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One of the main characteristics of Vietnamese coffee, besides the taste, is the viscosity. What makes Vietnamese coffee so thick and can you replicate this at home? Here’s what you want to know.
Vietnamese coffee can seem and is quite thick compared to other types of coffee for a few reasons;
- Brewing method
- Condensed milk
Most people can get the results they want with the right brewing method and condensed milk. However, if you want your coffee really thick, you need some additives.
To discover more about exactly how to brew your coffee to get it thicker, keep reading.
Why is Vietnamese coffee thick?
So, what’s the secret? Why does Vietnamese coffee seem more viscous than other types of coffee? There are a few reasons for this.
There is not a single reason that is completely responsible for that typical mouth feel. There are three things that all have their impact on the final result.
Those three things are;
- Brewing method
- Condensed milk
Let’s take a deeper look at those three factors.
The first thing to look at why the coffee feels so thick when drinking it is the brewing method. Vietnamese coffee is made in a little metal filter called a Phin.
What does a metal filter do differently than other brewing methods? The biggest difference is the brew time. I actually takes some practice to get this right but, the brew time through a Phin should be about 3-6 minutes. There are three factors to get right to be able to get to that time. If you just throw some coffee in the filter, it’ll usually run through way too fast. Unless you get the grind to fine and the holes in the filter get clogged.
A longer brew time means that there is more time for the water to extract all the oils and compounds from the grounds. Very simply put, the more things get from the coffee grounds into the water, the thicker it will feel and be.
So, while it might take some more effort and time, this is the first step to getting the delicious results you’re looking for.
Vietnamese coffee is often served with condensed milk (and ice). This turns the coffee into a sweet and cold drink which almost resembles a coffee milkshake more than just coffee. It’s one of the more popular ways to serve coffee especially in the south of the country.
Condensed milk is nothing like normal fresh milk. It comes in a can, is very sweet and thick. Especially cold, the consistency is almost as thick as peanut butter. When it’s hot, it becomes more liquid although it’s still close to honey in consistency.
Using this type of milk in your coffee is also giving you a thicker consistency in the overall drink. It also makes your drink a whole lot sweeter and different.
If you want your coffee black, and still thick, the next option is a fool proof way to get it done.
The methods above should get you the result you’re looking for. However, if you don’t get it all right, you will still be a ways off from where you want to be. And maybe you’ve been spoiled by the really, really thick coffee in a Vietnamese coffee shop. Why is that?
Sometimes things get added to the coffee grounds to thicken it up. Usually it’s some kind of starch. Why? The same reason you’re searching for this question. People like the mouth feel of the thicker coffee. This causes coffee shops and producers to add some extras since it makes people buy their stuff.
It’s commonly something natural like green bean or soy bean powder. This has a similar effect to using corn starch in a sauce or glaze. It makes it much more viscous, exactly what you’re looking for.
It might be a bit disappointing to discover this (I was at first) but you liked it before you knew how it worked so why not use it.
How to make your coffee thicker?
You want to replicate that mouth feel of thick Vietnamese coffee at home? But your coffee doesn’t feel quite the same after making it? Here’s what you can do at home.
The first thing you have to do is; get yourself a traditional Vietnamese filter called a Phin. You can get them online. A nice one looks nicer but it doesn’t necessarily work better.
If you have coffee that’s actually produced in Vietnam, that’s the best option of course. If you don’t, try to find Robusta beans, which are roasted medium-dark to dark.
As you could read above, the biggest trick with the filter is to get the brew time right.
There are three factors you have to get right to get the brew time you need.
- Amount of coffee
- How well compacted the coffee is
The grind is a balance as always. For a Phin, the grind should be coarse enough to not clog the holes in the filter. A finer grind will slow down the water. A finer grind has more surface area. This means the water also extracts compounds from the grounds quicker. So, in the end go as fine as you can go without clogging the filter to get a thicker coffee.
Second, you have to get the amount of coffee right. 20-25 grams for a single cup Phin does the job. It’s a good idea to measure this at least a few times. Just count how many tablespoons gets you in the range and you won’t have to exactly measure it again. If the layer of coffee in the filter is too thin, it’ll pass through too quickly. 25 grams might seem like a lot of coffee grounds for a small amount of actual liquid but it’s what creates the right balance.
Finally you have to compact the coffee in the filter. Put the coffee grinds in the filter, and tap it a few times on the counter top. Then put the little metal strainer on top and push it down a little more. This part will take the most practice. Pack it down too tight and nothing will get through, and too loose will let the water through too quickly.
Finally add water. Just a tiny bit at first and let the coffee grounds absorb it. Then add water. Fill the filter to about a centimeter under the edge. If you want to make slightly lighter coffee, you can fill the filter completely but, you’ll lose some of the viscosity.
At this stage you have to make a choice. Do you want black coffee or add milk? It’s completely up to you.
Still haven’t found the thickness you’re looking for? There are some ways to get your coffee to thicken up. Some people might see them as cheating but if it helps you get the results you want and you like that, why not?
In Vietnam, the most commonly used additives are green bean powder or soy bean powder. However, it isn’t easy to get the right versions in other places in the world.
Your best bet that’s easily available is xanthan gum. You just need a little pinch to thicken up your coffee enough. You don’t want it to turn into pudding. Xanthan gum is the easiest to get in many places in the world and is known to be food safe. Since you only need a tiny pinch, a bag will last you for ages.
Does adding starch influence the taste?
It’s pretty widely known and easy to add some type of starch to thicken up the coffee to the level people like. But how does that influence the taste?
It depends how it’s served. If you drink it with condensed milk and ice, it’s very unlikely that you’ll taste any difference. The colder temperature means you’ll taste less nuances in taste and the condensed milk covers up a lot of taste. Only the strongest notes of the coffee will come through.
Now if you’re drinking it black and hot, you might taste something different. In Vietnamese coffee, you’ll have the bold and robust notes of Robusta which don’t have a very ‘open’ flavor. That means it’s likely you won’t notice much of a difference.
In the case you’re using high quality Robusta beans or blend, following the other steps outlined above and skipping the additives will be your best bet because the chances you’ll taste a difference are bigger.
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.