Summer’s saving grace – Vietnamese Iced Coffee

My uncle introduced me to this delicious drink last year when I visited New Orleans.

Just a couple of blocks away from his house is a coffee shop called The Orange Couch. Yes, there is indeed an orange couch amidst the otherwise white furniture. But, like most people, we weren’t in search of attractive furniture.

The cafe has the typical espresso fare (lattes, mochas, drip, muffins, etc.), but also has the hidden jewel of Vietnamese Iced Coffee. I’ve raved about this drink too often, as some of my friends will attest to. But this subtly sweet discovery is something to be cherished.

Not to be rushed, the preparation of this coffee takes some practice to get it right, but the presentation and result are worth it. A regular iced coffee won’t taste the same ever again.

You’ll need:

  • 6 oz. hot water (just off the boil)
  • 1 tsp. sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon Cafe du Monde – coffee with chicory
  • Phin filter
  • Ice

First, heat cold water so that it’s just about to boil. It will take a couple of minutes, so start with your coffee. Measure out a tablespoon of coffee. Cafe du Monde’s chicory roast works excellent, as it has a coarse grind and adds a distinctive twist to regular coffee.

Place this in your phin filter, and give it a bit of a shake to level out the grounds. I found my phin filters online through Amazon, where they’re only about $1.50 each. Once the grounds are level, twist the damper down so that it’s snug with the grounds, but not too tight – this is just to compress them a bit.

Then, twist the damper in the opposite direction by one turn. By doing this, you’re allowing the grounds to expand and not let the coffee drip for about half an hour. That’s not fun.

Spoon around 1 tsp. of sweetened condensed milk into a mug. I don’t like mine terribly sweet, so one usually works well.

By now, the water should be done heating up. Should it be boiling, just let it set for a few seconds. I’m pretty picky about coffee grounds in the final drink, so I run a finger along the bottom of the filter to catch any loose culprits.

Place your filter on top of the mug and fill it about 1/4 of the way to the top. Let it set for about 20 seconds, which will allow the grounds to become saturated. Then pour the rest of the water in, and set the cap on top of the filter.

Done right, the brewing process should take around four to five minutes. You can check under the lid to see when everything is finished.

Now, at this point, the coffee is still excellent. Just stir up the sweetened condensed milk at the bottom and enjoy it hot, if that’s your preference. On a sweltering summer day, however, an iced drink is usually needed. So, grab some ice, toss it in a glass, and don’t forget to stir up the hot mixture.

Just pour it onto the ice, and stir it around, to cool it evenly.

This is a perfect drink to sit down and spend some time with a book, or even if you’re just out people watching in a coffee shop. The subtle chicory flavor permeates every sip, but isn’t overpowering – even if the coffee is made somewhat strong. At the coffee shop, this is likely to cost around $3.75, and it’s worth every penny. Mixed in with the atmosphere of the shop and the skill of the barista, Vietnamese iced coffee is a great drink.

Making it at home, however, lowers the cost per cup by an incredible level. It’s probably only 20 cents per cup. But you likely won’t be stopping with one. I’ve found that filling up my thermos with ice and pouring in one serving is enough to last through half a day of work.

Give it a try – or if you’re around, I’d be more than happy to make a cup… for myself first. You can wait.

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