Vietnamese Iced Coffee | Ca Phe Sua Da

We confess, our favorite version of Southeast Asian coffee is this Vietnamese iced coffee, flavored with sweetened condensed milk. You’ll find it served in restaurants and also at street stalls. If you’re having Southeast Asian coffee first thing in the morning, you might want to drink it hot, with no ice. As the day warms up, the iced version becomes irresistible, on its own or to finish off a meal.–Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

LC Well Worth the Wait Note

Bear with us for a brief history lesson: Coffee came to southeast Asia during colonial times, introduced by the French and grown in the mountains of Indochina, er, Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia. As Alford and Duguid describe it, the preferred cuppa is bracing, hot, thick, and smoky, brewed in an individual Vietnamese coffee filter stacked atop each cup or sturdy glass and designed to force boiling water to slowly, slowly drip through the grounds. Sweetened condensed milk, as the story goes, came into play because fresh milk was a little too perishable to be practical in this climate—either that or the French simply sneered at goat milk. Anyways, the cloyingly sweet tinned pantry staple worked like a charm, especially with the robust coffee mixed with chicory that was common in the colonies (not to mention New Orleans). You can see where we’re going with this. Just stir a little gooey sweet goodness into any strongly brewed iced coffee or espresso, regardless of whether it’s hot-brewed, cold-brewed, or Vietnamese-brewed, and succumb.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 5 M
  • 15 M
  • Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 12 to 16 ice cubes
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk, at room temperature
  • 3 cups hot, strongly brewed coffee or espresso, or, if using the filter-and-drip method, about 4 rounded tablespoons ground coffee (try making this with a robust chicory coffee, such as Café du Monde, and you won’t regret it.)

Directions

  • 1. Place 3 or 4 ice cubes and a long-handled spoon in each of four tall glasses.
  • 2. Pour 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk in each of four small cups and then pour in some coffee.
  • 3. Vietnamese iced coffee calls for some pageantry, so set in front of each person a tall glass of ice cubes a spoon, a small cup of coffee, and a small spoon. Instruct your guests to stir the coffee thoroughly with the small spoon while it’s still quite hot (otherwise the condensed milk won’t dissolve so well). Then instruct them to pour the coffee over the back of the spoon and into the tall glass. (The long-handled spoon will prevent the hot liquid from shattering the glass.) Stir it briskly, making an agreeable clatter with the ice cubes.
  • 4. Sip slowly.

Filter-and-Drip Variation (as in the above photo)

  • Place 3 or 4 ice cubes in each of four squat glasses.
  • Pour 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk into each glass.
  • Place a small Vietnamese metal coffee filter on top of each glass, fill it with a heaping tablespoon ground coffee or espresso, then pour in enough almost-boiling water to nearly reach the rim of the filter. Place the lid of the filter in place. Now wait. The coffee ought to drip, rather than stream, through the filter, taking anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. When done, instruct everyone at the table to remove the filter from the glass and stir briskly.
  • Sip slowly.
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Joan Osborne

Jul 31, 2011

I’ve only had one iced coffee drink that I enjoyed since I normally only like my hot and black. This was really refreshing though. I made some for my daughter and myself as an after-dinner treat. Great for a hot summer night. I’ll be making this again. Very easy and refreshing.

Testers Choice
Robert McCune

Jul 31, 2011

A very straightforward, simple recipe. I ground some wood-smoked coffee beans and made very strong coffee. Since I wasn’t making espresso, I felt the coffee needed to be quite strong to offset the sweetness of the milk. A fun way to end a meal and a nice touch to have the guests pour the coffee over the spoon into the glass. This is a perfect sweet treat on a hot summer evening. This is also delicious served hot. I would avoid any temptation to use other types of milk, it just would not be the same!

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Cindy Zaiffdeen

Jul 31, 2011

This tastes better than the so-called iced coffees from the various chains out there. It’s very easy to make and extremely delicious. It’s also excellent hot or cold, however, nothing beats it cold with lots of ice on a hot day. Better than iced tea in my opinion! I’ll continue to make this regularly.

