Introduction: Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Picture of Vietnamese Iced Coffee

One of the most fabulous beverages known to man and woman-kinds alike is the sublime Vietnamese Iced Coffee, or Café Sua Da (or even, cà phê sữa đá, to further transliterate). This coffee, a rich french dark roast with chicory, made in a special version of the press pot, and served with copious quantities of sweetened condensed milk and refreshingly cooled with ice, is the perfect complement to any dish, and any occasion. Just don't drink it if you are hoping to sleep soon. It also makes a nice alternative to the Thai Iced Tea recipe I've got. They are both great on a hot day, or with spicy southeast asian foods (or anything at all, frankly). Read on for a picture-heavy, overly analyzed method of making the best coffee in town.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee is a simple thing to make, but there are some subtleties, and the equipment you need isn't of the sort usually found at your usual big-box grocer-mart. The techniques are also simple, but there are a few things to pay attention to if you want to whip the pants off of your local coffee joint.

Step 1: The Equipment

Picture of The Equipment
Lets start with the equipment:

  • Vientamese-style press pots
  • Tall glasses, preferably made of clear glass
  • Spoons with long handles
  • Something to boil water in (tea pot, sauce pot, old coffee can, whateva')

This is a Vietnamese-syle press pot. This little single serving device is meant to fit over a cup, hold about two tablespoons worth of coffee, and the required amount of water for brewing. There is a screen on the bottom, and a plunger with another screen on it that screws down on top of the coffee to smush it between the two filters. The tightness of this top filter controls the strength of the coffee. The tighter it is, the slower water flows, and the stronger the brew. These devices are available at your local asian market. If you have a choice, southeast asian markets are more likely to carry this variety of press pot, althought the more common 'Chinese grocery' sort of market will often carry such an implement as well. They can be had for a couple bucks each. Get at least two, preferably four.

The tall glasses could be of any size as long as the press pot fits over the top of the glass, and holds at least 12 oz.; a "highball" is usually a good size.

Long handled spoons just randomly appear in certain places. If you only have regular spoons, you can use your wire-feed, shielded MIG welder to weld a small extension onto your existing spoon, or you can just live with the fact that your fingertips might get a little wet. Don't be ashamed, just lick the sweet coffee off your fingers.

Step 2: The Ingredients

Picture of The Ingredients
Next come the ingredients:

  • French Dark Roast Coffee with Chicory (Cafe Du Monde, for instance)
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk (Longevity brand?)
  • Ice (good old Frozen Water)
  • Boiling Water (good old, uh, Hot Water)

Next is the coffee and the sweetened condensed milk. I'm using Cafe Demonte, which, despite the French sounding name and French flag, actually hails from Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam. This coffee is in the same style as the more commonly found Cafe Du Monde, which comes from the French-quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana. Either of these coffees will work well. If you are going to a local roaster (which is a great idea, if you know a good one) then ask for dark french roast with around 10% roasted chicory added. They might call it their 'cajun' blend or something, as this is a New Orleans/French-quarter sort of thing. This should be ground fairly coarse, as for a press pot. If you get it ground at the roasters, they'll know what that means.

The sweetened condensed milk I have is called Longeivity Brand, and it features some Vietnamese writing, and an image of an old man. I just bought it because it was interesting looking. What you want however, is anything that lists as its ingredients "Whole Milk, Sugar" and that's it. Sometimes the cheaper brands have vegetable oil or weird stuff in them. Screw that, get the real stuff, your palate is worth it. If you are vegan, I recommend trying coconut milk with a regular sugar syrup, or the pre-sweetened "cream of coconut" you can get for making pina coladas (available in the alcohol aisle, popular brand being "Coco Lopez"). Even if you aren't vegan, give it a try with the coconut, its tasty too!

