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The Vietnamese Coffee Tool That Lets You Take a Breather

With the phin filter, coffee entrepreneur Sahra Nguyen advocates slowing down and hanging for a bit

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Whatever you’re doing for self-care these days (charcoal masks, sound baths, staying home on a Friday night), consider adding this to the rotation: a cup of coffee that’s all about slowing things down.

That’s the vibe of Cafe Phin, opened by Sahra Nguyen of Nguyen Coffee Supply inside longtime Lower East Side Vietnamese eatery An Choi in April. The backbone of the coffee shop is the phin, a traditional metal filter that Nguyen describes as a cross between the pour over and French press and produces a deeply satisfying brew.

A Vietnamese coffee filter, sitting on white background in parts

The phin consists of a round perforated plate, that fits over a coffee mug or cup; a brewing chamber, that sits on top of the plate; a perforated insert that fits inside the chamber, to tamp the grounds down; and a cap to keep the heat in. Once the coffee grinds (about the size of table salt) are added to the chamber, the filter insert is twisted down, packing in the good stuff. Then the water is poured on top; after 60 seconds of blooming, more hot water is added. The cap helps retain the heat as the first drips descend, either into an empty cup or onto a generous spoonful of thick condensed milk.

It takes several minutes of dripping to yield a full cup. Once it does, stir and enjoy hot, or pour over ice. “Because it has a slow drip experience, it offers a moment of leisure. You get to sink in and hang out,” says Nguyen. “You have one cup [at a time] — it’s always fresh. It really feels like I’m taking a moment for myself.”

Phin filters come in various sizes, usually with a handle or little knobs, so you don’t burn yourself. (At Cafe Phin, they range from the 8-ounce to the 48-ounce, used for specialty drinks like the Ube Iced Latte, which uses about two ounces of brew per serving.) As for types of coffee beans, Nguyen encourages just brewing whatever you love. “Traditional coffee culture in Vietnam has been really dark, nutty, robust, and bold. So that’s medium to dark roast,” she says. “But now, there’s a huge trend of people exploring more fruity and floral profiles.”

And more people, slowly but surely, discovering Vietnamese coffee. “Vietnam has one of the biggest coffee cultures in the world but no one talks about it,” says Nguyen. “When you look at different coffee companies and check their brew guide online, there’s Chemex, pour over, French press, cold brew, but no phin. Why is that? It’s not that much different from any of these other tools.”

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