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Nancy A. Mosher

Jul 31, 2011

Since I usually drink my coffee, whether hot or cold, black without sugar, I wasn’t so sure I’d like this. Boy was I wrong! It’s creamy, sweet, and rich without the heaviness of cream. What a delight. It’s the perfect sweet pick-me-up treat to cool off with. And making a small ritual out of serving the coffee separately from the ice and having your guests blend the two at the table is fun.

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Joel Jenkins

Jul 31, 2011

I LOVE ca phe sua da. Although I much prefer the cold version, the hot version is nice if you’re in a colder climate. It’s such a simple recipe that you can almost serve it as a dessert if you want something simple at the end of a meal. It’s important to note the use of small cups for the coffee. Anything bigger and there wouldn’t be enough condensed milk. Also, the coffee has to be very strong. If you use regularly brewed coffee, you don’t get the full flavors of ca phe sua da. If you use chicory coffee, the bitterness is mellowed nicely by the sweetened condensed milk. I used the Vietnamese drip cup, a French press, and a coffee maker. For ease of use and making enough so everyone gets their coffee at the same time, I’ve found the French press to be the best option.

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Julie T.

Jul 31, 2011

I love the taste and the whole experience of stirring your own coffee, thus allowing you to further smell the aromas!

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Jennifer V.

Jul 31, 2011

The Vietnamese iced coffee I’ve made in the past requires using a special filter, and the coffee takes seemingly forever to pass through. This recipe gets results more quickly. I actually used slightly less condensed milk per serving than the recipe calls for, more like 1 1/2 tablespoons, but this of course will vary according to personal taste. My suggestion would be to first add the condensed milk to the coffee, rather than the other way around, in order to figure out what your desired sweetness level is. I also tend to add ice after combining the condensed milk and coffee as it’s easier to dissolve condensed milk that way. Regardless, this makes for a lovely treat on a hot summer day.

Testers Choice
Lisa O.

Jul 31, 2011

This is delicious for a nice brunch. It does need strong coffee, so espresso works great, but if you don’t have an espresso machine just make your coffee really strong—a bold, rich-bodied coffee like a French roast works well. I simplified the recipe a bit by letting the coffee cool just a bit, then pouring it into a pitcher with a long handled spoon (this DOES work to keep a glass pitcher from cracking) and then adding the condensed milk. I whisked it to make sure it was blended, then added the ice cubes to the pitcher and served it. I found the amount of sweet milk to be a little much and would reduce it to 1 or 1 1/2 tablespoons per cup next time. I also added 1/8 tsp of Chinese five-spice powder to the whole batch and it was a nice, unique addition. Note: I made regular-size cups of coffee, not small cups as written. I just made it extra-strong using ground espresso.

Testers Choice
Elsa M. Jacobson

Jul 31, 2011

I know the recipe is terrific when, even after I’ve tested it in all suggested variations, I’m still making another batch! I started with the hot version in the morning with croissants, freshly baked at my local Vietnamese bakery, to take full advantage of the French connection to Vietnam. Sooooo good! So I thought I’d best also test the iced version. Picked up Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches at the same bakery after work, carried them home, made iced coffee, and, again, sooooo good. (Though I used espresso each time, it was decaf espresso in the evening, so we wouldn’t be up all night!) This morning, since I was spending a few hours in the kitchen, I made the hot version again, just a single cup, and I think I’m hooked. (This recipe easily divides for one or two servings, if you don’t have a quartet of coffee drinkers available.) The first time, my can of sweetened condensed milk was new and already at room temperature. The second time, I pulled the can from the fridge just before I wanted to use it, and immediately understood the need to have this milk at room temperature: pouring the cold milk from the can was very slow since it is so thick. I used four ice cubes per glass, and would suggest offering some extra ice cubes as the first ones melted quickly. Since the coffee is strong and we were sipping slowly, the addition of a couple extra ice cubes kept it iced, as opposed to allowing it to warm.

