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In this thread concerning the "best Vietnamese in New York" several people have mentioned the coffee. I posted this there, but think that the subject will get more input here:

And the iced coffee with condensed milk (cafe sua da) was nothing special at all three.  Now I'm stuck back up here in the boondocks of Syracuse NY where we have three Vietnamese restaurants in a  small city - one formerly good and now declining, another is not bad and the third, new Century, is among the best Vietnamese I've ever had. And their coffee rocks.

OK, CoffeeBoy, what makes it great? I know it when I have it (I had some at lunch at my favorite pho joint, Pho Bang, here in NO), but just what sets it apart from run of the mill? I have several of the little rigs, and I have tried and tried to get it right at home, and I can't-it's good, but it's not perfect. I do it all of the time, but can't seem to perfect the technique

Hints? Degree of grind? How hard to screw that thing down? I want to be able to make the stuff right.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Specifically, what problems are you having with the Vietnamese ice coffee you make at home?

I've also found those coffee filters to be finicky to use, since I don't use them all that regularly. I like to use imported Trung Nguyen coffee when I can get my hands on it. The TN roast definitely has a unique aroma to it.

One more thing: I usually overtighten the lid (by accident) and end up loosening it to get the right degree of drip.

Edited by sanrensho (log)
Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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Listen up Okra Boy- IMHO the Trung Nguyen brand is the key and I don't have access to it locally in retail stores. I've been advised that the brand of condensed milk used can make a difference due to a different level or style of sweetness. I think "Longevity" may be the brand sold in Asian markets, which has been recommended to me.

I try cafe sua da in any and every Vietnamese restaurant I try out (given the opportunity that's dar near everywhere I travel). The coffee made here in Syracuse with Trung Nguyen is the best I've had. It's darker and richer tasting and has an aromatic quality that I haven't found elsewhere.

I too have experimented at home with the little filter and have not yet gotten it right. If you go in a place that makes it with an espresso machine just politely decline - it ain't the same. There's something unique about the slow drip process that does something different than a fast extraction under pressure.

Last week I had cafe sua da at the Saigon Cafe in Fremont CA just off Rte 880. They brought it to the table far too quickly already mixed and in a glass that was half crushed ice and half cubes. But guess what? It was the third best I've ever had - even had a second one for dessert.

Second best I've had (and on repeat occasions) is at a little Viet deli/grocery corner store on the edge of Chinatown in NYC. They have about 30 of those little filters all set up and ready to go and just have them dripping all day long serving up one cup after another. Damn I love that stuff.

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I learned to make it from the neighborhood Pho shop. But while they use Goya brand coffee (some shops here use Cafe du Monde), I use Trung Nguyen very finely ground and Longevity brand condensed milk. While other shoppers at a Vietnamese market have told me it makes no difference which brand you use, they mentioned that those born in Vietnam prefer Longevity brand because it has had a long presence in the country.

I have been pleased with making it at home just by following the directions that came with the filter. As I recall, that's to

1) put the coffee in the filter and screw it down gently,

2) put filter on top of small glass with about three Tbs of condensed milk in bottom,

3 fill filter only 20% or so with just off boil water in order to wet the grounds (lid on),

4) after that initial water has seeped through, back off the screw about a turn and a half and fill with off boil water and replace lid.

5) let seep slowly into glass containing the condensed milk (three - five minutes),

6) remove filter, stir coffee and condensed milk together and pour over taller glass filled with ice cubes.

The only time I have had a less than satisfactory result was when not using enough condensed milk.

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3 fill filter only 20% or so with just off boil water in order to wet the grounds (lid on),

4) after that initial water has seeped through, back off the screw about a turn and a half and fill with off boil water and replace lid.

That's the ticket! I just did this and am enjoying it right now. Wetting the grounds slows down the actual main dripping process and also gives me the amount that I get when I am in a pho shop (I kept coming up short and couldn't understand what the deal was).

That's great. Thanks!

I found the little rigs at a vietnamese grocery in Kenner, LA (it's on Williams in a strip mall behind Little Tokyo and actually opens onto Yutaro, an excellent noodle joint). They were $3 bucks a pop and they also had several brands of Vietnamese coffee. I asked the young woman behind the counter what brand most of her shoppers preferred and she said it was CDM about three to one over the Vietnamese Brands.

They did have Longevity Brand milk so I purchased a couple of cans. I am going to try this alongside my preferred brand, Borden's La Lechera. Lechera is very dark and vry, very sweet and I developed a taste for. I suspect that Longevity will be much the same-and if it is, I will continue buying it just because I like the name.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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That's a great tip about adding water to saturate the grounds and then backing off. Every now and then one of the waiters at my favorite Viet restaurant doesn't get it right because he's one of the younger less experienced ones - the older cousins and brothers all make coffee that drips through at the proper rate.

