Last year during my brief travels in Vietnam I made an unbelievable discovery: Vietnamese style iced coffee (ca phe da). Luckily, our very first day in the country, both my sister and I ordered one of these delicious and refreshing treats while attempting to cool off in a complete tourist trap in the Pham Ngu Lao district (a.k.a. backpacker and creepy older European dude-ville)downtown Ho Chi Minh city. Coffee is pretty universal, plus we would’ve drank anything that included the word “iced” at that point, we figured it was a safe bet while we settled in our new (and hectic) surroundings.
I am still not exactly sure what makes Vietnamese coffee taste so f*cking good that its unreal, however, one can only assume that it starts with the beans. The method to making the iced coffee differs, depending on the equipment one has on hand, but I personally witnessed two methods:
•Literally whisk the ground coffee with boiling water until it seems to somehow evaporate (I swear I heard our hotel hostess as well as several local bartenders whisking away until nothing was left but a thick, black cup of coffee with delicious and sweet foam) pour over cracked ice.
•Use the drip filter method.
You can either have the iced coffee straight on ice or you can drip brew it into a cup already containing some condensed milk, using a small stainless steel drip filter contraption which straddles a single glass. Then pour over cracked ice. For those who do not have the small drip-pot contraption, I still believe you can whisk it. I found the coffee so naturally sweet at first my theory was they were whisking it with some sugar – why else the white foam? I am still not sure. Now that I’ve brewed it straight up and drank it as hot coffee, it still tastes sweet, even with no sugar, milk or cream added.
Most people have heard of this rich, beautiful iced coffee as the version with condensed milk. I tried this also. It is complete decadence. It is like tasting a coffee ice cream milk shake, but better, more thick and rich. Its almost too much. I preferred mine without any milk at all. It was so black and rich it reminded me almost of straight Kahlua.
Once we got used to area a little more and began to explore, we realized we didn’t need to pay 20,000 Vietnamese Dong to buy an iced coffee at a local tourist haunt (about $1.11 CAD). Like mostly everything else in downtown Ho Chi Minh, if you wait long enough, someone will pass you selling it on the street. Or, if you know a corner where the street iced coffee is really good, you can venture there and pay something more like 7,000 dong (about 40 cents CAD). The Vietnamese people are some of the friendliest I’ve met. Pull up a child-size brightly coloured plastic seat and kick back on the side walk or stoop with everyone else. No one can afford air conditioning and outdoors is where all the action is. Thousands of mopeds and scooters jam the streets and just trying to cross, for a tourist, is a daunting task. We soon assimilated though and thoroughly enjoyed not just the iced coffee, but the street cafes’ and vendors’ variety of exotic, fresh food.
I purchased some Vietnamese ground coffee before I left the country, and I still have about half the bag. I have been drinking it as regular hot coffee through the winter, which is still delicious and has this natural sweet flavour that is very different from most other coffees I buy around here that are imported from Africa. I am going to attempt to make the iced coffee without the drip pot, just whisk away until it thickens and foams, and pour over cracked ice in a tall glass. Perfection.