Vietnamese Coffee Part II

Traditional Vietnamese cup-top filter coffee with condensed milk from The Espresso Station in Hoi AnWelcome to the second (I think) of my three-part exploration of traditional Vietnamese coffee. As I explained in Part I, I’ve been exploring the local coffee culture during my time in Vietnam. The Vietnamese are volume coffee drinkers: I’ve not been anywhere with this many coffee shops! They are literally on every corner, often open from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.

However, traditional Vietnamese coffee, made using the cà phê phin, a cup-top metal filter, served either hot or over ice, and often with condensed milk, has a reputation for being strong, sweet and heavy on the Robusta. Sadly, much of that does not appeal to me, but, despite my initially scepticism, I found, to my surprise, that I liked many aspects of both the culture and of the coffee itself.

In Part I, I shared my initial, rather unsuccessful, forays into traditional Vietnamese coffee, followed by my conversion when I tried the combination of speciality coffee and the cà phê phin. In this, Part II, I continue my exploration with coffee over ice plus coffee with condensed milk. Finally, Part III will cover my experiments of using my own cà phê phin to make coffee.

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Vietnamese Coffee Part I

A traditional Vietnamese Ca Phe Phin cup-top filter in use at Shin Coffee, Ho Chi Minh City.In the run up to my current trip, I’d heard an awful lot about the Vietnamese taste for coffee. There’s no doubt that the Vietnamese like their coffee. There are coffee shops everywhere, open from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, ranging from tiny independent hole-in-the-wall operations right through to massive national chains. Starbucks is also here in strength.

However, volume of consumption is one thing, but what about the quality? Yes, you can find speciality coffee in Vietnam, and pretty good coffee at that, but I’m talking about traditional Vietnamese coffee, made using a cup-top metal filter, strong and sweet, served either hot or over ice, often with condensed milk.

I confess that this did not appeal to me. I gave up sugar in my coffee over 25 years ago and the idea of coffee with condensed milk makes me shudder. I’m also no fan of cold coffee, except a good quality filter that has been left to go cold. Cold brew, coffee over ice, anything like that, I really don’t enjoy.

That said, I’m not one to dismiss an entire coffee culture out of hand, so I thought I’d better give it a try…

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Cafe X, San Francisco

The robot arm at the heart of the Cafe X operation.One of the Coffee Spot’s tag lines is “places I like to have coffee”, so today’s Saturday (on-a-Wednesday) Supplement is something of a departure for me since I’m not sure I’d describe Cafe X as somewhere I’d like to have coffee. Somewhere I’d go to get coffee, perhaps, but it’s definitely not somewhere to have coffee. However, there I was on Monday, in San Francisco, minding my own business, when Cafe X announced its grand opening. A block from my hotel. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so along I went.

So, what is Cafe X? Well, put simply, it’s an automated coffee shop, with a pair of high-end bean-to-cup machines and a robot arm that takes the place of the barista. There’s a choice of beans from local roasters, such as Verve (Santa Cruz) and Oakland’s AKA (previously known as Supersonic), plus a fairly standard selection of espresso-based drinks, but only one size (8oz). You order using one of the tablets attached to the Cafe X kiosk, or preferably ahead of time on your phone using the Cafe X app. Typically your coffee will be waiting for you in under a minute. Well, that’s the theory…

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Reusable Cups

A flat white from Pitch in Fulham Broadway in my Therma Cup, a double-walled, thermally-insulated china cup which I take with me on my travels.I was inspired to write this Saturday Supplement after reading an article earlier this week by Ashley Tomlinson on The Little Black Coffee Cup about the issues surrounding disposable coffee cups. If you have been following the Coffee Spot for a while, you will know that I really, really dislike disposable cups, although I’ve come at it from a very different direction. While I don’t like the waste that comes with disposable cups, my primary motivation is one of taste. Put simply, I can’t stand the way most coffee tastes when drunk from disposable cups.

This has led me to adopt a somewhat evangelical attitude to reusable coffee cups and, while I’ve been championing them for some time now, I realise that I’ve been doing it in a rather haphazard fashion, writing about cups as I’ve come across them (usually at coffee festivals). I’ve also been making the argument for them (and hence against disposable cups) in a similarly piecemeal fashion. This Saturday Supplement attempts to rectify that by bringing everything together into one place in the form of a new Reusable Cups section of the Coffee Spot where I can add new cups as and when I find them.

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The Coffee Spot Christmas Gift Guide 2016

Some lovely latte art from Rag & Bone Coffee in my Therma Cup, one of this year's Christmas Gift suggestions.It’s that time of the year again, when everyone publishes their Christmas gift guides. Well, never one to be accused originality, here’s the Coffee Spot’s entry into the fray, an eclectic selection of gifts for your coffee-loving friends/relatives.

Let’s be honest, the coffee-loving community can be awkward to buy for, particularly if, like me, they’re towards the far end of the coffee-geek spectrum, when any choice runs the risk of being ill-informed. Do you get them coffee? Or coffee-related kit? Or a book about coffee perhaps?

Never fear, the Coffee Spot’s here to help you out, whether you’re a novice, looking for pointers for gifts for your coffee-obsessed friend, or if you’re that coffee-obsessed friend, looking for a handy guide to point your friends towards. There’s also a few suggestions for presents to help those of your coffee-loving friends who’re at the top of the slippery slope of coffee-geekdom and who just need a helping nudge to start them on the headlong descent into the rabbit-hole of speciality coffee.

