Why Does Vietnamese Coffee Taste So Sweet?


Why is Vietnamese coffee so sweet header image

Gone on holiday to Vietnam and tried the coffee? In that case you’ll likely have noticed the coffee is quite sweet among other things. Why is that? I did some research and here is what you want to know

Vietnamese coffee tastes sweet because sometimes sugar is added during the roasting process to balance out the bitterness of the Robusta beans. Often a bit of salt is also added in the coffee grounds which reduces the bitterness and brings out the sweet notes a bit more.

There are some other reasons and details why Vietnamese coffee can taste so sweet. Discover more about those reasons below.


What is Vietnamese coffee

What is Vietnamese coffee actually?

It’s a type of coffee made with Vietnamese beans with the traditional coffee filter called a Phin. Everyone who’s ever tried it will know that it tastes quite different from most other styles of coffee you might have tasted. One of the things that many people comment on is that it tastes quite sweet.

What is a Phin and how do you use it?

What are the reasons for this sweet taste? There are a few different things. It’s not a single thing but most likely a combination of the different factors listed below.


Beans

Part of the reason why it can taste so sweet is in the beans. Vietnamese coffee is mostly made up of Robusta beans since that’s the majority of beans growing in the country. Robusta beans don’t have a great taste from the plant. They produce a pretty bitter taste. Arabica is much more popular since most people prefer the taste.

Is Vietnamese coffee Arabica or Robusta? Find out here.

Arabica beans actually have more sugars and oils which make the taste of the resulting brew a bit sweeter.

So why does the fact that Vietnamese coffee is mostly Robusta matter? Wouldn’t that make it less sweet? Well, because the taste isn’t that great, especially for lower quality beans. That’s why Vietnamese coffee roasters tend to add quite a few things during the roasting process.

Common things to add are butter, cacao, vanilla and sugar. They’re added to round out the taste of Robusta beans and get rid of/cover up some of the less desirable aspects. And if you add those things the taste sticks to the beans of course. Adding some sugar during roasting will create a caramel like coating on the outside of the bean.

When you grind up those beans you also grind up the caramel coating. That coating ends up in the coffee grounds and will dissolve into your coffee. So in effect you’re just getting sugar in your black coffee.

That’s also why Vietnamese coffee tends to have quite a lot of chocolate notes. Read more about that in this post.


Add-ins

Often Vietnamese coffee is served with something in it. Not many people drink it hot and black. Here are some of the more popular ones.


Ice

Vietnamese coffee is almost always served with ice. In a hot country cold drinks are simply more popular than hot drinks. Vietnamese coffee straight from the Phin is pretty strong. Ice helps to get a cold drink but also to dilute the coffee a bit.

The dilution doesn’t mean the coffee will taste sweeter though. It might actually only cover it up. Cold temperatures actually make you taste the bitterness more and sweetness less. However, just like ice cream tastes sweeter when it melts on your tongue, the iced coffee warms up on your tongue which can give the illusion of it becoming sweeter. This is going to be a very small effect in the grand scheme of things though.


Salt

Often a small pinch of salt is mixed in with the coffee grounds. This is to counteract the bitterness of Robusta. The Sodium in salt interferes with the bitterness in the coffee. At the same time it can also amplify the sweet taste. If the amount of salt is small enough, you won’t taste any saltiness but the taste of the coffee changes significantly.

Almost all coffee shops in Vietnam that aren’t serving very high quality coffee for aficionados will add a little pinch of salt. Again, you won’t really taste this but it will reduce the bitterness and amplify the sweetness.


Condensed milk

The most obvious thing that’s often added is condensed milk. It’s what makes people like Vietnamese coffee in the first place. Most cups in the country will be served with condensed milk and ice. And while normal milk already has quite a few sugars already, condensed milk has a ton more especially since sugar is usually added.

This will create a very sweet drink that’s delicious but probably not very healthy. So if you see anything that looks like dairy in your Vietnamese coffee, this is why it’s sweet.

Why does Vietnamese coffee use condensed milk? Find out here.


Sugar

It depends where you are but the majority of the time, when you order coffee in Vietnam, they will put something sweet in it. Often condensed milk, like mentioned above.

Is Vietnamese coffee KETO friendly?

But even if you order black coffee there is a good chance you get sugar in there. The vast majority of the time you’ll get sugar in your coffee if you don’t specify you DON’T want any. It’s just standard. So it’s possible that even if you didn’t ask for sugar or milk, you still got sugar. That’ll make it sweet.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get the sugar separately but especially at the cheaper coffee shops, it’ll be mixed in before it’s served.

What’s the best water temperature to brew Vietnamese coffee?


Soy and corn

Sometimes real coffee is replaced by something that looks like coffee but isn’t. Soy and corn can be roasted and chemicals can be added to make it seem like coffee while it isn’t. People do this simply because it’s a lot cheaper and you make more money per cup if you serve this.

You won’t find this in higher quality coffee shops but at the cheaper roadside coffee places there is a decent chance you’ll get a cup that’s not coffee or blended with real coffee. To make this taste good, they’ll use a lot of different things to make it taste decent. This is pretty much meant to be served with condensed milk so it might not taste too great without it.

Why is Vietnamese coffee so thick?


Conclusion

There are quite a few reasons why Vietnamese coffee can taste very sweet. Often it’s served with things that make it taste sweet like condensed milk and sugar. However, there are also things in the roasting and brewing process that make it taste sweeter once it’s in your cup. Especially the use of additions during the roasting process and a bit of salt during brewing will make it taste Vietnamese coffee a bit sweeter.

And there is always the chance that there is just sugar added in your cup if your order wasn’t specific enough.


Why is Vietnamese coffee so strong? Vietnamese coffee is mostly made from Robusta beans. Robusta beans have a strong earthy taste and contain a lot of caffeine. The brewing method in a traditional Phin means a pretty long brew time of around 5 minutes which means the extraction is pretty high.

Find a full post about why Vietnamese coffee is so strong here.

Why does Vietnamese coffee taste like chocolate? Robusta coffee has more earthy and bitter notes than Arabica beans but they don’t taste like chocolate. That taste comes from cacao that’s added in the brewing process to round out the taste of Robusta beans.

Here is more information about why Vietnamese coffee taste like chocolate

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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