Testers Choice
Victoria Filippi

Jul 31, 2011

This recipe is so simple and would be great to serve to guests to top off a BBQ on a warm summer evening. The sweetened condensed milk adds creaminess and richness to the coffee and just the right amount of sweetness. No need for additional flavorings. This has it all with just a couple of ingredients. A definite keeper!

Testers Choice
Virginia L.

Jul 31, 2011

It’s so easy and would be fun to serve at a small dinner party—or at lunch if you don’t want to have insomnia from the caffeine. The coffee takes on a richness that’s more intense than if you used regular milk, but not as fatty tasting if you used half-and-half or heavy cream. Plus the condensed milk adds just the right amount of sweetness. I made it with Zabar’s French-Italian Roast which is pretty strong. I agree that chicory coffee would be sensational.

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Carrie S.

Jul 31, 2011

During a hot day, when the afternoon heat starts to wear you down and you need a little pick me up, this drink fits the bill. I find that recipes with condensed milk often are overly sweet, but I didn’t find this to be the case with this recipe. The coffee offsets the sweetness and pouring it over ice provides the chill needed to make this a refreshing drink. Some tips: I found that all of the ice melts pretty quickly, especially with very hot coffee. I used 4 ice cubes per glass because it seemed just right for a fast chill and helped get the 3/4 cup of liquid closer to the top of my tall glasses for a nicer presentation. I wish I had made my coffee extra strong or used frozen coffee ice cubes to offset the watered down flavor that resulted once all of the ice cubes melted. Pouring the coffee into the tall glasses was a bit of a mess unless my pour speed and the tilt of the glass and cup were just so. I think it would be easier to mix the condensed milk and coffee together in a measuring cup with a spout or use small individual pitchers instead of coffee cups.

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Amy M.

Jul 31, 2011

This was delicious and easy! I used Cafe du Monde coffee with chicory and made it very strong. When mixed with the ice and sweetened condensed milk, the coffee had mellowed without becoming diluted. It was a perfect sweet treat after spending the day in the hot afternoon sun.

Testers Choice
Jenna Helwig

Jul 31, 2011

This creamy, sweet coffee couldn’t be simpler. Coffee + sweetened condensed milk = this delicious drink. To me, it’s perfect as a dessert or a mid-afternoon treat. I make my coffee ahead of time, chill it, add the milk, and then add an ice cube or two.

Testers Choice
Jo Ann Brown

Jul 31, 2011

Summer for us means drinks are on ice, even our morning coffee. A version of iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk is something I haven’t had before. I found that coffee prepared in this way really brought out the caramel flavor of the buttery, sweet condensed milk. This recipe is sinful, particularly if you try using a chicory coffee like I did. After enjoying the coffee as the author intended, I tried a few variations. While warm, I added a little ground cardamom to create a creamy rendition of Turkish coffee. That was fantastic. In my third batch (yes, we liked it so much we made batch after batch) I halved the condensed milk. This variation became my preference as sweetened condensed milk is very rich. Using one tablespoon per serving, the coffee became less decadent like a dessert and more of a beverage I could enjoy as a pick-me-up through out the day. By the time we were up to our third batch, we’d dispensed with the author’s ritual of service and were adding the ingredients to a mason jar to mix and store in the fridge. When we were ready for another fix, we just shook the jar and poured the mixture over ice. It was a nice touch to have that little creamy foam as well.

Testers Choice
Natalie Reebel

Jul 31, 2011

This was a fun drink to make with my family. Everyone chose a glass with some ice and a long-handled spoon with their cup of coffee. We poured the hot coffee into the iced glasses and began to stir. It was fun to hear all the clanking sounds while we stirred the coffee in our glasses. We did need more ice to cool the coffee down once it was combined in the glass, but the finished result was quite nice. It tasted slightly sweet with a silky feel—a bit like a bottled iced coffee drink. It was flavorful but less expensive than going to the local coffee stand.