Ice and Boiling Water are actually made from the same basic ingredient, H2O. You can get a steady supply of this from your Municipal Water Authority, who has likely provided a tap directly into your home. Actuate the tap by turning a knob or moving a lever located near or above your sink. If you are uncertain of how to operate your tap, call your local water authority, or consult a professional plumber. Once you have dispensed some liquid water, simply place it in a suitable container, such as an ice tray, plastic bottle, or dixie cup, and put it in your freezer. In a few hours, you will have fresh, delicious ice. To make boiling water, simply place the water in a heat-proof container, such as a tea pot or empty coffee can, and heat on your gas or electric stove. After a few minutes, the water should turn into boiling water.

If your water tastes bad out of the tap, so will your coffee. If your water isn't very tasty, then run it through a filter, or use a bottled spring water to make your coffee. It makes a difference!

Step 3: Getting Started

Picture of Getting Started

Its time to load up your rig. Pour a little of the sweetened condensed milk into your glass. How much? I don't know. Look at the photo to get an idea of how much. You want to put in about 3/4 of an inch worth. You can experiment to find out how much you like.

Then put about two tablespoons of coffee into the press pot. Again, I don't measure, I just scoop in enough so that it almost covers the threaded part inside the pot. Put the little lid to the pot underneath it while you pour in the coffee, and then tap the pot lightly against the lid to shake out the dust onto the lid. This will limit the sediment you get in the coffee.

Step 4: Assemble the Pot

Picture of Assemble the Pot

Screw the top filter element down into the pot. If you can't get the threads to engage, you may have put in a tiny bit too much coffee. This is where you choose how strong your coffee is. Tighter = slower but stronger brew, looser = faster but weaker brew. Personally, I like my coffee to come out so black that light itself cannot escape its surface. I crank it down fairly tight, not so hard that I have to use tools or get a blister, but a good squeeze. If in doubt, make it a little on the tight side. You can always loosen it (using the handle of your spoon as a screwdriver) during the brew if you want to speed things up a bit, but you'll get an unsatisfying brew if its not tight enough and it just drains right through. You want this coffee to be stronger than usual coming out of the pot because you are diluting it with the condensed milk and the ice that you'll be adding. Besides, this is no weak-ass office coffee we are making, this is the real deal.

Step 5: Moment of Truth - Add the Water

Picture of Moment of Truth - Add the Water

Now you simply place the pot on top of your glass, and add the boiling water. In case you were curious, 202 degrees F is the 'perfect' temperature for brewing coffee. However, in the real world all this really means is 'slightly less than boiling'. Most coffee makers brew too cool, not heating the water up enough before sending it through the grinds (making for a weak and unsatisfying brew) and some (like percolators) heat the water too much, boiling the coffee (making for a bitter and unsatisfying brew). Here is my thought. I boil the water, then pull the tea pot off of the stove, wait for it to stop whistling, then add the water. The water will be a tiny bit too warm to start with, but as the heat is drawn out through the metal pot and the glass, we should hit around 202F for the main part of the brew. I love it when a plan comes together.

Add water all the way up to the tippy-top of the pot, but be careful not to spill on yourself. After you've poured in the water, put the lid on top to seal in the heat, and let it go. If you are using fresh grounds, you might get some 'bloom' frothing over (this is due to the CO2 in freshly roasted beans). Don't worry about it, the worst thing that will happen is that you will need to wipe up some froth.

Step 6: Patience...

Picture of Patience...

Now you wait. One thing about this coffee is that it brews incredibly slowly. You should start out getting two or three drips per second after the grounds are saturated. If you are much slower than this, you might consider loosening the press slightly, and if you are much faster, you might consider tightening the press a bit. But again, experimentation is your friend, and you'll find a good rate for your tastes.

The dripping is very nice, and is a pleasant visual as well as an amusing thing to watch. If you are serving this to people, make sure you serve the glasses with the milk already in them, and the pot on top, then pour the water in front of the person. They will enjoy seeing the process begin, and watch their cup slowly fill up with a few inches of black goodness.

Step 7: Coffee Time!

Picture of Coffee Time!

