by Becca Smith
I have an absurd coffee habit. Always have & always will. Growing up it seemed weird to most people that this tiny 12-year-old girl was addicted to coffee, but luckily now that I am in college it seems to be slightly more socially acceptable. However, it was a habit that I had to break during my 5 month stint living in Bangkok. Instant coffee was in abundance, and around every corner were street vendors selling the sweetest iced coffee known to man- thanks to the always reliable cans of condensed milk that rule Southeast Asia. But what I craved was a wonderful hot, strong mug of drip coffee. My trip to Vietnam brought so much more.
I fell deeply in love with Vietnam, as most of the visitors to country do (e.g. Anthony Bourdain). I loved everything about it — the food, the people, the culture, the Asian-meets-French architecture, but mostly I loved the coffee. I had at the very least 3 cups a day. (I had to make up for what I would be lacking when I returned to Bangkok.)
There was one cafe in Hue that I loved visiting. It faced what is known in English as the Perfume River. It looked to be fairly popular with the Vietnamese in the area and it was packed full. I found a seat at the very edge of the cafe at a bar-like structure looking out over the Perfume River. The waiter brought me out a small glass with a line of the ever-useful condensed milk filling the bottom and a small Phin filter on top. The coffee in Vietnam was a robusta-which is insanely dark and bitter coffee. It is the most available in Vietnam.
This is why the condensed milk is so perfect 1)Vietnam is located in Southeast Asia where condensed milk can be used in anything and everything. Ice cream is even topped with condensed milk to make it that much sweeter. It is cheap and it is everywhere. 2)The intense sweetness of condensed milk is the perfect balance to the bitterness of the coffee. It is the perfect concealer to how strong the coffee you are enjoying is.
But soon enough my body was always aware of just how much caffeine I had consumed. Between the sugar from the milk and the caffeine from the coffee, I had more than enough energy to explore all of Vietnam in one day. It was a great feeling.
I purchased a few phin filters from tourist shops in Vietnam. I suspect that the quality was subpar, but nevertheless every once in awhile I attempt to make Vietnamese coffee at home. I drink it and pretend that I'm back exploring Southeast Asia instead of stuck in real life - working and getting ready for summer to end and another year of school to start.
Next time that you are out at a Vietnamese restaurant, try some Vietnamese coffee after enjoying a bowl of Pho (oh what I wouldn't give for Pho right now.)
ScottOr better yet talk to about planning your own trip to Southeast Asia to get the most authentic (and energizing) cup of Vietnamese coffee.