 1.5-2 cm under the upper edge of the filter.

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Of course if you want more or less coffee, you can choose to put in more or less liquid. If you put in more water it’ll be a little less strong in the end.


8.     Wait

Now you have to wait. It should take at least three minutes for the filter to stop dripping. Three minutes is still on the short end for brew time in a Phin. Up to 6 minutes is normal and longer than that isn’t a big problem or even uncommon.

As long as the coffee is running through the filter it’s OK. It shouldn’t take 20 minutes but it can take a while. If there is no liquid coming through at all, you might have an issue.


9.     Take the filter off the cup

When the coffee stops dripping, it’s time to take the filter off the cup. If you don’t, you can’t really drink anything.

First, take the lid off the filter. Put the lid upside down on the table. Then you can put the filter on the lid. This way the lid will catch any liquid that could still come out of the Phin. This way you don’t make a mess.

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10.  Troubleshooting

The most common reasons why the liquid isn’t coming through are;

  • Vacuum
  • Grind size
  • Compressed too hard

Usually there is a vacuum somewhere in the filter. Often the lid is sealing too well and there is no way for air to get into the filter. That means the water can’t leave the filter. Just lift the lid and you’ll feel some suction. Leave the lid off or put it on in a way that leaves a gap.

There can also be a problem between the filter cup and dish. Again, just lift it up and usually it’ll resolve itself.

If those things don’t help there can be two other reasons. If the coffee is ground too small, it will clog the holes in the filter. There is no way to save this. You have to wash the filter and try again.

Very rarely is the coffee compressed too much. It can happen but it’s rare. You can try to remove the strainer and stir in the grounds a little bit. Other than that, compress the grounds a little less strongly next time.

Finally, you can have the coffee spilling over the dish without getting into the cup. If this is the case, try rubbing the underside of the dish. This might clear whatever is blocking the holes and pull the coffee through. Just make sure the coffee lands in the cup once it starts flowing.


Vietnamese Coffee Culture and the Phin

Coffee plays a big role in Vietnamese culture. Coffee shops are everywhere in the country. Some are very cheap and simple while some in the big cities are very luxurious and expensive. But, there is one piece of equipment they all share: the Phin.

Although lately the big coffee machines that produce espresso and cappuccino are gaining in popularity, 99% of coffeeshops will also have Phin Coffee available.

It’s a very inexpensive piece of equipment and it creates the type of coffee most people know and love. But taste is not the only reason why the Phin has survived for so long in Vietnam.

As said, coffee and coffee shops play a big role in the culture. Coffee is not the caffeine delivery system in the office it is in most western countries. Going to a coffee shop is a common activity and a place to relax and meet your friends.

Phin coffee takes a while to brew. The coffee slowly drips into the glass and it forces you to wait, relax, talk to your friends, etc. It’s almost like a ritual. Anyways, you can see how the Phin fits into the Vietnamese coffee culture very well which is why it’s still around.


Does a Phin need a paper filter? No the Vietnamese Phin only needs the metal parts. The grind size of the coffee should be big enough so the granules can’t pass through the perforated bottom. If you have grounds in the coffee, adjust the size of the grind. Don’t add any extra filters.

Is a Vietnamese Coffee filter difficult to use? A Vietnamese coffee filter isn’t difficult to use but there are a few things to be aware of like coffee to water ratio, grind size and how much you compress the coffee. It does require a bit more practice than pushing a button on an automatic coffee maker.

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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