The Tool Vietnamese Coffee Drinkers Have Been Brewing with for Generations
The sustainable, low-tech phin is ideal for just about anyone, no matter how you like your coffee.
Like many of us this past year, stay-at-home orders pushed me to learn how to brew my own morning cup of joe beyond putting some grounds into an automatic drip machine. As a coffee fan who can’t frequent shops like I used to, I’ve accumulated far more brewing tools than I’d like to admit (or even have space for) including bulky machines, sleek cold brew contraptions and fancy pour over sets. While it’s easy to get lost in all that’s available on the market, the best tool for you comes down to a number of factors: how much coffee you drink, the time and effort you’re willing to spend for a higher quality cup, cost and kitchen space. But over the past few months of brewing all kinds of ways, there’s one tool I would recommend above all else, to just about anyone: the phin, a traditional Vietnamese coffee filter.
The phin is a generations-old brewing tool. It’s versatile and low-tech, which makes it an ideal gadget no matter your lifestyle. Just ask Sahra Nguyen, the founder of Nguyen Coffee Supply, the first Vietnamese American-owned importer and roaster of green coffee beans from Vietnam in New York.
Comprised of four lightweight metal pieces, the filter is, as Nguyen describes it, “if the V60 Pour Over and French Press had a baby.” As demonstrated on the company’s website, it’s not hard to get your caffeine fix going. For a single serving, just spoon a couple tablespoons of finely ground (like sand) coffee into the chamber. Drop the press on top of the grounds, place on top of the metal plate, then place on top of a cup. Add a little hot water to bloom the coffee for 30 seconds, then pour more to the top of the phin and close with the lid. Within minutes, enough coffee drips down for a full serving. And that inactive window is the perfect time to take care of another morning task, or better yet, to take the moment in.
Nguyen tells me one major difference between American and Vietnamese coffee culture is that the latter is “all about slowing down, taking time out of your schedule, sitting down at a sidewalk café on a little red stool. Hanging out, talking to your friends.” In Vietnam, phin drip coffee is a way to connect with people. While coffee culture in the U.S. tends to take on a “go, go, go” attitude – with some seeing the beverage as an apparent necessity for basic life functions – phin coffee, even when enjoyed alone, offers an excuse to connect with oneself. Something slower, a means to mindfulness.
No matter how you ultimately choose to spend that drip time, the phin is also just practical. It’s more sustainable than many brew methods as it doesn’t require a paper filter. It’s ideal, especially, for those who have less kitchen space. A single serving phin is about the size of your palm and can be tucked away (or packed for travel or camping) as needed, and can be used wherever you have access to hot water. With its simple, separate metal pieces, it’s dishwasher safe and much easier to clean by hand than a French press. It’s affordable. Four-ounce phins go for $15 apiece; 24-ounce ones are priced at $24.
Plus, you can use whatever kind of coffee you like in the phin, even supermarket shelf grounds. Though, I wouldn’t recommend skipping on the smooth, bold beans Nguyen roasts herself.