The search for a jetlag cure can feel as foolhardy as the search for a hangover cure. Jetlag is inevitable, and travelers must bow to time change.
But if there's one thing in Vietnam that can fend it off, it's ca phe sua da, an iced coffee made from heady Robusta beans brewed through a Vietnamese coffee filter and sweetened with syrupy condensed milk. It's like highly caffeinated candy that also happens to be a traveler's best friend as he or she attempts to navigate the gorgeous cultural, geological, and historical diversity during a tour of Vietnam.
The coffee is served in an elegant manner that will remind you of a black and white cookie, with the sweetened condensed milk lining the bottom of the glass and the incredibly rich coffee on top. Then, after the drinker stirs the two together, they can enjoy the thick, full-bodied beverage. It should be sweet and bitter, generally carrying notes of nuttiness, depending on the bean.
The only caveat with this drink is that it's often served on the street with low-quality coffee. On occasion, I have been convinced that people put instant coffee into a Vietnamese filter and pretend to use beans instead. Thian News even reported that people were being served fake coffee made of chemicals, soy, and corn. So the quality of bean used for this drink will vary dramatically, but the drink is generally inexpensive, ranging between 20,000 and 70,000 VND (US$1-3.50), depending on the venue and quality.
And while the coffee is an essential part of a local and traveler's day in Vietnam, the drink can be made abroad as well. To be sure that I missed no details about the brewing process, I asked the owner of Indochine Estates Coffee, Phat Pham, to explain it. Phat's cafes are located in Ho Chi Minh City, and he gets his coffee from his family's farm in Da Lat, a region in Vietnam that boasts huge coffee production and rich coffee culture.
Central to Phat's recipe is finely ground coffee. Phat suggests a Vietnamese Bourbon Arabica roasted medium-dark. He also likes a dark-roasted blend of 75 percent Bourbon Arabica and 25 percent Robusta, or a 50—50 blend of Ethiopia Yergacheff & Colombia. The coffee is then brewed through a stainless steel Vietnamese coffee filter—yep, pour-over coffee is just as popular here as it is in Portland—and mixed with sweetened condensed milk and ice.
Whether drinking ca phe sua da in Ho Chi Minh City or making it yourself, the results are guaranteed to be both delicious and hair-bending.
This article was originally published on MUNCHIES in April 2015.