28 February 2015

Rich chocolatey coffee flavours with a Vietnamese Coffee Phin

If you already know what a Vietnamese coffee Phin is, you'll be nodding your head wisely and agreeing already.

I have to admit that at the beginning of this year I had never heard of a Vietnamese Coffee Phin and we were sublimely happy with our Aeropress coffee maker.  Now I'm not saying that the Aeropress has been pushed into second place, but the Phin has very definitely made it shuffle over on the podium for a joint first.

Hubby alerted me to the Vietnamese Phin, his curiosity having been piqued by seeing them in action in a BBC2 programme "The Coffee Trail", presented by Simon Reeve - which was all about how Vietnam has emerged as the largest coffee producer in the world and the shaky future that coffee has there.  He did a bit of research and reading about Vietnamese coffee and the use of a Phin and once we'd discovered they could be had via Amazon, well that clinched the deal.  I bought him one for Valentine's day - along with some beautiful and amazingly flavoured Vietnamese coffee and I'll tell you more about that a little later. 

So, what IS a Vietnamese Coffee Phin?  Well, it is primarily a one-person coffee brewer/maker, made from stainless steel and comprising very few parts - ours has three, the main cup, a lid and a screw down pressure plate.  Already you can tell that it is simplicity itself.

Making coffee with a Phin is not a matter for the hurried.  As with everything good, it takes time, relaxation and a little bit of love.  However, the mechanics of it could not be any easier.  Measure your ground coffee into the bottom of your brewing cup then screw down the pressure plate.  Initially, simply add a touch of your just boiled water which will scald the coffee grounds, causing them to swell and ingeniously form their own filter.  No messy filter papers with this little baby!

If you're doing it authentically, the brewing cup should be placed over a tall glass into which you've added a teaspoonful of sweetened condensed milk.  Now don't go all sharp intake of breath on me, if you take sugar in your coffee you won't need to - and if you don't take it, you're in for a surprise.

Wait for some 30 seconds or so for the coffee to swell, then fill the brewing cup.  Add the lid and then find something else to do for around 5 minutes.  Instructional videos we watched recommended singing, or dancing to your favourite tune.  I applaud this recommendation, although have yet to try it.  We are generally occupied in letting the dogs out in the garden, yelling at them to stop barking at the squirrels and then letting them back in again.

In the meantime, your coffee will have dripped languorously through the last pressure plate and be resting somewhat haughtily on top of the milk, patently refusing to have anything to do with it.  The two colours do look enticing, however!  Oh - and I must add that at this stage, real hard core Vietnamese have been known to drink the coffee neat and black.  Much respect to those die-hards!  In our case, a quick twirl with a spoon sees the two substances combined - and a top up with more boiled water finishes off the process.  Mind you, if you're my Hubby it doesn't stop there.  Out comes the squirty cream and just to finish the process, a dash of sprinkles.  Never let it be said he would spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar.

So okay - that's how you do it.  But how does it taste, in comparison with something like the Aeropress, or more commonly used brewing methods?  Well, the difference between it and any other is that the slow brewing method seems to knock any raw edges off and produces a superbly smooth coffee even with a Force 5 Java going through it.  The contrast is remarkable, notable and unique.

Now - about the coffee we used, which was Mr Phong's Private Reserve Premium from Weasel Premium Vietnamese Coffees.  If you are curious about Vietnamese coffee, this is a perfect starting point because of its seductively velvety, deeply chocolatey complex flavour notes.

Why "Weasel" Premium coffee?  Well, I can do no better than to quote the Weasel website, which says : 

Sharp looking little fella!
"Somehow, it was discovered that certain weasels (or civets, or 'luwak', depending on the country), dine nightly on the best, ripest coffee cherries. At some point in time, some brave person decided to try and make coffee from the partially-digested beans that had passed through the weasel. The result was the amazing transformed coffee that we know as "Kopi Luwak, or "Weasel", with its distinctive rich aroma and smooth, mocha flavor and texture.

So, the reality is that authentic Weasel coffee does in fact exist. It is safe and thoroughly clean, probably cleaner than regular coffee, and it does taste wonderful if you like smooth, mellow, rather sweet coffee that is more like mocha than "cafe Americano".
We picked the Weasel to represent Weasel brand Premium Vietnamese coffees, because he (or she?) represents the best coffee that Vietnam has to offer. Our coffees are blends of the finest, small-plantation, small batch, roasted coffee cherries, selected by the farmers and the Weasels. Our two top prepackaged coffees do contain a small amount of authentic, Weasel coffee. It's what gives them their earthy, smoky, mocha-like flavor and texture".
So there you have it.  Touched by weasels?  A little bit!  Try it and before long, you'll love your Weasel, too.

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