Vietnamese coffee in America has long been synonymous with Café du Monde, the iconic New Orleans coffee shop of cafe au lait and beignet fame. Their beans have a deep dark roast and added chicory-root tang that, when slow-dripped through a small metal filter called a phin, recall the taste of coffee in Southeast Asia. But Café du Monde has some fresh competition coming from Philly’s Càphê Roasters, a tiny wholesale roaster launched last year in the Harrowgate section of Kensington by Thu Pham, who’s paying homage to her family’s Vietnamese roots by going straight to Asia to source her beans. She’s developed a three-step roasting process for her Vietnamese espresso blend, which layers multiple shades of Vietnamese robusta and Thai arabica beans in a way that evokes the same smoky, spicy, nutty, bittersweet-chocolate notes — without adding chicory.

Vietnamese coffee being prepared in a traditional phin drip filter.
Craig LaBan
Vietnamese coffee being prepared in a traditional phin drip filter.

After several months of pop-ups, educational sessions, and refinements to Pham’s roasting technique, Càphê's beans have finally hit select local retail shelves in branded bags, as well both Stock restaurants, which brew it. The phins are extremely inexpensive at any local Asian market and have been a rewarding low-tech addition to my collection of coffee gear — especially during summer, as Vietnamese coffee, made with sweetened condensed milk, makes one of the best iced coffees possible. Càphê's bags give detailed instructions on how to make it properly.

Vietnamese coffee, as prepared here by Kensington's Càphê Roasters, is sweetened with condensed milk and served over ice.
Craig LaBan
Vietnamese coffee, as prepared here by Kensington's Càphê Roasters, is sweetened with condensed milk and served over ice.

But I’ve also been intrigued beyond the espresso blend by Pham’s explorations of high-quality single-origin beans from Thailand and Vietnam that have been largely ignored by the Third Wave coffee boom. The single-origin Arabica from the Vietnamese Central Highlands, in particular, made an impressively smooth and complex cup that, when steeped in a French press, conjured notes of black cherry, nuts, and tea. Pham’s unique approach and collection of beans is easily among the most interesting additions to Philly’s coffee scene in a few years. Even better, a portion of Càphê's profits go to 12plus.org, a local educational nonprofit that works with public schools to increase educational equity.

— Craig LaBan

Càphê's Roaster’s Vietnamese coffee blends and single-origin beans range from $16-$18 per 10-ounce bag and can be ordered online at capheroasters.com or found at Riverwards Produce and Liberty Kitchen PHL in Fishtown, as well as Rowhouse Grocery in Point Breeze.