When the dripping slows to a stop, peek inside to see the water level, if there is no water left, your coffee is almost ready! Remove the lid, and set it upside down on the table, then set the press pot on the lid so any drips will go into the upturned lid. Make sure you grab by those little black pieces on the sides of the pot, as the main pot will be very hot!

Now is the time to mix the milk and the coffee, for best dissolving. I have made the mistake of adding ice before mixing the two; the cold coffee isn't able to properly dissolve the thick syrup, and you end up with uneven coffee.

Once the two are properly blended, give it a taste. If you want, you can add more condensed milk at this point if isn't sweet and creamy enough. It should taste like really good melted coffee ice cream. Think Haagen Daaz stuff. If it were cold outside, you might like to drink it warm like this. But since it is summer now, I like to ice it.

I usually just throw a few ice cubes in the glass and call it good, but if you are doing it with style, you'll pre-chill another glass of the same type, fill it with crushed ice, and pour the coffee over the crushed ice. This dilutes the coffee less, because the ice doesn't need to cool both coffee AND the glass, but only the coffee. Less melting = less dilution. But I don't have many glasses, so I just add the ice to the brewing glass, and it works nicely.

Now just sit back, and enjoy! It took some time, but really wasn't much harder than drip coffee, and you will enjoy it much more. Plus, no yucky paper filters to deal with.

Comments

TheRogueDalek (author)2016-06-10

Is there a way to do this with a french press? I don't have a store nearby that offers a press pot like the one you used.

nightwind (author)2015-04-02

Just a quick tip from Vietnam. When you are done with the preparation, before pouring the water in, pour in just a little bit, and then put the lid on, wait for a few minutes so the coffee can expand(it soaked up boil water) a bit, then lift the lid, smell the awesome coffee, then pour in all the water.

phidauex (author)nightwind2015-04-03

Good tip, thanks!

marilandita (author)2015-02-11

Made it!, it was delicious, but didn't take any pics, thanks for the recipe though :D

phidauex (author)marilandita2015-02-11

Awesome! Glad you liked it!

marilandita (author)2015-02-10

Definitely doing this tomorrow, cool instructable xD

Obstinatus (author)2014-10-23

Delicious! I too had quite a few grounds. Still fantastic I just need to adjust My press pot.

kofykat (author)2012-01-19

this seems to be the same technique as chennai filter kaapi (coffee) except that it's french coffee and it's cold. :-D

Helloid (author)2009-01-17

I have a can of Dumonde that my wife bought in NO and didn't like. This sounds like the perfect use for it. I love thai iced tea, so this should be even better.

saintneko (author)Helloid2009-02-19

Thai iced coffee & tea taste like water next to this brew. Though I prefer more grounds and vegan creamer, a must if you're lactose intolerant because condensed milk is like Drano if you're not. There is less sugar in the vegan creamer, a nice half-teaspoon of brown sugar or buckwheat blossom honey will do you. You can make two ounces of coffee SO black with the Du Monde that it takes 6 ounces of creamer to make it dark brown and it's STILL got the awesome better overtones to complement the sweet sugars and sourness of the acidity.

bluemouse (author)saintneko2009-03-23

Just a quick note - honey isn't vegan

Sooz (author)bluemouse2009-04-13

The author recommends the vegan creamer in this case if you're lactose intolerant, not if you're vegan. For vegans who prefer a sweeter brew, instead of the honey, one could use stevia leaves.

saintneko (author)Sooz2009-04-13

Sugar is vegan. .

foxli (author)saintneko2011-07-29

Fun fact: most mainstream refined sugar is processed with bone ash. So, not vegan unless it says so. :-)

Sooz (author)saintneko2009-04-13

Bluemouse was telling you honey is not vegan. I was offering a substitute for honey.

