If you are familiar with Vietnamese coffee, you definitely would have come across the quirky way the Vietnamese brew their coffee using the phin filter. Everywhere in Vietnam, from the small corner shops to the fancy coffee chains, you will spot one or two customers enjoying their ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) brewed using this phin filter. Even here in the UK if you order a Vietnamese coffee in a Vietnamese restaurant, this will definitely most likely be made from a phin.
When in Hanoi: having a ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) overlooking the Hanoi Opera House
So what exactly is a phin?
Phin - the Vietnamese name for their traditional coffee brewing tool - is a coffee filter made of metal that brews coffee through a slow-dripping method. It works similarly to a pour-over tool like V60 or Chemex. The phin consists of four main components:
- The main brewing chamber, this is where you will add the coffee and water to brew the coffee. The perforated bottom allows the water to drip through and keep any coffee granules from falling into the cup.
- The perforated gravity screen to place on top of the coffee inside the chamber. Once the hot water is added, due to gravity this screen presses down the coffee but at the same time allows the gasses generated to escape through the perforated holes, creating a perfect pressure for the coffee to brew. You can also find a different type of insert with screw; however generally this gravity insert works better than the screw type as this doesn't compress the coffee too much, making it easier for the coffee to drip through.
- The lid to keep the coffee hot while brewing and can also act as the additional step to bloom the coffee at the bottom of the chamber. This is a unique trick from Vi Asia, keep on reading to see how we do it!
- The bottom perforated filter to catch any coffee granules escaping the chamber and to act as additional surface to place on top of a cup or a glass.
The components of Vietnamese phin filter.
Why should I consider using the phin?
At Vi Asia we might be a little biased as we grew up brewing our coffee using the traditional phin in Vietnam. However we believe everybody should give the phin and this unique coffee brewing method a try for a couple of great reasons:
- Phin is so easy to use. Anyone can make a perfect brew with this filter in less than 5 minutes, and we have created a quick guide below to walk you through step-by-step when you want to give it a go.
- Phin is environmental-friendly. Made out of metal, it is considered to be more eco-friendly than many plastic filter counterparts. Additionally, the double filtering process eliminates the need to use single-use lining papers, further reducing waste.
- Phin brews a strong, delicious cup of coffee. The unique design of the phin allows the coffee to brew and drip gradually at a slow pace, producing much more concentrated drops of coffee than other filters.
- Phin is compact and travel-friendly. The traditional 4oz size is less than 4 inches in diameter and height, much smaller compared to a V60 or a cafetiere, and doesn't require electricity or a stove to operate. In your next adventure, if you would like to switch instant coffee to a freshly brewed cup, consider packing a phin with you.
Can I use phin filter for any types of coffee?
While the phin filter is our recommended way to make an authentic cup of Vietnamese coffee, the phin is so versatile it can be used for any type of coffee!
The size of coffee grounds really matters here, as too fine grind will make it impossible for the water to drip through and instead you will create a bit of a mud-like mixture. Conversely too coarse of a grind and the coffee might not absorb and brew enough in the chamber and the result will be more like flavoured water instead. We recommend using medium to coarse ground to be used in this filter, similar to a V60. At Vi Asia all our coffee are ground to be suitable for phin filter if you don't want the hassle of grinding your own beans (although we strongly recommend grinding your beans just before brewing your coffee to ensure its freshness).
I want to make an authentic Vietnamese coffee, do I need Robusta beans and condensed milk?
While the sighting of Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk is an infamous one, the condensed milk is such a controversial topic as many people will characterise Vietnamese coffee as "sweet" or "only for sweet-toothed person" due to this addition. In reality you can enjoy Vietnamese coffee with or without the condensed milk. In fact you can add fresh milk and/or sugar if this is your preferred way of drinking coffee. You can even do a second pour of water once the phin has finished brewing to make it more Americano style and less strong.
If you are a big fan of the strong and sweet Ca Phe Sua Da - Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk, Vi Asia recommends pairing with the Traditional Roast Blend, Robusta or even the fancier Peaberry coffee, as the sweetness of the condensed milk is perfectly balanced when mixing with a bold, dark chocolatey flavour of these beans. However if you prefer a mild, medium-bodied cup of brew, Vietnam Arabica is the perfect choice with a splash of fresh milk.
How to brew your Vietnamese coffee using the phin filter: Step-by-step
To make your perfect brew of Vietnamese coffee, you will need the following ingredients:
- 15g (2-3 tablespoon) of coffee ground for filter (medium-coarse grind)
- Traditional Vietnamese phin filter - 4oz size
- Optional: condensed milk, or the vegan coconut condensed milk alternative
Don't have everything handy? Vi Asia's Vietnamese coffee experience gift box has everything you need to make your perfect cup of coffee, from the two roast varieties - mild Vietnamese Arabica and bolder Vietnamese Traditional Roast - in whole beans or filter ground, the phin filter, the condensed milk (vegan option available), to the step-by-step instruction. Perfect to indulge yourself in some authentic experience, or to gift to your coffee loving friends and family.
Prefer to see this instruction in video? Check it out on Youtube, it's less than 1 minute watch!
Now let's break down the step by step guide on how to brew the perfect cup of coffee using the phin filter!
Step 1: Remove the inner screen inside the chamber of the filter.
As mentioned above of how the dripping method works, the coffee needs to be trapped with the pressure between the generated gasses coming up and the screen on top of the coffee weighing down due to gravity in order to brew perfectly.
Step 2: Add 15g (2-3 tablespoons) of ground coffee into the chamber
The size of coffee ground is very important here, it's best recommended to use medium to coarse ground coffee. Additionally 15g is perfect for one-person cup of coffee; more than this and the coffee might not able to brew and drip through.
Pour hot water into the lid...
And place the chamber on top.
Step 3: Pour some hot water into the lid and place the chamber on top of the lid to bloom the coffee at the bottom
A secret trick to aid the coffee blooming process! When you pour in the hot water, quite often only the coffee at the top is blooming and the hot water didn't really reach the coffee at the bottom. To avoid this, you can first add some hot water to the lid (be careful not to overfill the lid as when you put the chamber on top it will overflow), then place the chamber on top of the lid so the coffee can absorb the hot water from the bottom and bloom more evenly.
Leave the coffee to sit and bloom for about 30 second or until the water has fully absorbed into the coffee.
Step 4: Place the inner screen on top of the coffee and press gently
Once the coffee has bloomed as per step 3, place the inner screen on top of the coffee and press gently. Do not press too tightly as the coffee might not be able to bloom properly during brewing, making it hard to drip through the filter.
Step 5: Place the filter on top of a cup
While many pictures online might look like Vietnamese coffee should only be drunk in a glass, this is more for aesthetic or demonstration purpose. In fact you can use any mug or glass of your choice, as long as its mouth is no bigger than 8.5cm or 3.3 inches or the bottom filter might not fit!
Step 6: Pour the water into the chamber slowly and gently
This is a critical step, rushing it and the water might just run through very quickly. We recommend to break this step down into 2 parts:
Step 7: Place the lid on top, sit back and watch the coffee drip
Finally, a perfectly brewed cup of coffee is not far!
All you need to do now is to place the lid on top to keep the coffee hot, sit back and watch every single drop dripping through the filter. This is quite a relaxing experience and can be a chance for you to unwind.