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Ca Phe Sua Da: The Undisputed King of Coffee

Ca phe sua da is a Vietnamese staple. There are variations on the drink, but at it's root is ca phe nong; hot coffee made using a pour-over technique. The slow extraction allows the ground beans to give up most of their essence. "Da" means ice and "sua" indicates the addition of sweetened condensed milk. Vietnamese-Americans introduced chicory to the coffee, a version that has since been popularized in New York at pho and banh mi restaurants citywide.

Part of what gives the coffee it's distinct, buttery flavor, is the fact that the beans are roasted in clarified butter. It's evident in the taste and perhaps more evident when you put your nose into a bowlful of freshly roasted beans. We had three ca phe sua das within a 10-block radius. Each one was purchased from a small sidewalk stand where it was crafted with a gracious amount of concern for the end result. The flavor and price of each varied slightly, but none were more than seventy-five cents and all were exceptional.

The first thing to go into the cup is sweetened condensed milk. Second goes a shot of ca phe nong, which then gets stirred into the thick, sweet milk. That gets poured over ice and then topped with a second shot of ca phe nong. That's what you see in the picture on top of the coffee. Next is a straw, and sometimes a spoon to help mix things up. The only thing left to do is hand over anywhere between ten and fifteen thousand dong (fifty and seventy five cents) and enjoy.

Half full or half empty? Either way, it's almost gone. Total bummer.

Trung Ngyuen is sort of like Vietnam's Starbucks. This is how the drink is served in cafes and most indoor establishments. The coffee is still brewing in the paperless, aluminum filter when it's served. Inside the cup itself is the condensed milk. Once it's done dripping, it's poured over ice.

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