:-)

chrisbaker (author)2010-07-03

Has anyone tried making this using a French press? I've used the press-pot, but I'll try the French press & report back.

mccalebvn (author)chrisbaker2010-08-21

Chris,

  Big failure, not sure whether all together or just the way I did it. I thought I'd save time on daily coffee making so when I went home to U.S.A. for a visit from Vietnam, I looked in storage and grabbed my Starbucks press.
  On arrival I was like a kid at Christmas. Put the coffee in, poured piping hot water in let set a minute and moved the screen down. The coffee it left in the cup was a bit sandy :) I tried two other brands/grinds and got the same.
  If you get different or hear of different result post it for me. I have my press in VN now and nothing to do with it but fresh grean tea :).

Keith
Surfsmith

chrisbaker (author)mccalebvn2011-07-17

I've tried it now & it works for me. My press is rather small (2 coffee cups, 1 good sized mug), but I use 2 scoops (from Gevalia--smaller than a tablespoon) of Cafe Du Monde & put it in the press for about 9 minutes (!?! Yep, 8-9 mins). That brew is poured on about two & a half teaspoons of s.c. milk & sits in the fridge overnight. Next morning, I add a couple ice cubes & enjoy on my commute to work. My press is a "Bodum"brand--maybe it has a finer screen than yours?

TheSlapster (author)2010-05-29

 Just made my first one of these with your excellent guide, and although I'm sure I can do better it's pretty good! Thanks, I wouldn't have braved trying without this!!

gadgetgod (author)2009-02-22

I first tried 'Cafe Sua Da' in Vietnam a few years ago. When I came back to the US I tried to make it myself, but every time I do, the hot water flows through too fast or a get way too much sediment. Does it just take trial and error to get it just right, or should I try to get a new pot? Thanks

Sooz (author)gadgetgod2009-04-13

There are a couple reasons for sediment. The most easily fixed is the "grind" of your coffee. Cafe Du Monde and several other canned coffee grinds are more coarsely ground and don't create as much sediment. I accidentally used an espresso grind once, talk about sediment (more like sludge). If you buy your coffee freshly ground, be certain you specifiy "coarse grind."

Also, make sure the press is screwed down snugly, because that makes less room for the water to swirl the grounds around. Less movement under the press = less sediment.

For the water going through too quickly, one thing I do is screw down the press, pour enough water in the pot to cover the bottom of the press, and then using the blade of a butter knife, screw the press down more. Screwing the press down again AFTER I add a little water gives me a slower flow and less sediment.

If none of these things help, your pot may have holes on the bottom that are too big, or your press screw isn't threading correctly with the post. Buy another pot. :-)

Hope this helps!

Mark Rehorst (author)2008-09-29

Yeah baby! I LOOOOOVE Vietnamese iced coffee, and you have the method DOWN! There's no better way to cool off on a steamy, hot day in the jungle then to down a couple iced coffees and vibrate your way to coolness. I've been drinking this stuff for years and years and it hasn't affected my personality at all, so don't worry. Three thumbs up!

Hahahahaha. The fact that that comment is voiced by "Tyler Durden" makes it even more hilarious than it already was. Don't worry! :D

CrafterCassie (author)2009-02-17

Hehe, my mom drinks this every time we go to eat Pho... :)

PizzaPlanet (author)2009-02-13

nice nice I'll need to ask my cousin for the special pot though. hmm American kid with a 100% Vietnamese cousin that's right...

quangphangbang (author)2009-01-27

Man i can't remember how many i had. I was drinking this when i was 7

mechanolatry (author)2008-11-14

Excellent, easy to make recipe. My husband and I are enjoying it right now. Thanks for posting this!

dragonofvn (author)2008-09-28
The Mad Scientist (author)2008-01-31

Another Instructable that is fun to read, great work! Now to get myself a press-pot...

neuralstatic (author)2007-10-18

any online recommendations for buying one of these presses?