Testers Choice
Trudy Ngo-Brown

Jul 31, 2011

This is so easy and the sweetened condensed milk adds a unique twist. I’m Vietnamese, and this brought back memories of when my parents would make this on the weekends and let us kids have a small cup as a special treat. They would toast French bread and let us dip it in the extra sweetened condensed milk. I don’t drink much coffee anymore and just used what I had on hand, but the note about the chicory coffee is accurate. We always had Cafe du Monde in our house growing up. Enjoy!

Testers Choice
Sofia Reino

Jul 31, 2011

As soon as I read the recipe, I could not believe it. My mother and aunt always used to make this while I was still living at my parent’s house. Since I moved out I still do it often as my breakfast coffee during summer months. You HAVE to like your coffee sweet, though. I usually do not take my coffee as sweet as this but I do love to indulge in this occasionally. How can you go wrong with coffee and sweet condensed milk? The end result is a strong coffee with the richness and smoothness of the sweet condensed milk yet extremely refreshing for summer days. Another way we used to do it was to blend it all together and create what now is known as a type of frappuccino!


Comments
Comments
  1. Gary S says:

    It was fun to see the Ca Phe article today. I think folks should go to an Asian market and look for the brewers and whle there buy a bag of Trung Nguyen coffee THEN one will have the true Vietnamese experience.
    Sometimes the instructions for the brewer are only in Vietnamese so save the article !!
    I have used the Trung Nguyen coffee in my ADM and it works well. If I ever get a Technivorn I will try it in that.

  2. chris shenton says:

    You can make a dynamite ice cream based on Cafe Sua Da. It takes some do-ing to get the proportions of sugar and condensed milk correct to give the right texture (scoopable, not too soft). Provides quite the post-meal jolt. :-)

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Oooooooh Chris I am really, really liking the way you’re thinking. Care to divulge your tried-and-true proportions?

      • chris shenton says:

        I lost the original recipe I created for this, and subsequent attempts didn’t have quite the right consistency–too hard to scoop, too sugary to set up. It’s basically a custard base but using sweetened condensed milk for both sugar and cream. I also recall that trying to filter out all the Cafe Du Monde grounds from the steeping was a pain, since the liquid is so thick–lots of cheesecloth, IIRC. Here are my last notes, but I have to caveat that you’ll probably have to tweak the proportions.

        If you try it, do post your proportions and how it came out. Thanks!

        • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

          Hey, Chris, many, many thanks. Greatly appreciate it. I know how frustrating it is to not be able to quite replicate something. And anyone else who tries it, please let us know what you think and what you may have tweaked!

  3. Carmen says:

    I’ve made this coffee daily for a year now and I love it.

  4. Thanks for the inspiration! Woke up this morning to this photo, made it immediately, and am kicking myself for not making it earlier. Will be a staple from now on. Cheers!

  5. Louise Hyson says:

    I’ve been enjoying Vietnamese coffee for many years and this year I had the ultimate treat when I made Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream from the recipe in “The Perfect Scoop.” It can become addictive.

  6. Zanne says:

    I put about 10 coffee scoops (1 tablespoon each) in a glass container/carafe, then pour 4 cups cold water over. Put the whole thing in the refrigerator and next morning I have strong coffee without the possible cooked taste that hot coffee sometimes gets. I pour some in a glass, put condensed milk to taste. If not light enough, but already sweet enough, I add some dry milk to lighten. Then I just add ice and enjoy. I always have condensed milk and dry milk in the house. I use them for my regular hot morning coffee all year. I sometimes do this in a big french press or just in a big bottle and then filter into a carafe the next morning.

    A little cocoa power couldn’t hurt? I’m thinking of adding some Bellagio Sipping Chocolate wCaramel. Or how about some cinnamon – coffee, choc & cinnamon.

    I tried to go back to iced tea for a few days (lots of calories in that cond. milk), but it just doesn’t satisfy like iced coffee. And it’s rich enough that I have the iced coffee instead of lunch. I’m officially addicted.

  7. RisaG says:

    I made the version with the regular brewed coffee this morning. I happen to have already brewed some coffee so I opened a can of sweetened condensed milk and went to town. It was awfully good. I think I’ll be having it every day until the can of milk is finished!

