A morning at ANNEES starts the same every day. While the A-Team bustles around, greeting guests and setting up for a busy day, a designated coffee brewer begins the first round of what will be many rounds of carefully brewed liquid gold. With utmost care, they set up rows of phin filters with aromatic ground coffee and thoughtfully let water trickle over top. A thick, dark, and rich brew slowly drips from a filter into numerous glass jars.
Once cooled, it’s ready to shake with ice and creamy condensed milk in what seems to be a heaven-made combo. But what allows Vietnamese coffee that rich, complex flavour? And why is condensed milk its perfect pairing?
A Brief History
Coffee trees were introduced to Vietnam in 1857 by French importers. As Vietnam’s climate was so perfect for cultivating coffee, it became a growing staple and love of Vietnam. Eventually, they became the second largest overall coffee exporter in the world, and the premiere largest producer of robusta beans.
Vietnamese coffee is mainly comprised of these roasted robusta coffee beans, characterised by a dark lingering flavour that branches into bitterness. Arabica beans, which are generally what most coffee shops serve as a “higher quality” bean, tend to be less bitter.
However, the nuances of the robusta bean are exactly what allows Vietnamese coffee to taste so flavourful and rich, as allows for a thick cup of coffee.
So why condensed milk?
Because of Vietnam’s lack of a dairy farming industry in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, and a hot, humid climate perfect for fresh dairy to spoil, sweetened condensed milk was added to the dark, thick brew. Not only was it delicious and eased the bite of the strong coffee, it could keep for long periods of time in the intense heat, and could be easily packed and transported. Adding ice and a thick layer of creamy condensed milk to dripped coffee became a staple of Vietnamese culture, that allowed the same rich coffee to be enjoyed cold on days where humidity and heat were at their peak.
Now, Vietnamese coffee can be found all over the world. In Vietnamese restaurants, phin filters will be brought to your table and dripped over condensed milk. Condensed milk is added to teas and coffees as a milk-and-sugar alternative. And, of course, it’s an honour for Annee’s Caphe Sua Da to make Vietnamese iced coffee that’s accessible, while still honouring the traditions and authentic deliciousness of its origins.