Vietnamese Coffee

I’m waiting for Vietnamese coffee shops to sprout like Starbucks in mini-malls all over America. Such a coffee-crazed country is a ripe market for a drink so strong, rich, and crazily caffeinated.

I was prepared for pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) when planning my trip, as Anchorage already has a couple of Vietnamese restaurants. But I was completely taken aback by the quality of Vietnam’s coffee, which is sold on the sidewalk for a few cents.

Cups are brewed individually by pressing coarsely-ground beans inside a stainless steel filter and pouring boiling water over them. A lid covers the top, which keeps the water hot while it drips into your glass. Often, as much as a half-inch of sweetened condensed milk has already been added to the glass — it was always too sweet for me so I was careful not to stir too much, leaving most of the sticky milk on the bottom.

After a couple of minutes you remove the aluminum contraption, using the lid as a foundation now in order to catch any stray drips. What’s left is a cup of coffee strong enough to make you grind your teeth for hours in a caffeine rush. No 16-ounce mocha-lattes here; glasses aren’t much larger than shot glasses. Sip it slowly.

And if you get a chance, visit the coffee plantations and roasters in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. You can smell the roasting beans for miles, and when you get inside a roaster you’re surrounded by a thick hug of chocolate-smelling coffee beans.