What makes Vietnamese coffee so special and why is it so different from the coffee you’re used to? Here are the biggest reasons why it’s different.
Vietnamese coffee is stronger, bolder, and thicker than normal drip coffee. The brew method is the main reason for this. The beans, roast, grind size, brew time, and serving style all have an impact on the final taste. Vietnamese coffee tends to have a bolder taste but lacks brightness.
Below I’ll go into what the differences are and where they come from in detail.
Difference Between Vietnamese and Regular Coffee
Below this chapter, we’ll go into the details but here is a summary of the differences between Vietnamese and regular coffee. For most people, regular coffee means drip-filter coffee.
Vietnamese coffee is thicker, stronger, and more bitter than drip coffee. The key differences between the two are in the beans and brew methods. Regular coffee uses a filter cone and a paper filter which leads to a clean cup. Often it’s brewed with light to medium-dark Arabica beans and drunk in larger amounts.
Vietnamese coffee is brewed in a metal filter with dark roasted Robusta beans that are quite finely ground. The beans sometimes have flavoring added in during or after the roasting process. It’s drank in much smaller amounts, a normal serving is 2-3 oz.60-90 ml. Vietnamese coffee is sometimes drunk black but much more popular with condensed milk.
What is Vietnamese coffee?
Let’s quickly see what I mean by ‘Vietnamese’ and ‘normal’ coffee before comparing the two types.
Vietnamese coffee is coffee made with beans from Vietnam and brewed in the traditional way. Usually, the beans are grown in the country and roasted in a way that compliments the taste.
Vietnamese coffee is often served over ice and with condensed milk but that’s not always the case. Milk and ice are additions that do make a difference but the coffee itself has plenty of differences compared to ‘normal’ coffee as well.
What is normal coffee?
Normal coffee isn’t really a single thing. Everyone likes to make their coffee in a different way. And in different places around the world coffee-making methods are different. Beans are different and ways of drinking are different.
However, for a large group of people reading this, you probably have an image in your mind of what ‘normal coffee’ is.
For most people, it means coffee that you put in a big mug. It’s usually brewed in a simple coffee machine or with a paper filter. You can add some sugar or milk if you want. You can make this type of coffee in bigger batches and the coffee pot you use has enough space for quite a few cups.
While for coffee aficionados there might not be a ‘normal coffee’, normal people probably have drip coffee from a paper filter in mind. That’s what I’ll be comparing Vietnamese coffee to.
What is the difference between Vietnamese and drip coffee?
So what’s the difference between Vietnamese coffee and drip coffee in a paper filter? Because just looking at the parts, they seem to be pretty similar: Hot water, coffee grounds, filter, cup. There are quite a few aspects where the two types are different though.
The most obvious and visible difference is the brewing method of the two types.
While both brewing methods use gravity to let the water make its way through the coffee and filter, that’s about where the differences stop.
One uses a paper filter while the other uses a metal filter. That doesn’t seem like a huge difference but it has a bigger impact than you might think.
A Phin is a traditional Vietnamese coffee filter. It’s a very simple piece of aluminum or stainless steel. Well, actually it’s made up of four pieces. Find out more about the Phin in this post. It’ll go into the details of what it is and how to use it.
In most other countries, drip coffee is made with a paper filter. That paper filter can go in an automatic coffee maker or conical filter holder of many varieties. The paper filter can’t be reused and will is thrown away after use.
A paper filter can leave some traces of taste in the coffee although a good paper filter won’t. The holes in a paper filter are much smaller than in a Phin. This means you can use finer grinds without grounds getting into your cup. More on that later.
Most coffee beans in the world are of the Arabica type. The biggest producer of Arabica beans is Brazil and other South American countries to a lesser degree. The coffee in Western countries is largely made up of Arabica beans from South America and some from Africa. Robusta beans are blended in for a variety of reasons like price and taste.
Vietnam is actually the second-largest coffee-producing country after Brazil. However, the produced beans are mostly the Robusta type. Robusta is generally seen as a lower quality, worse-tasting coffee bean. For that reason, Vietnamese coffee isn’t really well-known around the world. The beans just end up blended with Arabica beans which get the spotlight.
It does have as a result that the coffee beans that are consumed in Vietnam are largely Robusta beans. The different flavor profile of those beans is one of the biggest reasons for the distinctive taste of Vietnamese coffee.
