Ca Phe Sua da: Vietnamese Coffee
Vietnamese coffee is some of the most delicious coffee I have ever had the great fortune to enjoy. I am a first generation American. Both of my parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam. They had nothing, knew no one, and spoke almost no English. What they did have though was a dream that their children have the opportunities that they were not afforded in Vietnam and my mom worked long hard hours at three minimum wage jobs to make that happen. I had those opportunities, I got a great education, took part in many fulfilling experiences, and have the opportunity to do things my parents never had the basic rights to back then. I’m proud to be an American and I’m proud of what my mom did to make that a reality.
Growing up as the only Asian kid around had some challenges though. I was never bullied or anything horrendous but I did struggle with my cultural identity in my adolescent years. I wondered if my genetic differences affected my social standing. I sought out everything I could about Asian culture. I studied Asian martial arts, I became fascinated by where I was from, and the general history of Asian Americans. I just wanted some idea about where I was to fit in the world. I would ask my mom questions about my heritage and should would tell me things about our culture, but she would say “You’re an American. You were born here and never let anyone tell you any different.” She was right. Today I associate more with being an Arizonan than anything else. The water from the Salt and Colorado River runs in my veins. The rays of those Arizona sunsets and sunrises have tanned my skin and remain in my pigment.
One treasure from Vietnamese culture that I discovered when I was younger was Ca Phe Sua Da: Vietnamese coffee. This stuff is incredible. Specifically Trung Nguyen brand coffee. Supremely sweet but earth-shakeingly strong, this stuff warms the soul on a cold day and iced, chills core during baking summer days. Ca Phe is made using a unique filter called a Phin. It utilizes a slow drip method of coffee extraction that produces some of the strongest coffee I’ve ever had.
To me it is reminiscent of a Cortado. Much like a Cortado, as I’m intensely caffeinated I am reminded of strong historical and cultural values tied in with these coffees. I imagine the French Catholic priest who introduced it to Vietnam. Then the cultivation, expansion, and exportation of Vietnamese grown coffee. I nibble a croissant or a little baguette and sip my ca phe sua da and a little thin mustache manages to grow while I sit. I digress.
The particular blend I have at the moment is called Sang Tao Eight. Sounds exotic and I have no idea what Sang Tao One through Seven were like but I’ve been assured that Sang Tao Eight is a premium blend. It does not disappoint.
I have been told that you can also make this style of coffee with the more popular Cafe Du Monde, but it doesn’t taste the same and is it really Vietnamese coffee or just Cafe Du Monde made in a strange way with some sweetened condensed milk?
Here’s how it’s made.
Add sweetened and condensed milk to your glass. This stuff is potent so I usually stick to 1 tablespoon. If you like your coffee sweet as Southern tea then you might want to up the ante. You can also use goat’s milk. My wife is vegan so we use coconut milk in hers. This is when you can add ice if you prefer to enjoy it iced.
I place the Phin on top its lid so as not to spill coffee through it. Place 2-3 tablespoons of Trung Nguyen coffee inside of the filter. Be careful and you may have to experiment based off the size of your Phin but too much and the coffee will barely or not at all drip through. Too little and the coffee will not properly extract.
Set your phin atop the rip of your glass. Before you screw your filter into place, be sure to add only enough water as to wet the coffee grinds. This will allow the coffee to expand. Only then you can screw on your filter. Again be cautious not to over tighten, as this will make the coffee extraction take forever.
Place your lid on top of your Phin and let water cohesion and the slow drip process take its course. This should take only a couple minutes. If this takes too long or doesn’t taste quite as strong as you like it, check your Phin tightness.
Once the Phin has drained, give the resulting concoction a satisfying stir and enjoy the sweet caffeinated elixir. Warning this is pretty strong coffee, enjoy at your own peril. The process for making Ca Phe Sua Da is involved and demands more time and attention than most cups of coffee these days, so I only occasionally get to enjoy the siren song of this decadent coffee. I easily get distracted and so caught up with my everyday routine that I don’t take a moment to enjoy finer coffee and the rich history behind it. This helps me remember my history, my sweet home Arizona, and the people who made me who I am.