Walk into almost any cafe in Seattle for breakfast and you’re likely to find classics on the menu: a variety of coffee drinks and light meal options like sweet pastries, seasonal fruit and yogurt. But step into Vietnamese Phin Coffee & Etc. and start your day off right by ordering s̃a chua cà phê, a Vietnamese coffee specialty that combines rich phin-infused coffee with homemade yogurt. What better way to start a great day with efficiency that’s this delicious?
Bao Nguyen opened Phin Vietnamese Coffee & Etc. to bring some of his favorite childhood memories to Seattle.
“My dad used to take me to cafes all the time when we lived in Vietnam,” Nguyen said. “Vietnamese coffee is so prevalent and in Saigon, you’re kind of born surrounded by it.”
Based in Seattle for 20 years, he wanted to create a space to emulate not just traditional Vietnamese coffee, but the vibe as well.
“I took all those memories and really tried to create the same atmosphere while paying attention to quality and execution,” Nguyen said.
All of Phin’s coffee is appropriately filtered through the phin, a traditional Vietnamese tool for brewing exceptionally rich coffee that allows the flavor profiles to shine.
“You keep all the oils and some of the coffee phins,” Nguyen explained. “The main difference between this and, say, a paper filter is that the paper filter essentially removes all the oils and phins from the coffee, resulting in very clean, light coffee. With the metal phin filter, you get the full-body experience of oils that have a denser, heavier texture.
Take this phin filtered coffee and mix it with homemade sweetened condensed milk for a pairing as perfect as the tulip fields on a sunny Seattle day. Cà phê sữa with its delicious rich, sweet flavors is Phin’s classic offering, but the menu diversifies from there. The yogurt coffee is a must, as well as the mocha, which combines the coffee phin with Theo de Fremont chocolate. If you’re in the mood for the ultimate indulgence, cà phê cốt dừa, coconut coffee, is your caffeinated calling, which blends coffee with coconut milk ice cream and condensed milk.
Nguyen linked his background in chemistry with his desire to create sweetened condensed milk that tasted better than what he could get canned. “We started playing around with a few recipes and eventually found something that worked and we were just amazed at what it had,” Nguyen said. “That’s what really got me excited about opening Phin, not even the coffee, but the condensed milk because it’s so good. It just blew my mind.
Not into dairy? You’re in luck at Phin because the team has also crafted a sweetened condensed oat milk that’s just as delicious, if not more so.
Coffee aside, Phin also serves delicious Vietnamese-inspired treats. The pandan waffle, freshly made to order, is a favorite with customers, some of whom buy it by the dozen to freeze at home. Flan topped with coffee ice cream is a refreshing treat and no one can dispute the joy of eating coconut and banana ice cream.
While focusing on the quality and execution of Vietnamese coffee, Nguyen also wanted to create a space that felt like enjoying coffee at a cafe in Vietnam. “Cafés in Vietnam are often operated from people’s homes,” he said. “Families transformed their ground floor into a café and lived upstairs. We prioritized that cozy, intimate, and warm feel when designing Phin’s space. Our first objective is to have a space where we can welcome our family and our friends, as if we were inviting them to meet.
Vietnamese Phin Coffee & Etc. works with the motto “there is no rush” because the phin filter takes longer than pulling an espresso or dripping a cup of coffee. However, the reward of a rich, perfectly sweet coffee is worth the wait as you savor the scenery that transports us to a cafe in Vietnam.
Vietnamese Phin Coffee & Etc. is located at 913 S. Jackson St. Suite D with the entrance on 10th Ave S. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or order ahead in line To pick up.