A hot summer afternoon calls for iced coffee, especially if your eyelids keep closing in the heat. Strong Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk is all you need for la pause gourmande, though a coconut macaroon wouldn't hurt.
What happened to May?
I’m sure I took la pause gourmande somewhere—oh yes, by the 85 degree pool where endless glasses of fragrant ice water were poured from pitchers stuffed with sliced citrus fruit and enormous handfuls of mint. That was in Miami, a.k.a. some other planet.
But now we’re edging up on the Southern summer. Three dreaded words: Hot, humid, mosquito-laden.
Still there are moments when the heat lifts and an afternoon breeze stirs the leaves of the enormous fig tree. That’s the time to a take a pause on the front porch, curled up in the old rattan swing, with an escapist read like John Burdett’s Bangkok 8. Hidden behind the tall lily stalks, I can watch dog walkers and bikers while scarlet cardinals swoop through the garden.
The swing is ancient, shaped like a womb, and it creaks. Loudly. I can hear the weathered rattan cracking as it moves back and forth. There's always the question: Will it last one more summer?
If your eyelids keep closing like mine do, there’s nothing like a tall glass of robust Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk and poured over ice to awaken the senses. All that cold sugary sweetness, all that caffeine, why you couldn’t possibly fall asleep, could you?
This recipe is adapted from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s book, Hot, Sour, Salty Sweet. Most of the Vietnamese and Thai cookbooks I have don’t mention iced coffee, but it’s clear that Alford and Duguid became mildly addicted during their travels in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, they tell us, it’s known as café suada, while in Thailand it’s kafae yen. I just call it delicious.
According to Alford and Duguid, coffee, introduced by the French during the colonial era, grows in the mountains of Vietnam, Cambodia and southern Laos. In these three countries, “the coffee is made in a little individual stacked metal filter, designed to let the boiling water filter slowly through the grounds into your cup.” In Thailand, however, “the ground coffee goes into a cloth bag and then boiling water is poured through it.”
This individual filter pot is designed to fit over a small glass. First pour in the condensed milk, then pour boiling water through the grounds to make the coffee. Stir together before pouring into a tall glass over ice.
Being a magpie for esoteric kitchen tools, I practically flew down to the Silver Wok, our closest Asian food shop, where Benny unearthed the very last metal filter pot he had under a box of steamers. I also picked up a tin of Café du Monde coffee with chickory. This strong, slightly bitter New Orleans coffee is often sold in Asian markets for the purpose of making iced coffee. For this recipe, though, you could use any drip filter. As for the coffee, you could even pick up a double espresso on your way home.
The point is that the coffee should be very black and very strong.
Alford and Duiguid’s recipe makes four glasses of coffee, so I’ve adapted it to make just enough for one person. You can see the full recipe on Leite’s Culinaria.
Iced Vietnamese Coffee
To make one glass of coffee using a filter pot
2 tablespoons Café du Monde or other strong ground coffee
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
You will also need a metal filter pot (see photo above), 2 glasses, one short and one tall, and 2 metal spoons, a small one and one with a long handle, such as an ice tea spoon or metal sipper.
Alford and Duguid explain that the “long-handled spoon prevents the hot coffee from shattering the glass” when it’s poured over ice in the tall glass. I had to smile when I read this: My own grandmother used a spoon to keep hot mint tea from breaking the fragile glass she used, but it would only work, she said, if the spoon were made of silver. Rummaging through the drawers I found a metal mate straw from Argentina which I used in a lieu of a spoon and then to sip the iced coffee. Much nicer than plastic.
1. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into the short glass. Set the filter pot over the glass and add the ground coffee. Slowly pour boiling water (about 5 ounces) over the grounds and close the top. Let the coffee drip through the filter into the condensed milk. When all the coffee has dripped through, remove the pot and stir the milk and coffee together with the small spoon
2. Place a long-handled spoon (or metal straw) in to the tall glass and fill it with ice cubes. Pour the coffee and condensed milk mixture into the glass. Stir gently and after allowing the mixture to chill, drink.
Do you really need anything besides this delicious coffee for la pause gourmand? It’s almost a dessert in itself. A small coconut macaroon isn’t bad, as long as it’s not too sweet. But something tells me that a tiny fried banana sprinkled with a little cinnamon would be perfect.
But then you’d have to cook—and that’s definitely not the idea of la pause gourmand on a hot summer afternoon.