Of course, while this is styled a Christmas gift guide, feel free to return to it throughout the year. It serves just as well as a birthday or anniversary gift guide…

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The 2017 Coffee Spot Calendars

My Therma Cup reusable cup and my Travel Press enjoy the view at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon.The Coffee Spot Calendar is now an annual event: this is the fourth year I’ve produced one. As before, the calendars are A4 in size and professionally-printed on glossy paper. Each month has a landscape, full-sized picture from one of my favourite Coffee Spots of the last 12 months, although this year my friend Keith has helped by choosing some of the pictures. As an added bonus, I’m also producing the Coffee Spot Lighting Calendar, something which I started last year with the help of my friend Sharon Reed, who has once again chosen most of the pictures.

Calendars cost £12.00 with a flat £2.00 postage and packing charge, regardless of how many you order. There are also discounts for multiple purchases. If you think we’re likely to meet up in the near future, I’ll even waive the postage and hand your calendar over in person! This is particularly relevant if you are going to La Marzocco’s Out of the Box on this Saturday (3rd December) since I’ll be there!

If you’re ordering from outside of the UK, then I’m afraid I have to charge more for postage and can’t offer any discounts for multiple purchases (unfortunately the charges increase rapidly with the weight of the package, unlike postage within the UK). For orders for Europe, postage and packing is £4.00 for one or two calendars, while for the rest of the world, it’s £6.00. If you want more than two, please get in touch regarding postage.


January 2017: This year’s Coffee Spot Calendars are sold out. Thanks to everyone who bought one (or more!). However, I can still print them on demand, so if you really want one, please get in touch and I’ll see what I can do. I can’t guarantee any prices though.

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The 2017 Coffee Spot Calendar

A cappuccino in a classic white cup, sitting on a tree-stump table in the window, half in shadow from the sunlight.It’s that time of year again, when I announce the Coffee Spot Calendar, which will be my fourth calendar to date. As before, the calendars will be professionally-printed on glossy paper, each month featuring a landscape, A4 picture from one of my favourite Coffee Spots of the last 12 months. Except there’s a snag…

If you’ve been following my Brian’s Travel Spot series, you’ll know that I’ve been very, very busy this year, far too busy, in fact, to sit down and pick my 13 favourite photos (one per month plus one of the cover). However, I think I have an answer to my dilemma…

Last year, as well as my main Coffee Spot Calendar, I produced the first ever Coffee Spot Lighting Calendar, with help from my friend Sharon Reed, who chose most of the pictures. So that set me to thinking: why not crowdsource this year’s calendar? Crowdsource, by the way, not crowdfund: I’ll still print them and you can buy them, just as in previous years.

What I need you to do, dear readers, is to start nominating your favourite Coffee Spot pictures. They have to be landscape and from a Coffee Spot published between 1st November 2015 and 31st October 2016.

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The Coffee Spot is Four!

An espresso, made by my Rancilio Silvia espresso machine, in a classic white cup and saucer from Acme & Co., New Zealand, distributed in the UK by Caravan Roastery.I really should have posted this yesterday, but I’m currently in Shanghai, attending a week-long business meeting, which requires socialising with my colleagues in the evenings, so free time for writing Coffee Spot posts is something of a premium. Anyway, the significance of yesterday is that it marked the Coffee Spot’s fourth birthday!

I launched the Coffee Spot on Friday, 28th September 2012 (at 14.15 to be precise). Back then, I had no idea just how big it would become and how it would evolve to drive much of what I do. This weekend, for example, I have a list of coffee shops to visit in Shanghai…

In the Coffee Spot’s fourth year, I published 234 times, covering 152 Coffee Spots, with the remaining posts covering various coffee events, roasters and the Coffee Spot Awards. The Coffee Spot has been visited by over 80,000 people and between you, you’ve looked at more 135,000 pages on the Coffee Spot (up from 115,000 views last year).

So, thank you, everyone, whether you dip into the Coffee Spot every now and then, or whether you read every single post and page. Without you, there really would be no point in my doing this.

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Caffè Culture Connect

The store front of Modern Society on London's Redchurch StreetWelcome to today’s Saturday Supplement. Most of you will know that I write a feature for Caffeine Magazine, where I go around the country, checking out the coffee scene in various towns and cities. I know, it’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it. What’s perhaps less known is that I also write a monthly column for the on-line publication, Caffè Culture Connect.

I’m rather proud of this one, actually. I’m given a free hand by Caffè Culture Connect, the only brief being to write about what I think makes for a good coffee shop, using one of my Coffee Spots to illustrate my point. This gives me the scope write about aspects of the coffee industry that I don’t really cover on the Coffee Spot, although there is quite a bit of overlap. I’d encourage you to take a look, hence this Saturday Supplement, which provides a summary of all my articles, plus links to the originals over on Caffè Culture Connect. You can also click on any of the pictures in the gallery which will take you to the relevant article.

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Bonavita Gooseneck Kettle

A 1 Litre Bonavita Gooseneck Kettle, a kind gift from Bonavita.Since I started the Coffee Spot almost four years ago, I’ve changed both the way I make my coffee at home and the way I drink it. From primarily using a cafetiere and putting with milk in my coffee, I now always drink it black. Along the way, I’ve picked up a variety of coffee-making methods, including my trusty Aeropress, several different types of pour-over filter cone and I’ve even got a travel-friendly equivalent to my cafetiere in the shape of the Espro Travel Press.

With these new methods have come new techniques and, inevitably, new tools. For example, I now use scales, not just to weigh my beans, but also to measure the amount of water I use when making filter coffee. However, until recently, the one item I lacked was a gooseneck pouring kettle. Initially, poured from a jug, before progressing to an old coffee pot with a long spout that I picked up from Oxfam.

At that point, I rather fancied the gooseneck kettle to be an unnecessary luxury, a stylish accessory that added looks, but not substance. Then I actually used on and suddenly, everything was turned on its head…

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