I think CDM is better than the typical "Vietnamese" brands you'll find in the average Asian market because most of those are just dark roast fine ground canned coffee made under contract and not even from Vietnamese beans. They have Viet writing the can but the one I tried was packaged in Canada and it was lousy.

It's worth mentioning that as the world's second largest coffee producer Vietnam has two categories of beans:

1) Cheap rotgut robusta that is so bad it was unmarketable until the big four food conglomerates found a way to steam treat the beans and remove some of the most noxious flavor components. It makes it barely drinkable but still bad. If you've noticed a quality decline in mass market grocery store coffee over the years (Folger's, Maxwell House et al) it's because many of those brands now include a high percentage of these beans.

The glut of production that resulted from this development (Vietnam contains much land that grows this bad coffee very easily) was the primary factor leading to declining prices for coffee on the commodity market worldwide in recent years. It's had a terrible impact on coffee farmers and their families in many countries and the worst is not over yet although a small rebound has started.

2) High quality robusta and arabica beans. Most of this Viet coffee production goes to their own domestic consumption or to neighboring countries where coffee is consumed. These are beans with a very unique flavor profile markedly different than Indonesian coffee. I've yet to see the higher quality beans available in packaged from here in the US except for the Trung Nguyen brand which is difficult to locate.

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I was lucky enough to get a sample of Cafe Bao at the FFS in SF this January and it's pretty fabulous coffee. If you live in New York you can apparently buy it locally.

Also, this website has some directions on how to make it and they are exactly like Richard's description. Cool site, as well.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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  • 3 months later...
4) after that initial water has seeped through, back off the screw about a turn and a half and fill with off boil water and replace lid.

How the deuce do you do this without boiling your fingers? Seriously, everytime I try to unscrew the press a turn, I end up with blisters!

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4) after that initial water has seeped through, back off the screw about a turn and a half and fill with off boil water and replace lid.

How the deuce do you do this without boiling your fingers? Seriously, everytime I try to unscrew the press a turn, I end up with blisters!

Wait until the initial water has drained, then back off the screw before pouring the off boil water. The screw will be hot and you have to be quick with the turning if you use bare fingers, but I have never burned myself enough for it to even show. The screw is sloted, so you could use a screwdriver (or a spoon handle or some other kitchen tool) to turn it, I just usually don't bother. But now that you mention it, I think I may leave a dedicated Vietnamese coffee screwdriver in the kitchen.

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Brooks,

Thank you for starting this topic. I really love Vietnamese iced coffee and often order it when I am out, I bought the filters and some coffee a little while back and tried to make it and it was just awful.

I have no idea what I did wrong, but it could have been a number of things... :hmmm:

can it be made with regular coffee?

I have a really hard time finding the vietnamese stuff...

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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How the deuce do you do this without boiling your fingers?

In addition to the above suggestion, you can often use the tab on the lid to turn the slot, although it takes some practice. I also use a butter knife for this purpose.

One thing I find is that it is important to screw the top down with a firm hand, but not to overdo it. Once you start to compress the grinds too much, it clogs up the holes and you reach a point of no return. Then you're left with a too slow drip, extra long wait, and tepid coffee.

can it be made with regular coffee?

I have a really hard time finding the vietnamese stuff...

I've never used regular coffee with my Vietnamese filter, so I can't say. I suppose it will work if you can find a darker roast with the right coarse grind. Isn't it possible to buy/order coffee from the Trung Nguyen store in Roppongi? Has it closed by now? I know that there are a lot of online sources for Vietnamese coffee over in Japan.

Edited by sanrensho (log)
Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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Isn't it possible to buy/order coffee from the Trung Nguyen store in Roppongi? Has it closed by now? I know that there are a lot of online sources for Vietnamese coffee over in Japan.

There is a Trung Ngyuen store in Roppongi?

It was about two years ago that I tried it and I haven't really looked for sources since then, maybe if I get up the courage to make it again...

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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There is a Trung Ngyuen store in Roppongi?

It was about two years ago that I tried it and I haven't really looked for sources since then, maybe if I get up the courage to make it again...

