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CaPhe Tradition: Getting Vietnamese Espresso with Chom Chom Chef Logan Hester

CaPhe Tradition: Getting Vietnamese Espresso with Chom Chom Chef Logan Hester

Before arriving in Hong Kong to Chom Chom, your favourite late-night corner stoop in SoHo, American-born chef Logan Hester had called Vietnam home, where he was head chef at Peter Franklin’s Anan Saigon for many years deepening his love and his knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine. And one thing he knows really well is coffee – or as the Vietnamese know it – CaPhe.

Forget your ‘regular’ coffee order when you come to Vietnam… you are entering the land of phin drippers, powerfully dark Robusta, and specialty blends that are turning heads globally. From roadside plastic stools to contemporary cafés, the culture of CaPhe is steeped in history. Fresh milk wasn’t readily available when the French first introduced coffee to Vietnam in the 19th century so condensed milk was used instead. But the strong bitterness of Robusta (much bolder than your typical arabica beans) mixed with the sweet sticky milk soon became a staple of life across Vietnamese society. This is the coffee I would start almost every day with when I was cooking in Vietnam, accompanied by the slightly alkaline green tea – Tra Da.

Coffee owner at Co Hien

For almost five years, I received my daily caffeine fix from Co Hien. Co Hien has been selling coffee on Ton That Dam in Saigon for close to 15 years. Her brew is by far my favourite cup of CaPhe Sua Da (coffee with sweetened condensed milk over ice) in D1… it still makes me cry a little when thinking about the chocolate and hazelnut notes of her beyond silky coffee, and the subtle notes of pandan and lemongrass in her tra da. Coming as a set today, your morning fix will set you back 15,000vnd (about 5 HKD).

I got more than coffee from Co Hien… every morning she would teach me new Vietnamese words to mull over the day; so before I lose you with too many unfamiliar terms, here is a quick cheat sheet to save for the next time you find yourself in Vietnam.

First the basics – Vietnamese words to know when ordering coffee:

Cà Phê – Coffee
Cà Phê Sữa – (sweetened condensed) Milk Coffee
Cà Phê Đen – Black Coffee
Cà Phê Sữa Tươi – Coffee with Fresh Milk
Bạc Xỉu – Coffee with fresh milk and Sweetened Condensed Milk
Cà Phê Muối – a less sweet Bạc Xỉu with a pinch of salt
Đá – Iced, found at the end of some drinks like Cà Phê SữaĐá

Cà Phê Sữa

And now, the fine grind:

Cà Phê den – Black coffee, usually with a touch of sugar to balance it out… never get it sugar-free! When I took my team to Vietnam, I had to step in when I heard them order “black, no sugar” and help them before being permanently turned off from Vietnamese coffee. If you are a fan of beautiful pour-overs and excellent espresso, Vietnam has some world-class specialty coffee producers!

Cà Phê Sữa– Coffee with sweetened condensed milk – the classic! You can find this all over Vietnam, but especially in the south. For my favourite, swing past the front of AnAnSaigon and tell Co Hien I say hi!

​Phin – a perforated metal cup that holds ground coffee and slowly drips into your cup, hence the nickname “Vietnamese Dripper.” If you are in Saigon and keen on a class, La Caph offers a hands-on experience with all the tips and tricks of making phin-nomenal Vietnamese coffees at home! (Note: be sure to come un-caffeinated.)

Bạc Xỉu – similar to Cà Phê Sữa, this drink is stretched with a healthy helping of fresh milk. The result is a coffee that will perfectly fit an iced macchiato lover.

Cà Phê Trung – while egg coffee may sound intimidating, once you taste it, you will realise it is pure genius. When faced with severe food scarcity in the aftermath of WWII and the ongoing French-Indochina War, a barista at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi named Giang devised an ingenious way to seriously stretch his reserves of sweetened condensed milk. By furiously beating egg yolks, sugar, and condensed milk until light and foamy then spooning the mixture over rich phin coffee, he created a drink that has more in common with Tiramisu than a latte, but LORD is it good. You can still have the original Café Giang in the old quarter of Hanoi or if you are in Saigon, I can confirm that a cup of eggy goodness from Little Hanoi is A+!

See Also

Vietnamese Caphe
Vietnamese egg coffee

​Cà Phê Muối – there is more than one way to balance the intensity of Vietnamese coffee. Coming from Hue in central Vietnam, “Salt Coffee” is seriously underrated. With less SCM than Bạc Xỉu and a healthy pinch of salt, this is unbelievably tasty! For a salty sip with a superb sunset view, head to Người Tám Chuyện House in D1, Ho Chi Minh City.

Cà Phê Cốt Dừa – coconut coffee, in all of its many forms, was by far my team’s favourite treat while exploring Vietnam. From iced slushies to foamy lattes, the silky texture and nutty aroma of coconut pair perfectly with phin coffee! Check out Cộng for not just delicious coconut vibes, but also some of the best Instagram-worthy spots you can ask for. (and PS: keep an eye out for something crazy good coming to a certain SoHo Stoop soon 😉)

Vietnamese coconut coffee

Armed with your new terminology, you can now try out some of the places linked. Or better yet, go on your own adventure next time you find yourself in Vietnam and come back and tell me all about it. You’ll find me, as always, at Chom Chom.

Explore chef’s favourite fine-dining Vietnam restaurants here.

Source: Prestige Online

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