Asian brew: Vietnamese coffee may have saved my life (and my kidneys)

My favorite part of Vietnamese coffee is the presentation. The coffee is drip brewed through a small single-cup metal filter that sits like a hat on top of the coffee glass. The glass is filled with a half-inch layer of sweetened condensed milk and the coffee drips into the milk as it brews. The result is a beautiful display of mixing colors and aromas with a flavor that is strong but sweet enough to be enjoyed regularly.

I make a lot of Vietnamese coffee at home. It’s easy, cheap, delicious, and doesn’t require a disposable filter or large coffee apparatus (I hate things taking up space on my counter). For the coffee, I like to use the Café du Monde chicory grounds from the famous New Orleans coffee stand. The robust flavor of this French-style roast is very similar to the taste that originated in Vietnam, but the grind is a lot more reliable than Vietnamese imports. If you like to grind your own beans, use a strong French roast that is medium-coarsely ground. For the metal filter, you can pick one up at most of the Asian markets in town, including Oceanic in Downtown and the market next to Saigon Deli on Waters, or you can order one online for a few bucks.

If you like your coffee served to you, you can get Vietnamese-style coffee at most Vietnamese restaurants and delis in the area, where it is usually available either hot or iced. A handful of American-type coffee shops, including Café Hey on Franklin in downtown Tampa, have an iced Vietnamese coffee option on their menu.

Oceanic Oriental Super Market- 1609 North Tampa St, Tampa, 813-228-8110,; Cafe Hey- 1540 N. Franklin Ave. Tampa, 813-221-5150,

Image: Sue Richards via Flickr.

Of all the bad ideas I’ve had while traveling, the worst by far was my bus trip through Cambodia. Instead taking an airplane like a sane person, I decided that the best way to see the country was by going overland from Bangkok all the way to Saigon. In a trip that consisted of 32 hours of time in buses, cars, and tuk-tuks, I was attacked by a chicken, scammed at the border by dudes with guns, and abandoned on a dirt road. The whole time I was convinced that I was going to accidentally fall asleep and wake up in a bathtub full of ice.

This was how I discovered Vietnamese-style coffee.

As I was pretty much constantly scared for my life, I kept myself in a state of cat-like readiness with a steady stream of caffeine. Every time the bus stopped or the car refueled in the rural countryside, I’d hop out, dash past the stands of fried bugs and other cultural oddities and grab a cup of coffee.

In a part of a world that is mostly tea-fanatical, areas around Vietnam are coffee crazed. The popularity of coffee in Southeast Asia hails from the days of Colonial rule when the French brought with them not only their baguettes and pate (think bahn mi) but their taste for coffee as well. Coffee here is generally referred to as ‘Vietnamese-style’ and is served thick and sweet with a big caffeine kick. It’s either dripped hot into a glass with sweet milk or mixed and served over ice.

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