Sweetened condensed milk is the key to making Vietnamese Iced Coffee. It is rich, sweet and a cooling refresher for coffee lovers to get their caffeine fix on hot summer days.
My Experience With Vietnamese Iced Coffee
After I figured out how to make dairy-free sweetened condensed milk without refined sugar, I couldn't wait to try it in Vietnamese-style Iced Coffee.
During our Southeast Asia travels I've spent extended time in Vietnam twice - 3 months in Ho Chi Minh City in 2013 and another 3 months in Hoi An in 2016. During my stays I fell in love with Vietnamese iced coffee - Ca phe sua da.
My recipe isn't entirely like traditional Vietnamese iced coffee. It is similar in that it uses sweetened condensed milk and strong brewed coffee as well. But unlike the traditional coffee mine is only about half as sweet and maybe only half as strong as any iced coffee I have had in Vietnam.
Although not quite authentic, I like this version of Vietnamese iced coffee as it goes down a little easier. I could sip on it all summer long. For a refreshing afternoon drink half the caffeine is definitely the sensible choice
About Traditional Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Traditionally, a ca phe phin is used to brew Vietnamese coffee. It's similar to a pour-over coffee. The phin sits on top of a cup, there is a compartment that holds the grounds and hot water is poured in on top. Then, the coffee drips slooowwly, one drip at a time, through a built-in filter, right into the cup. Go watch Linh's video to see how slow the coffee drips in real-time. Linh and I were living in Hoi An at the same time in 2016.
In Vietnam, the most commonly used coffee bean is the Robusta bean. This bean thrives at lower altitudes and is actually grown in Vietnam. Compared to the more common Arabica coffee beans that need to grow at high altitudes, the Robusta coffee bean has a strong rich flavor, that is also more bitter. For this recipe, however, you can use strong coffee made from Arabica. If you have or can get your hands on Vietnamese coffee beans, do try it with that too, though.
Considering the bitter taste of the Robusta bean, it is no wonder that it is often combined with plenty of sweetened condensed milk. This results in a very sweet beverage. In fact, in Vietnam, people often consider it a dessert.
I, however, like to sip away on my iced coffee to cool down on hot afternoons. So, to make my Vietnamese Iced Coffee a little more refreshing, I use less sweetened condensed milk, more (not as bitter) coffee, and also add a splash of regular milk or half & half.
Do as you please to tweak it to your own likes as well. You can use plant-based creamer, for example, and switch it up.
The Way Thai Iced Coffee is Traditionally Made
Thai iced coffee (Oliang) is very unique in that it is served with sweetened condensed milk. One day in Thailand I had a traditional iced coffee from a street cart vendor, It was served Thai-style in a plastic bag.
The modern version simply uses instant coffee, but traditionally, it is brewed in a coffee sock with coffee beans, corn, soy and sesame and more in the mix. The whole set-up looked a little complicated and I can't say I enjoyed it enough to justify the effort of recreating it at home. However, if you're into it, by all means, recreate it and let me know how it went!! For home enjoyment, I'll stick to my Vietnamese-style Iced Coffee with homemade sweetened condensed milk.
How to Make Vietnamese-Style Iced Coffee My Way
To make my version of Vietnamese-style iced coffee, I start by pouring the sweetened condensed milk into a tall glass. Then, I add enough ice to fill the glass before pouring strong brewed coffee over the top. The coffee can be freshly brewed for this. You just have to vigorously stir it so that the coffee blends together with the sweetened condensed milk and for the ice to cool it down to a refreshing temperature. Next, you simply top it with whatever your favourite milk is, either dairy or dairy-free, before enjoying it! You can even add some half & half if you prefer something slightly richer in your iced coffee.
This beverage would be perfect to serve to family and friends on a patio on a hot day. Just make sure you have lots of ice in the freezer and you will be good to go!
Strong Coffee Brewing Methods
A few methods exist for brewing the coffee for this recipe. These methods include:
Ca Phe Phin: Add 3 tablespoons of coffee grounds into the Phin and gently push down with the filter. Place the Phin over a cup or glass. Pour over a small amount of hot water - just enough to moisten the coffee grinds. Close the lid and let the coffee bloom for 5 minutes. There should be very little, if any coffee dripping out yet. Then, pour in ⅓ cup of hot water over the bloomed grinds and let the coffee drip out slowly.
Espresso Machine: Use a double shot of espresso (approx. ⅓ cup) per serving.
Instant Coffee: Dissolve ½ tablespoon of instant coffee granules in ⅓ cup hot water.
If you plan to serve Vietnamese iced coffee to several people, simply grab a large glass measuring cup or bowl and scale up the quantities for making the coffee for one serving so that you have plenty brewed to make several glasses.
More Tasty Drinks You'll Love
Check out these other flavorful drink recipes to keep you cool in the warm months, which, depending on where you live, could be all year!
Vietnamese-Style Iced Coffee
- 1-2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
- ⅓ cup coffee strong-brewed!
- milk to taste regular or dairy free
- enough ice to fill a tall glass
- Fill sweetened condensed milk into a tall glass and top with ice.
- Pour in strong coffee and stir vigorously to combine and cool the coffee.
- Add (dairy-free) milk or half & half to taste. Enjoy!
Pin Vietnamese-Style Iced Coffee tutorial for later?
Vietnamese iced coffee is distinct for its use of sweetened condensed milk and strong brewed coffee, often made with Robusta beans for a rich, slightly bitter flavor.
Many enjoy Vietnamese iced coffee for its rich and sweet flavor profile, combining the robust taste of coffee with the creamy sweetness of condensed milk.
The sweetness in Vietnamese iced coffee comes primarily from the use of sweetened condensed milk, which adds a creamy, sugary element to the beverage.
Vietnamese coffee differs in its preparation, often using a special brewing method called a ca phe phin that allows the coffee to drip slowly into the cup, resulting in a strong, flavorful brew that pairs well with sweetened condensed milk.