Bwilson (author)neuralstatic2008-01-31

Neuralstatic,
Most asian grocery stores carry them.
There are plenty of overpriced presses (aka vietnamese coffee filters) on ebay..
http://search.ebay.com/vietnamese-coffee

Brennn10 (author)2007-08-24

You really like the coffees and teas! Same with me, I love coffee, and you Ice Tea recipe is to die for!

selmas0ngs (author)2007-08-13

Thanks for the instructions. I love this coffee. I cannot wait to make it!

stickylaffytaffy321 (author)2007-08-01

Whenever we go to Little Saigon in Westminster, Ca my dad buys like 10 of these at lees sandwiches. And he makes us drink it. Its good and all but i stay up till like 3:00am (and i am a 12 year old kid). Good Instructable exactly the the way i make it. :-)

Hans Voralberg (author)2006-09-13

I'm quite amazed when spotting this article here. Im Vietnamese myself and lol im a coffe freak. The Vietnamese spelling with signs is : cà phê sữa đá. Sadly I don't know much apart from these normal recipes. An extreme kind of coffe though is get 3 glass of black coffe (cafe den), put it in a pan, and just concentrated it till you get a cup. Careful not to get poisoned though :P

phidauex (author)Hans Voralberg2006-09-14

I hope it meets with your approval! I'm always nervous when claiming a food product I make is Vietnamese, or Indian, or Chinese, or whatever. I recall stories of friends in China ordering pasta marinara at an "Italian" restraunt in Guangzou, and getting rice noodles with ketchup, and I hate to think that I'm perhaps commiting the same offense! Vietnamese people really seem to enjoy their coffee though. I'll have to try the 'concentrated' technique, sounds dangerous!

Crimzen (author)phidauex2007-07-03

lol rice noodles with ketchup? thats funny

skyesidhe (author)2006-09-21

oh yeah, and the "french" coffee with the french flag from vietnam makes sense as they colonized for a long time there...

skyesidhe (author)2006-09-21

the "dripolator" is called a gravity drip or gravity press usually..but if you just look for the picture on the box its pretty easy, most good coffeeshops at least know where to get one if not carry one themselves

MrK (author)2006-09-15

We drink this in Spain with expresso coffee and sweetened condensed milk (called "bombon"), in two versions: with and without ice.

SurferGeek (author)2006-09-13

It's not a press pot, just a gravity "dripolator" but it works nicely. I would suggest freshly roasted and ground coffee to anything you can get in a tin. I love these drinks!

phidauex (author)SurferGeek2006-09-14

Thats true, you press before you steep, not the other way around. I don't know what the little tool is actually called (is "dripolator" a real word?), so I just call it by what it looks the most like, a tiny press pot. I agree, fresh coffee always tastes best. However, if you are trying to emulate what you get at the restaraunt, most of them use canned Cafe Du Monde, or its Ho Chi Min emulation, Cafe Demonte.

pazu (author)2006-09-14

And can I link my page here too? I have also written an article about Vietnamese coffee (in Chinese), there are some photos and graphics too:

http://www.pazu.com/travel/trip2004/travelog/index00039.html

pazu (author)2006-09-14

The only type of coffee that I loves is ca phe sua da, I bought some coffee in Vietnam while travelling in China, but I can't find ice here. Haha. I love Ca Phe Chon (from Trung Nguyen), but somebody told me it's weasel shit, no idea, but I like the aroma anyway.

2lettername (author)2006-09-13

I love to drink this stuff when ever i can i never really can make it taste right but its still better then nothing thanks for the instuctions ps: the spelling is correct, i actually forget to say "da" at the end of ordering it so i get milked coffee sometimes, sadly

hugedom (author)2006-09-13

Wow, thanks ! I tried to make it from before and it ended up tasting awful (may be the coffee). Anyways, we should be able to make awesome iced coffee with this guide. Any chance for more instruction on other Vietnamese drinks (ie. 3-color-ice) ?? Thanks !!!

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Bio: I'm an engineer in the renewable energy world, and help run a cooperative workshop makerspace in Boulder, CO called the Phoenix Asylum.
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