In the world of coffee, there are many different brewing methods. Among them, the Vietnamese coffee phin is one of the most unique and interesting.
But what is it, exactly? And how do you use it?
What is a Vietnamese Coffee Phin?
Because coffee is such a popular drink all over the world, many countries have developed their own methods of brewing it. In Italy of course they originated the espresso style, using a complicated machine to prepare it. From France came the French Press, or Cafetiere, a much simpler style. Indonesia is known for its Kopi Luwak, and the U.S.A, well I guess they gave us Starbucks. Vietnam too has an interesting and unique method of preparing fresh-brewed coffee – the coffee Phin.
The Vietnamese Coffee Phin is a slow-drip coffee filter and is the standard equipment used most commonly throughout Vietnam, and was originally introduced by the French colonists in the late 18th century. The Phin is a small metal pot with a perforated bottom that sits on a specially designed cup. Coffee grounds are placed in the pot and hot water is poured over them. A lid is then placed on the pot. The water slowly drips down through the grounds into the cup.
The Phin is unique to Vietnam, although you can buy one in Asian grocery stores in most places. But Vietnam is about the only place where you will be served one when you order coffee in a restaurant or coffee shop.
In the south of India, they use a coffee brewer that uses the same principle but is much larger, more like a coffee pot, whereas the Phin is always an individual serving.
How to use a Vietnamese Coffee Phin
The coffee Phin is a straightforward tool for brewing drip coffee. It consists of four components:
- The main part, the metal chamber or pot where the coffee is brewed, is where the coffee grounds are placed and the hot water added. Its finely perforated base stops coffee ground from getting into the cup.
- There is another perforated screen that is placed directly on top of the coffee in the chamber. This presses down on the coffee and the perforations allow the steam to escape.
- There is a metal lid that is placed on the top of the chamber, and this keeps the coffee hot while it drips through.
- Lastly, there is one more perforated filter which is designed to catch any coffee grounds that come through from the chamber and also acts both as a stable base for the chamber to sit on, and a surface to sit on the cup or glass underneath. Usually, an appropriate-sized cup is sold with the Phin as a complete package, but most coffee cups or glasses can be used with it.
What does Phin coffee taste like?
Since Vietnam is the world’s biggest producer of Robusta coffee beans it is no surprise that most coffee drunk in Vietnam is Robusta, and usually, in a dark roast, a style popularized by the French.
Robusta has a stronger flavor and is more bitter than Arabica.
Some Vietnamese coffee blends have a strong, caramel-chocolate flavor which the dark roasting process brings out in the Robusta beans.
To keep up with international trends, many coffee houses and coffee chains in Vietnam also serve espresso and use Arabica beans which are generally imported and more expensive, but traditionally the coffee Phin has always used Robusta, and on average a cup of Phin coffee in a Hanoi back-street café will cost around $0.30c so it is the most popular style, especially among the older generations.
Phin coffee can be straight black, called Ca Phe Den. If milk and sugar are required then condensed milk is added to the cup before the coffee is brewed, and this is called Ca Phe Sua, a very strong and sweet version.
This method can also be used to make iced coffee, Ca Phe Da, and is in fact one of the best ways to drink it because using the Phin can take around 5 to 10 minutes for the coffee to drip through and in this time it can cool down quite a lot.
Vietnamese Phin vs French Press
The Phin and the French press are both similar in that they both require medium to coarse ground coffee and they are both easy to clean, and simple to use.
The difference is that the Press steeps the coffee in hot water, and the plunger pushes the coffee grounds to the bottom to keep them out of your cup, whereas in the Phin the coffee drips down just like in drip or filter coffee.
Another difference is the timing – the Phin can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the portion size of the coffee in the pot.
The Press can brew coffee in a couple of minutes, although experts say you should wait at least 4 minutes.
Final Thoughts on the Vietnamese Coffee Phin
Vietnam is a destination known for its sad history but also for its great food, including its coffee culture.
If you can’t make it to Vietnam to try the Phin, you can find one in a local Asian grocery, or easily buy one online.
It does not take any expertise to use, and you can have coffee made the way the Vietnamese have enjoyed it for hundreds of years.