On our second post of the Barista Manifesto, we’re going to focus on a specific drink: Cà phê sữa đá, or, Vietnamese iced coffee. This is a delicious treat for the end-of-summer; if you haven’t had Vietnamese iced coffee before, you should learn and appreciate the incredible taste of this drink. Part of what makes this drink special is how unique it is in comparison to a lot of other coffee drinks; using a combination of a metal filter (when many coffee shops have moved to paper filters) and sweetened condensed milk to brew this drink, one gets a rich and unique, sweet taste full of creamy flavor.
Let’s dive right in with the ingredients, shall we?
Ingredients (1 Serving)
Using a pour-over coffee filter (preferably a metal filter for the richest flavors), bring one cup of water to a boil. Add the two tablespoons of coffee to the filter and slowly pour hot water; the coffee should take about four minutes to steep. After steeping, pour in sweetened condensed milk and stir until even, and, finally, add ice.
For this drink, we would recommend Bean Voyage’s Double Washed Dark Roast (though any dark roast would work) (1). The subtle flavors of coffee (and the acidity of the dark roast) are important to balance out the sweet sensations of the creamy sweetness of the sweetened condensed milk. It’s a truly delicious drink — to pay it justice, we will discuss (briefly) its history and the history of coffee in Vietnam.
Coffee was brought to Vietnam during French colonization in the late 19th century. Originally having only one tree variety, Vietnam has experienced a boom in production in variety and share. In thirty years, Vietnam has jumped from 0.1% of the market share of coffee to 20% — a two-thousand times increase in production. Vietnam, uniquely, manufactured the first instant coffee trees — starting an instant coffee manufacturing plant in 1950. In the 90s, the industry grew by 30% every year (3)!
However, this growth is not without pain. Beyond the typical exploitation of industrial growth, which has created a divide in rich and poor, the rapid need for land has upset the environment of the region (4). The World Wildlife Foundation believes that the rapid onset of industry has resulted in the destruction of 40,000 acres of forest in Vietnam, along with permanent land and water pollution (5).
All-in-all, though, this drink carries within in it a combination of historical forces; itself, it is a meeting point of cultures. By writing about cà phê sữa đá, we hope that we can bring to attention both the history of colonialism through coffee and the resilience of the colonized. This drink is a work of art created by many artists over the years — you would do yourself a disservice if you do not drink it.