  8. Carrie says:

    I’ve been making VIC for years and never have I brewed the coffee in hot water. You need to buy Vietnamese coffee to get the whole experience too. I use a French Press, (I have the largest size you can get) I put in about 2″ of grounds, and cover with COLD water—put the pot in the fridge and let set all night. Press the coffee and pour into a pitcher then top with a can of sweetened condensed milk and stir, stir, stir. Then add ice and drink til you start to quiver from caffeine. :D

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Carrie, that makes perfect sense, many thanks. I swoon to cold-brewed coffee that my husband, E, makes for me in just the right strength. Sorry, we simply used the more conventional approach to coffee here since we suspected our readers were as impatient as we are come warm weather. But we so appreciate the nod to authenticity!

      • Carrie says:

        I really think the key to authenticity is to buy “real” Vietnamese coffee somewhere; which my ex-husband (who got me hooked on REAL coffee, not corporate), and I always have suspected is just coffee flavored with chocolate.

        You can buy the Vietnamese coffee online fairly cheaply. However a good Sumatra or Ethiopian will work, and you CAN buy bean flavoring in chocolate.

        I haven’t had VIC in ages, as I’m diabetic and if I drink it, I really can’t have anything else all day. LOL

        I feel now that my first comment came off as snarky, and I certainly didn’t mean it to be so.

        • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

          No, Carrie, not snarky at all, just informed. And informative. Although everything I’d read and experienced stateside in Vietnamese restaurants indicates that a coffee and chicory blend is the authentic coffee relied upon for ca phe sua da, and that Cafe du Monde is a worthy coffee. So I’m curious to hear more. And since misery loves company, I, too, have to be careful of my sugar intake, though for different reasons, and must sadly ration my ca phe sua da fixes. Sigh.

          • Carrie says:

            Well, I haven’t had REAL VIC, I’ll be honest, we’ve just ordered what was suggested on coffee forums. I think I need to look further into this. I do have some Cafe Du Monde coffee here…I will try that and risk the cruddy day (and extra insulin) to see how it compares. My ex became a coffee snob, to the point of building a home roaster and buying green beans 25# at a time. It became an obsession. I’m enjoying reading this blog and am so glad I found it! Thank you!

            • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

              Can completely understand your skepticism regarding mass-market brands after having home-roasted coffee, Carrie. (Oh, the envy!) Do let us know what you think of the chicory blend when you try it, as well as any other recipes that pique your curiosity. Until then…..

  9. Café Cup says:

    Nice post. It seems a very refreshing drink to beat the summer heat. Thanks for posting.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      You’re so very welcome, Café Cup. And yes, it’s insanely lovely to sip this on a sweltering summer day….

  10. Searching desperately for a Thai iced coffee recipe. I thought for sure you guys would at least have a link! I think I can tweak this one if I can just figure out how much cardamom to add…

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Kristin, sorry to disappoint, although I think you’re right, you can just tweak this. I’d smash a cardamom pod and add just a pinch of the seeds (sorry, that’s still inexact…) to the coffee grounds. Let us know how it goes…

  11. ruthie says:

    For years I couldn’t drink coffee at all. I developed a sensitivity to it from overindulging as a kid — 2 to 3 pots a day by the time I was 12! The docs said what was affecting me was in the coffee oils, so no coffee ice cream or candy either.

    Then, Hallelujah! Cold brew came along. I still have to limit myself to the occasional iced latte, but I can have coffee again. Now I will get to the point. I love kakigori, the Japanese shaved ice thing? So, when I make my cold brewed coffee concentrate, I freeze some as ice cubes. Then I put them through my shaver, top with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk and maybe a twist or two of lemon or orange peel for a little zing.

    Not so very different in ingredients, but the kakigori presentation really makes it perfect for a hot summer day. And no dilution from melting ice this way. ;)

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Brilliant, ruthie! Truly brilliant. Thanks SO much for divulging your trick. Love it.

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