I actually heard about the TN shop in Roppongi from an NHK documentary on coffee consumption in Vietnam. Broadcast earlier this year on our local TV Japan network, but I don't know the original broadcast date, so I can't say whether the shop is still there. Very interesting documentary, too.

http://www.bento.com/rev/1941.html

Edited by sanrensho (log)
Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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Here in the U.S. most Vietnamese restaurants use the New Orleans brand Cafe du Monde - a dark roast coffee that also includes chicory in the blend. Here in Syracuse one of our three local Vietnamese restaurants uses the Trung Ngyuen brand - the one in the red box. The difference is taste remarkable and very noticeable despite the presence of sweetened condensed milk (I always take cafe sua da - have never tried this coffee served hot).

You could try regular coffee - I'd lean towards a dark roast and preferably a hearty Indonesian bean - perhaps Sumatran if you can get some. I have not roasted any Vietnamese green beans as I couldn't find any but the cheap robusta variety - I think the Viet quality arabica beans are consumed in their domestic market and perhaps by surrounding countries as well.

I did try a 1/2 lb of Laotian beans several months ago when I stumbled across a place in PA that was selling them. I'll guess that Laotian beans may be similar to Vietnamse due to geography. What I had was okay but not distinctly memorable. I think it was less fresh than the vendor claimed (they said it had been roasted two days prior but it didn't seem fresh enough to me).

That said... I think there's no substitute for the little coffee press. I was served some very forgettable cafe sua da last summer in a Vietnamese place (in Seattle's ID). It was brought to the table already mixed. Noticed on the way out that they were using an espresso machine to make it.

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I think it was there the last time I was in Roppongi, but I can't remember the last time I was in Roppongi... it might have been 6 months ago, or maybe 12/18 months ago. Except for specific objectives, I tend to avoid Roppongi otherwise. I remember that being one small reason for going to Roppongi (I mentioned it briefly in a thread in the Japan forum about things to see in Japan, but not by name, since I couldn't remember it).

I thought it was pretty cool that you can choose your coffee in tiers of how much robusta is used. I think they had five choices. I assume they sold the beans, but I wasn't trying to brew any coffee in Japan, and I'm partial to recently roasted beans when I'm back home in Seattle.

There is a Trung Ngyuen store in Roppongi?

It was about two years ago that I tried it and I haven't really looked for sources since then, maybe if I get up the courage to make it again...

I actually heard about the TN shop in Roppongi from an NHK documentary on coffee consumption in Vietnam. Broadcast earlier this year on our local TV Japan network, but I don't know the original broadcast date, so I can't say whether the shop is still there. Very interesting documentary, too.

http://www.bento.com/rev/1941.html

Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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How the deuce do you do this without boiling your fingers?

In addition to the above suggestion, you can often use the tab on the lid to turn the slot, although it takes some practice. I also use a butter knife for this purpose.

I was playing around with my coffee filters and realized that I didn't get the description right. Instead of the tab, you use the lip on any other part of the lid. The curvature of the lid is just enough that you can reach the slot to turn it.

Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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My cafe sua da usually arrives with the proper amount of pressure having been applied when the filter was screwed down (I have it at the same place on a regular basis). But every now and then a less experienced waiter overtightens it and no dripping occurs. I have been successful using a dime to turn it - would have to request a butter knife as they don't provide me cutlery when I dine there alone (use chopsticks).

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Sadly, I just realized this is one more thing that I will be making on my own for a while-New Orleans East, home of one of the largest Vietnamese population concentrations in the US, ain't dere no mo.

My favorite local, the one that I mentioned above, is no longer in business. They're building collapsed. I can see it from my office window. I hope that wherever those people are that they are ok. They were really nice folks.

As for the coffee, after Coffeeboy's directions, I am getting dependable results. I generally use CDM, but sometimes I use some locally roasted (well, not right now, but they didn't flood, so I guess they will be open soon) dark roast that I get from The New Orleans Coffee Exchange.

I love that stuff. I have taken to keeping an extra couple of drippers because everytime that I make it for people hanging around the house, they want to know where to get them. And at $2.50 apiece, they make a nice, inexpensive gift.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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  • 2 weeks later...

So I was Googling for Trung Nguyen coffee today, and came up with this link. There was some discussion in the comments regarding the quality of Trung Nguyen coffee.

Any thoughts? I am not the world's best-informed coffee drinker. I'm currently using CDM, but I really enjoyed a cup of TN recently. Were my tastebuds tricking me?

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  • 5 months later...

I'm not sure if someone has brought this up already or not but i just wanted to see if people love vietnamese coffee as much as I do. The slow drip dark roasted coffee mixed with condensed milk and in the summer with lots of ice. So aromatic, so delicious, as a matter of fact im gonna get soem now hehe... :raz:

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