The “Phin” of Vietnamese Iced Coffee

The “Phin” of Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Coffee is a global beverage with an equally global following. Over in Asia, they do drink it differently from anywhere in Europe or America for that matter. In this article, the spotlight shines on Vietnam and its take on iced coffee. The classic Vietnamese Iced Coffee or (phonetically) “ca phe sue dah” is a combination of a concentrated brew, condensed milk and ice.

How to Make Vietnamese Coffee

How to Make Vietnamese Coffee image copyright MBK

Any truly authentic Vietnamese coffee brew is going to be incredibly bitter because they use 100% whole Robusta coffee roasted very, very dark. This is why they add condensed milk to sweeten and soften the incredibly bitter flavor notes of Robusta. The other reason is that it is common and easily available.

Now, if you are going to brew the genuine article, you will need to find something called a “phin.” A phin is the name of the little coffee brewer used to brew this particular style of iced coffee. The good news is that you should be able to find one for a couple of dollars. Just make sure that your phin is the right size as you can get them as small as 120ml to as large as 300ml. However, regardless of size, your phin should have a main brewing chamber with a filter built in the bottom, a press down spreader and a lid that doubles as a drip catcher stand for the brewer.

So once you have the phin, you will need the condensed milk, fresh ground coffee beans, ice and of course, boiling hot water. The water you boil and use to make ice – goes without saying –must be fresh and filtered to avoid any unexpected impurities from ruining the taste and flavor of your coffee.


Your coffee should be a quality Robusta coffee, ground down for a standard drip grind. You may have to adjust the grind depending on the phin and how much coffee you use depending on your personal taste. Prep the phin by filling with your ground coffee of choice and then screwing down until you begin to feel resistance. Then unscrew one full turn so that there is space for the coffee to expand when you add the hot water.

Now on to the condensed milk: Make no mistake; this stuff will keep for centuries on a shelf out of direct sunlight. Before you start free pouring in to your coffee cup, taste it so you know how sweet it is, and add enough to the bottom of your empty coffee to flavor your coffee and not send yourself in to sugar shock.

With the condensed milk lining your coffee cup, pour the boiling water and let the phin work its magic. The ideal brew time is about four minutes. This means four minutes from the moment hot water hits the coffee to the last drop of coffee falls out from the phin. If your brew time turns out to be shorter, grind finer or use more coffee or do both. If the reverse happens, grind coarser or use less coffee or do both.

Once brewed, stir vigorously to ensure that you mix the coffee together with that layer of evaporated milk resting at the bottom of your cup. This should take about twenty seconds of serious stirring. Finally add your ice over the top and enjoy the genuine article.