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5 Vietnamese coffees to try right now

Egg coffee topped with salted egg yolk.
Egg coffee topped with salted egg yolk served at Nep Café in Fountain Valley.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Vietnamese coffee has long been a mainstay in the Little Saigon region of Orange County, but it wasn’t until the last few years that a group of ambitious cafes and coffee shops began pushing this enclave’s second-generation caffeinated culture to new heights. Inspired by recent trends in Vietnam and a sense of creativity back home, here are five must-try Vietnamese coffee drinks in Southern California.

Cà Phê Trung at Nếp Café

The marquee beverage at this busy modern brunch spot in Fountain Valley is Hanoi-style egg coffee, or cà phê trung: hot or iced Robusta coffee capped with a thick head of custard-like fluff, a combination supposedly created by a resourceful barista during a dairy shortage in Vietnam. The topping is made from pasteurized egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk, vigorously whipped until they become a liquid marshmallow, sticky and sweet and a world away from the ephemeral foam dolloped over cappuccinos. Try the version dusted with grated trung muoi (salted egg yolk); the egg-on-egg action balances the drink’s saccharine qualities with a note of umami.

10836 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 516-8121, nepcafe.us

Cà Phê Da Ua at Thanh Thi Bakery

Before opening a specialty bakeshop in a small Garden Grove strip mall in 2019, the Phan family sold traditional Vietnamese cakes and jellies (known as bánh and thach, respectively) out of their home, for years supplying grad parties and birthday showers with trays of marbled coffee gelatin and puffy steamed rice cakes. You shouldn’t visit Thanh Thi without a sample of the house-made yogurt: wonderfully sour and milkshake-thick, balanced with a generous drizzle of (what else?) sweetened condensed milk. To make the popular Vietnamese drink cà phê da ua (yogurt coffee), it’s finished with a dark crown of fresh-brewed coffee, the bold and bitter flavors and contrasting textures mingling in delightful and unexpected ways — think parfait meets pick-me-up, an affogato for the fermentation set.

10710 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 352-9186, thanhthibakery.com

Coco Cloud at DaVien Café & Desserts

One of the more recent drink trends to hit the cafés of Hanoi, blended coconut coffee (ca phe cốt dừa) is usually associated with Cong Caphe, a popular coffee chain in Vietnam where the baristas wear themed army green outfits inspired by the Viet Cong. As a summertime refresher, the coconut coffee is on par with the Greek frappé, only thicker, richer and arguably made from superior ingredients. Coconut cream and sweetened condensed milk are blended with ice into a creamy slush, then doused with rich phin-dripped coffee. At DaVien Café in Westminster, a newish sweet shop that sources its dark-roasted grounds from the Vietnamese Highlands, you can find a version dubbed the Coco Cloud. It might resemble a basic Starbucks Frappuccino, but don’t be fooled. It exists on a higher plane.

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9731 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (657) 346-2010, daviencafe.com

Cà Phê Sua Dá at Phin Smith

Blended coconut coffee from Phin Smith
Blended coconut coffee from Phin Smith.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

There would be nothing wrong with visiting Phin Smith, an unassuming café in Garden Grove with a retro Vespa parked outside, to enjoy the more baroque beverages on its menu. This includes an avocado-tinged “Javacado” smoothie, a banana milk coffee and a colorful “melon bar” matcha. But it would be a crime to not at least once sip the original cà phê sua dá, a smooth example of Vietnamese coffee that demonstrates why taming bold Robusta coffee with velvety sweetened condensed milk is a brilliant pairing. The shop roasts its own beans imported from Vietnam, so the emphasis is undoubtedly on the intense earthiness and nuttiness of the coffee, but not so much that it becomes fussy or austere — it’s simply a heightened version of a drink that is already easy to love.

12921 Main St., Garden Grove, phinsmith.com

VTMatcha at BLK Dot Coffee

Many of the drinks at BLK Dot, a sleek coffee chain with locations across Orange County, seem as though they were designed by an optimization algorithm, which might not be far off considering the company’s start inside the Irvine Google campus. The VTM, as the prototypical Vietnamese coffee is called here, is made with an intense “slow-dripped” concentrate of house-roasted Arabica beans designed for peak caffeine; even the sweetened condensed milk is engineered from scratch. One of best creations at BLK Dot is borderline sacrilegious in its rejection of purism: a VTM layered with grassy high-grade Uji matcha, two distinct and pleasantly bitter tones that complement rather than trample each other. Does it contain enough caffeine and antioxidants to fuel a Jack Dorsey coding sprint? Expect nothing less.

Various locations, blkdotcoffee.com


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