Not only the type of beans has an effect on the taste of the coffee though. Also, just the geographical location is important. Coffee that’s grown in South America has different characteristics from coffee grown in Africa which is different again from Asian coffee.
Vietnamese coffee is usually roasted very dark. French roast is normal for Vietnamese coffee. For paper filters, people use a wider variety of roasts and they tend to be lighter than French roast. The darker a coffee bean is roasted, the more acidity and original tastes you remove. For most Robusta, those tastes aren’t all that good so roasting darker makes sense. Darker roasted beans add more bitterness and body.
Also, because Vietnamese coffee mainly consists of Robusta beans, roasters often add some things to balance out the taste. Things like butter, cacao, and sugar are often added during the roasting process to get a more balanced taste. the additives help the balance of taste.
Even though Vietnam is growing more Arabica nowadays, Robusta is still popular and people actually like the roast with additions. It’s become the taste people associate with coffee which is why roasters keep adding these tastes.
Because a paper filter has much smaller holes than a Phin, you can use much finer ground coffee.
A Vietnamese filter has relatively large holes in the bottom compared to a paper filter. Nobody likes coffee grounds in their cup. So that’s why the coffee grounds in a Vietnamese filter have to be coarser. That way they can’t get through the holes. It does mean you need a longer brew time to fully extract the grounds since the surface area per gram of coffee is lower. More on brew time below.
Since paper filters have smaller holes you can use finer ground coffee without getting in your cup. That also means the water can be moved through a filter since there is more surface area per gram of coffee. More surface area allows the grounds to be extracted quicker.
Because of the brewing method and grind size, the brew time is different as well. Water runs through a paper filter much faster than through a Phin or at least it should. Brewing a cup of coffee with a Phin takes 3-6 minutes if you get it right.
With a paper filter, the brew time can be 3-4 minutes as well, however, that will create much more coffee in the end.
Vietnamese coffee runs much less water through the filter in 4 minutes than a paper filter allows. That means Vietnamese coffee is much more concentrated in the end. You end up with something that’s closer to a double espresso than a full mug like you do with paper filter coffee.
That slower rate of dripping is also necessary because the grind size in a Phin is coarser. That means it takes more time to fully extract the grounds which is why it’s not good to run the water through a Phin too quickly. You would end up with a pretty weak coffee.
All those differences result in a different-tasting coffee. Sure, all types of coffee taste different but Vietnamese coffee does seem to have quite a unique taste compared to other types of coffee.
The differences in taste mainly overlap with the difference in taste between Robusta and Arabica beans. Vietnamese coffee has a more robust taste with very little acidity because of the dark roast. At the same time, the taste isn’t very open or bright like good paper filter coffee is. The taste of Vietnamese coffee is big but has fewer layers. This bold taste is why it’s good to mix with ice and condensed milk.
Also, Vietnamese coffee is much more concentrated. The amount of water that’s put in the filter is much less than with a paper filter. You end up with a similar amount to a double espresso. The strength is also similar to an espresso in both taste and caffeine content.
Where the brewing method might be visually different, the serving style is even more so. One is served in a mug or ceramic cup while the other is served in a glass. That seems relatively minor but it is a very visual difference. The drinking experience between a cup and a glass is very different.
Also, Vietnamese coffee is served with ice the majority of the time and often with condensed milk. That’s pretty different from hot coffee with sugar and milk.
Finally, the culture around coffee is very different in Vietnam versus most Western countries.
The coffee culture in most Western countries revolves around waking up, getting productive, etc. In Vietnam coffee is much more part of a relaxing and social culture.
Most people don’t get a quick cup of coffee to wake up. Coffee shops are everywhere and people are sitting down alone or with family/friends for a talk. Often people spend tons of time in a coffee shop without having their laptops with them. It’s much more of a social thing in Vietnam than in most Western countries. Or at least the Vietnamese take more time for it.
Also, the way Vietnamese coffee is brewed means you already have to relax a little before you can drink it. Often you get a cup with a Phin on it. That means you’ll have to wait about 5 minutes before you can start your first sip.
Favorite Vietnamese Coffee Products
To make Vietnamese coffee you don’t need many things so make 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.