Serious Eats / Jesse Raub
When I was a kid, I was always sniffing around my mom’s morning cup of coffee. Her ritual included pouring a thin layer of condensed milk into her cup then adding in her hot coffee, mixing it all gently with a spoon until she had her perfect cup. I grew up around this specific combination of strong coffee and sugary sweet condensed milk, yet never made my own until getting a phin filter from Nguyen Coffee Supply. Phins are simple and approachable, yet yield a high-quality brew that’s perfect for anyone to enjoy.
Slowing down to take in a cup of coffee with a friend or just yourself is built into Vietnam’s cafe culture. Introduced to the country during French colonization, coffee has taken on its own life in Vietnam, which has grown to become the second-largest coffee exporter in the world after Brazil. The French also brought with them the phin, which has graced cafe tables for generations and has now entered mainstream artisanal coffee culture.
What Is a Phin?
Serious Eats / Jesse Raub
You can think of a phin as a mashup of a pourover and a French press. It usually comes in four stainless steel parts that include a plate, the body, a press disk, and the lid. The plate and the bottom of the body are perforated and everything (if you get the 12-ounce size) easily sits on top of most cups, mugs, or thermoses you’ll find in your cupboards.
How to Use a Phin
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To prepare a single serving of coffee with a phin, simply put the plate and body of the phin over your drinking container of choice and add two tablespoons of ground coffee. Then, cover the grounds with the press disc and add hot water until it fills the body of the phin. Put on the lid, and wait a moment as your coffee drips down. If you want, you can even add another round of water to get more from your coffee grounds. As you continue to use the phin, you can easily adjust the amount of grounds and water to your own liking.
You can enjoy your coffee however you like it—with a splash of milk, sweetened with honey or sugar, or do it the Vietnamese way and add condensed milk for a thicker sweetness that brings a whole other layer to your coffee experience. The truth is, there’s no wrong way to do it—that’s the beauty of a phin. Plus, cleaning is an absolute breeze as the parts are very easy to wash either by hand or in the dishwasher.
Wait—What’s Vietnamese Coffee?
Many people may think of Vietnamese coffee as any coffee plus condensed milk. While that’s partly true, it’s not the whole truth. Vietnamese coffee is traditionally made with Robusta beans, which come from plants that are hardier and therefore easier to cultivate in mass quantities. However, you won’t often see single-origin Robusta beans in store aisles as they’re usually bulk exported and put into large, name-brand blends of beans and instant coffee. When brewed on their own, Robusta beans produce a strong, rich flavor with complex notes that haven’t been celebrated until recently.
Vietnam has only entered the zeitgeist of artisanal coffee in recent years, as several budding Vietnamese entrepreneurs have made it their mission to carve out a place for Vietnamese beans and coffee traditions, including the phin.
Why I Love the Nguyen Coffee Supply Vietnamese Phin Filter
The Nguyen Coffee Supply phin is minimalist and utilitarian in all the best ways. Made from all stainless steel parts, the phin comes in three sizes: four ounces, 12 ounces, and 24 ounces. So whether you’re looking to make your own small cup each morning or you’re brewing a batch for guests, the sizes have you covered. The 4-ounce and 12-ounce models also make for great traveling coffee solutions if you’re the type of person who wants a trustworthy cup of coffee in your hotel room or at the campground.
In truth, there isn’t a whole lot of variety to different phin models. They all have the same parts more or less, and the Nguyen Coffee Supply stays true to the most traditional style of a Vietnamese coffee phin filter. Plus, if you want to explore Robusta beans, Nguyen Coffee Supply also sells single-origin Robusta beans, which are produced in collaboration with a fourth-generation farmer in Vietnam. Grab a bag of beans and a phin, and you’ll unlock an in-phin-nite amount of new ways to enjoy your coffee.
What do you need to use a Phin filter?
The phin is a perfect coffee brewing solution for any level of coffee know-how. You don’t have to be an expert to use it, and the high-quality output can be enjoyed by anyone. For days when you want a simpler brewing process, or if you find yourself away from your usual brewing tools, the phin is a perfect substitute. Plus, if you want to have Vietnamese-style coffee, it’s better to use a phin. It’s not just about adding condensed milk, but rather the whole process of slowing down to take part in the phin ritual from start to finish.
Is a phin filter a pourover?
In theory—yes! It works very similarly to a pourover in that you add water into the device holding your grounds and your coffee slowly drips down. However, some differences include the press disc, which evenly distributes the water for you so you don’t have to hone in on a pouring technique. Plus, you can skip the paper filters.
What is the coffee ratio for a phin filter?
In general, it’s recommended to start with a coffee-to-water ratio of 1:2. This can be easily adjusted depending on how light or dark you like your brew.
Why We’re the Experts
An Uong is a writer and recipe tinkerer whose work “whose work orbits themes of pop culture, food, and Vietnamese-American womanhood.” She has written numerous stories for Serious Eats, including a review of vegetable peelers, manual juicers, and a piece on reusable silicone covers.