My parents didn’t let me drink coffee as a kid because they felt it would make me short, but they did let me dip pieces of their bread into their morning cups. If I was awake early enough, I could frequently be found watching my mother balance a can of sac over the lip of her cup to draw out the rest of the thickened, sweetened milk. The clinking of her spoon began when hot coffee met condensed milk, creating a miniature symphony. But, more often than not, my mother’s ritual took place alone, while the rest of our family slept. These quiet periods were the only ones she had to herself.
For a long time, my coffee consumption differed significantly from that of my parents. Coffee was nearly always consumed on the go for me as an adult: between the subway and work, at a lunch break, or among a swarm of strangers moving through the day. However, after years of waking up and grabbing coffee on my way somewhere, I’ve recently begun to embrace the coffee phin—a Vietnamese coffee-making device that is often described as a cross between a pour-over and a French press—as a way to pause and engage in a coffee tradition that connects me with my family. While this deliberate slowness is not new to the artisan coffee industry, it is what many new Vietnamese coffee brands hope to deliver to coffee drinkers of all kinds.
A group of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American businesspeople is attempting to raise awareness of the phin and give Vietnamese coffee its long-overdue turn in the spotlight. Their phins are bought from Vietnamese manufacturers or custom-designed by them, and their beans are farmed in collaboration with Vietnamese farmers. It’s not just about delivering caffeine from cup to brain for these firms; it’s about carving out a place in artisan coffee culture for a coffee tradition that’s been largely disregarded.