When the French introduced coffee to Vietnam in the late nineteenth century, no one imagined the country would eventually become one of the world’s coffee kingdoms. Not only is Vietnam the world’s second largest exporter of coffee after Brazil, but the country has also pioneered new ways to enjoy “the favourite drink of the civilised world” – one of Thomas Jefferson’s most famous quotes.
The first coffee trees – Arabica – were grown in the north, before spreading south and finding the ideal location for its’brother’ Robusta in Tây Nguyên (the Central Highlands), owing to the fertile basalt land. Then, like many others throughout the world, locals fell for what the Catholic Church once referred to as “Satan’s bitter invention.”
When we think of a cup of coffee, we do not think of espresso or cappuccino, but of phin. It derives from the French term for the coffee brewing device, “filtre,” which evolved into Vietnam’s traditional style and remains popular to this day.
A filter chamber, a filter press, a cup spanner, and a cap are included in the metal kit. It is placed over a small glass and the empty chamber is filled with coffee before being filled to the brim with hot water. This method brews the coffee and drips it into the glass.
“The best flavour is obtained within about five minutes, as water that drips through after that time may not impart much flavour to the coffee,” explained Hng Ngc, owner of a cafe in Hà Ni’s Trn Huy Liu Street, Ba nh District.
Phin not only has a pleasant taste, but it’s also a pleasure to watch the brewing process. That is why glasses are frequently used.
A Phin portion of coffee served with ice. Nguyn L Dim Photograph
“My favourite day is a Sunday afternoon spent with a cup of coffee by West Lake. It’s a unique sensation to watch drops of coffee slowly fall from the phin to the glass during a sunset. It’s a peaceful moment when the hectic pace of modern life appears to slow down,” Anh Quân, a graphic designer in Hà Ni, said.
As with Quân, Briar Hautapu of Raumati Beach, New Zealand, becomes lost in the Vietnamese coffee drops. Hautapu drank coffee every morning in New Zealand out of habit, but it wasn’t until she moved to Hanoi in 2014 to work as an English teacher that she realised coffee was more than a beverage.
“I prefer the regular variety of phin for the overall experience and feeling that I get sitting on the street watching people go about their business and simply chatting with a mate,” she explained. “This is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. To be honest, I had no idea what to do the first time I saw it, but it looked pretty cool, so I just observed and copied. It became one of the highlights of my time out here.”