Vietnamese iced coffee, a cool combination of dark coffee and intensely sweet, rich condensed milk, is one of the best ways to sip away the blazing Miami heat. The traditional preparation involves a phin filter, a contraption that works almost like a single-serve French press. Set atop a tall glass, the coffee-filled filter begins to work once boiling water is poured through. Then, drop after drop of coffee -- often flavored with cinnamon or chicory -- falls upon the pool of the thick milk like faint stains of ink. The mixture is then stirred and quickly poured over ice. Enjoyed immediately, the drink is the epitome of iced coffee perfection.
Kathy Manning, one of the proprietors of Hy Vong -- the Calle Ocho staple for Vietnamese fare for over thirty years -- guided me through the process for making a frosty cup of the ca phe sua da at home.
To begin, it's necessary to gather up a few tools. Start off by investing a couple of dollars in the phin filter. The filter is composed of three parts: a press, a chamber and a cover (also serves as a little coaster). I picked up mine at PK Oriental Mart for less than $4, but it is also available online. Since theses are single-serve filters, it's also best to purchase a couple per household.
Next, select the appropriate coffee. The most common options include Trung Nguyen -- which has added butter flavorings -- or Café du Monde with chicory. At Hy Vong, Manning uses a cinnamon-roasted coffee special ordered via Norman Brothers. If you don't have access to any of these, then Manning simply recommends looking for a medium-coarse ground Vienna roast, since darker roasts will stand up best to the sweet milk. The grind is extremely important too, because fine grinds won't benefit the slow drip.
>When looking for condensed milk, be sure to select a pure product, with no fillers like partially hydrogenated oils. Look for brands like Longevity Sweetened Condensed Milk, or any other pure condensed milks with only two ingredients: milk and sugar.
Close-up of phin filter after drip for Vietnamese iced coffee
To begin, select a heat-proof glass and add about two tablespoons of the sweetened condensed milk. Place the phin filter atop the glass and add about two tablespoons of coffee. Shake to level and top off with the press.
Boil one cup of water and add a small splash through the filter. Once the coffee begins to drip, proceed by adding the rest of the water until the chamber is full.
Phin filter in action for a Vietnamese iced coffee at Hy Vong
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The entire drip will take about three to five minutes to complete. In the mean time, prepare a tall glass with ice. Once the coffee is ready, set aside the filter and stir the mixture with a spoon to combine the condensed milk and coffee. Add the coffee to the glass with ice, and enjoy the sweetest antidote to any hot day.