It's probably no secret that I love Vietnamese coffee. I think I have written about it at least two times on this blog. I love its very sweet, very bitter and very strong taste. Add the fact that they almost always drink it with ice, then I'm fully and hopelessly sold.
The traditional preparation of Vietnamese coffee, or ca phe sua da (iced milk coffee), is a bit unique. Like everything else in this country, they have their own way of getting things done. An uninitiated foreigner may not know what to do when served with it. I have noted the few steps. Here we go.
You order traditional ca phe sua da and you will be served a few things on your table: a glass of very light chamomile tea (iced), a tall glass of ice with a long thin spoon and straw, and finally, a short glass with a layer of thick condensed milk and a small spoon. Now, on top of this short glass sits a silver strainer (a makeshift coffee maker, if you will) and inside is hot water and finely ground Vietnamese coffee. Pretty elaborate, huh?
You lull away time, watch the quintessentially Vietnamese motorcycles go by, and wait for the hot water, now infused with strong coffee flavor, drip down on top of the condensed milk. It's a beautiful sight, I'm telling you.
Once all the water inside the strainer has "dripped" onto the glass of condensed milk, you set aside the silver strainer and using the short spoon, you stir the coffee and condensed milk into one creamy coffee goodness.
You pour this mixture into the tall glass of ice and then, you mix it again using the tall thin spoon. I'm getting excited just writing about it now.
Take a sip of your coffee using the straw and savor each note—from bitter to sweet to creamy to earthy and what have you. This thing can get pretty rich and strong on one's mouth. That's when the light chamomile tea comes in. It's sort of your chaser to this whole experience.
More often than not nowadays, when you order ca phe sua da, you will already be served with the coffee fully prepared. That is, everything has already been mixed in: coffee, condensed milk and ice. However, there are still a few shops, particularly, those unnamed ones on the side of the any street in Vietnam that still does it the traditional way. I say experiencing the coffee the traditional way is probably worth your time. At least, have it once. When it Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese do. Enjoy.
Tell me I'm not the only one addicted to Vietnamese coffee. Anyone else? What other kinds of coffee do you know of often inspire addiction from hapless travelers?