In my childhood, this was the special coffee.
This coffee was different. A special process made with Cafe Du Monde coffee grounds, a specific metal filter, and different from the stuff that was brewed in the Mr. Coffee. Cà phê sữa đá, the strong Vietnamese Coffee with sweetened condensed milk over ice. This style of coffee isn’t a daily drinker for me at home, but more likely on a Saturday morning when I have a bit more time. However, when I was in Vietnam, Cà phê sữa đá was the daily drink, usually in the afternoon, but anytime is fine.
Vietnam has a long history of French influence (i.e. crunchy french baguette and pate in a banh mi) due to colonization. Cafe Du Monde ground coffee gets its namesake from a place in Old Jackson Square, New Orleans famous for hot, freshly powdered sugared beignets and coffee with chicory.
Why coffee and chicory? Chicory is a flowering plant in the dandelion family that is characterized by a tough, hairy stem, light purple flowers and leaves that are commonly used in salads. Chicory coffee tastes similar to coffee but has a flavor that’s often described as slightly woody and nutty. (healthline) The chicory was commonly used as coffee substitute or added to extend the life of coffee beans in tough economic times.
If you don’t have Cafe Du Monde, any ground coffee will work, preferably the darkest roast as Vietnamese Coffee is typically made strong.
A blog I like to follow, Hungry Huy has done an excellent job of outlining the process in greater detail.
- Acquire Vietnamese Coffee Maker (Honestly, go to an Asian Market, find the coffee section, and you will find these cheap as chips ($3-5) usually along with the ground coffee too. Rather than online and perhaps support local business!).
- Boil a kettle of water.
- Assemble a coffee filter (3 parts – stainless cup, screw in filter, and cap), a tempered glass to filter hot coffee, sweetened condensed milk, a can punch, a long tablespoon, a tall serving glass filled with ice, and your ground coffee.
4. Open sweetened condensed milk (Longevity is preferred, but any brand will work.) with can punch, pour 1 to 4 tbsp of milk into the bottom of the tempered glass. I like it sweeter, so I usually do 2-3 tbsp. The amount of ice will water down the coffee and sweetness as you drink.
5. Then, place the stainless cup on top of the tempered class. Add a heaping tablespoon of coffee grounds, screw on the filter, touching the grounds, and then just a little tighter.
5. Pour over hot water to the top of the filter. Carefully, cover with the stainless lid. Wait 3-6 minutes for the coffee to drip. You could lift the lid to see how it is progressing. If it takes longer than this, your filter is too tight. You may need to carefully adjust or wait a little longer.
6. When brew is complete, set stainless cup on top of turned over lid (makes a great coaster) to catch final drips (add to your finished coffee.)
7. Mix the condensed milk with the coffee. You can drink this way hot or more traditionally, over ice for those hot summer days.
8. To drink over ice, then, quickly and elegantly, dump the tempered glass into the tall glass with ice. Stir and sip to enjoy.
Tips: Store the leftover sweetened condensed milk in a plastic or glass container for up to 3 weeks. Adjust sweetness on your next cup when the liquid is hot, else you’ll get clumpy Cafe Sua Da. (Cafe Sue-a Dah) Order one like a pro at your next Vietnamese restaurant visit.