Exploring Vietnamese Coffee Culture

Every new flavour starts with a small spark of inspiration. Whether that’s from an existing flavour combination, a recipe, a process, or just one simple ingredient. This week I've been working on Vietnamese coffee-inspired brownies and tarts. Not quite sure what I mean by Vietnamese coffee? Nows the time to find out.

It's not just a trend

If you ever find yourself in a Vietnamese cafe don't expect to find your regular cappuccino. In fact you'll find coffee with pretty much anything but fresh milk! Odd is it may sound Vietnam is famous for its egg coffee. Not convinced yet? Well, you might be surprised to know egg coffee is not just hugely popular in its birth country of Vietnam, the love for this unusual drink has extended far beyond into western society. There's a lot more to Vietnamese coffee culture than just one drink though, and it definitely isn't just a novel trend. There's a rich and interesting history behind the growth of the coffee industry in Vietnam and it's now one of the top exporters of coffee by volume in the world today.

Making it their own

It's always difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of something, especially when different cultures have their own unique way of enjoying common things. It was the French in this instance, that introduced coffee to Vietnam, amongst other things like the Bahn mi. In the 19th century, the French obtained control over northern Vietnam and brought with them ingredients that they'd previously never had access to before. The coffee bean was one of them, though it wasn’t until world war 1 that the Vietnamese locals were able to enjoy coffee themselves, before then the high price meant it was only really accessible to the French. These days however the Vietnamese have become the influencers.

Robusta Vs Arabica

  • Caffeine content- The Robusta bean wins this round with pretty much double the caffeine content.

  • Taste- You could say this is subjective but generally, coffee connoisseurs prefer the flavour of the Arabica bean because of its sweeter more complex flavour, and whilst the Robusta does carry chocolate and floral-fruity notes, it's generally associated with a harsher bitter flavour

  • Cultivation- Arabica beans are much more labour intensive and take longer to mature (which is what allows them to develop a better flavour) whereas Robusta beans mature faster and yield more fruit which makes them much cheaper to produce.

The Arabica is often the bean of choice for coffee connoisseurs, whereas the Robusta bean is the preferred choice for supermarket instant coffee products. This doesn't necessarily mean the Arabica bean is of higher quality than the Robusta, it all comes down to how you're preparing your drink.

Brewing with a Phin

The phin is basically a small stainless steel coffee filter, it differs from a french press because the coffee filters through percolation. There are just 4 elements to the phin which are all designed to sit on top of a single cup. The phin saucer sits directly on top of the cup with the brewing chamber sitting on top of that, next you add coarsely ground coffee (too fine a grind and the coffee will fall through). the press is then placed on top of the coffee not too firm or too loose. You start by wetting the coffee with a little hot water, then 15 seconds later add about the same amount of water to the coffee into the chamber. Finally, you place the lid on top to keep the heat in and the coffee slowly drips into your cup, all of this takes about 4-5 minutes.

Now it gets a little more interesting....

When coffee was first introduced to Vietnam, they didn't have access to fresh milk instead they used condensed milk. Whilst that may have been a solution to a lack of something else, it turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to the harsh bitterness of this strong coffee. The additional sweet creaminess of condensed milk brings out the undertones of chocolate and fruitiness in the coffee, creating a uniquely indulgent experience. Here's a little guide to some of the most popular variations on coffee enjoyed in Vietnam

Try it at home...

Egg yolk coffee

-whip 60ml condensed milk with 1 egg yolk and simply add on top of about 100ml of freshly brewed coffee.

"Milk" Coffee

-add 60ml condensed milk to 100ml of freshly brewed coffee and finish with a handful of crushed ice if you like.

Coconut Coffee

-mix together 50ml condensed milk, 90ml of coconut cream and 100ml freshly brewed coffee. Finish with a handful of crushed ice.

Yoghurt Coffee

-mix together 50ml condensed milk 90ml of yoghurt and 100ml freshly brewed coffee. Finish with a handful of crushed ice.

So hopefully you've got a little bit of inspiration from this post, and you'll be heading off to buy some condensed milk as soon as you close this tab!

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