A note: I am obsessive about coffee. If you are not, this post will be boring! I have many strong opinions about coffee, particularly that served in restaurants. While coffee is not food per se, it plays a very important role in many meals. It completes a meal, allowing for reflection on the past feast while refreshing the palate and brain. At another point I may lash out bitterly about the very bad coffee I've been served in high end restaurants (note to unnamed restauranteurs - a french press may look pretty, but if you don't grind the coffee right, it will suck). Today a more uplifting tale...
I complained to the right person a while back about the lack of good Vietnamese iced coffee in my life. I had a revelation at East/West sandwiches in Westwood and posted about it here (whining about premade, non-fresh iced coffee that I seem to get served in bahn mi places). I decided I needed to seek out the wonderful coffees freshly made in the drip filter. Later that day I met a friend of a friend who immediately agreed to work with me on this problem.
We met today in Manhattan Beach and headed out to Crenshaw Blvd. We began at the Dat Moi Supermarket at 14415 S. Crenshaw. I really liked this grocery store and we spent a fair amount of time exploring. Lots of Asian goods, but also catering to a large Caribbean population (surely the majority of customers when we were there judging by accents).
**as an aside, is the sorrel in sorrel soda, different from the herb/green? I think it must be, because the soda is red. Next time I'll buy some and try it out**
S. had done some research and found that Vietnamese coffee is sometimes made from coffee containing chicory. I bought a can of Cafe du Monde coffee for $3.99. I also bought a can of Longevity Brand full cream sweetened condensed milk (any can that has "full cream" and "longevity" on the label is a-o-kay with me!) on sale at $1.29.
After doing more wandering looking aimlessly for the drip maker, a woman who was toasting (?? smelled awesome!) some rice called out to me and asked if I was looking for the filter. Not a bad assumption given the coffee and milk in my hands. She pulled one from behind the cash register for me - $3.99.
Next on to lunch and more advice on coffee making from a trusted source. We drove further down Crenshaw Blvd and went to Pho Hong Long restaurant (15703 S. Crenshaw just north of Manhattan Beach Blvd).
S. is a frequent customer here and was greeted warmly by the owner. The owner was told about our quest. She offered some hints on making the iced coffee and later we had some of hers (delicious!). She suggested two tablespoons of coffee in the filter for strength. She recommended using black and white brand sweetened condensed milk and, I believe, La Llave espresso coffee.
For lunch S. had pho and I had a beef over noodles (sorry can't remember the name of the dish, but it was like pho without the broth). Very good, very fresh. The restaurant is small, but was full pretty much the entire time we were there. And of course we had the iced coffee. Now the woman serving us didn't know about our quest (our mistake) and brought us out some pre-made iced coffee. But we clarified and she brought out two filters over coffee cups and two glasses filled with ice. If you're looking for this kind, please specify initially as we should have! The total for lunch was $16.10 for the two dishes and two iced coffees (I hope my tip was generous enough to cover the pre-made coffee loss).
Someone in response to my earlier whining, asked how to use these. I can only describe what I do. Perhaps if I'm wrong, someone will correct me. In my experience, the coffee is brought out usually still dripping over the cup. It does take awhile for the water to drip through the fine grounds of the coffee and the screens. Let it drip until the water has run out. Then remove the top to the filter (it's resting on the filter). Take the filter off and put the top on the bottom, so you don't mess up the table with the drips. Stir to mix the fresh coffee with the sweetened condensed milk and then pour into the glass with the ice. Then enjoy.....
After lunch we went next door to the Minh-Phat Supermarket. I bought some La Llave coffee $3.99/can. They had ground coffee available in bags at the cash register, both plain and a mix of french roast and vanilla, but at that point I felt I already had enough coffee to last me the rest of the summer. I also bought another filter for entertaining - it was $3.49 here.
Lessons learned from this wonderful day:
1) Yes, freshly made Vietnamese iced-coffee is available! And as I remembered it is soooo much more tasty than the pre-made, cloying stuff often served.
2) It pays to ask for the fresh made kind! I wonder if this is something I should have done at other restaurants I've visited. I will certainly do this from now on.
3) We are lucky to live in a place with not only great food and drink, but people who will share their knowledge with us!!!! If the coffee I make at home is only partially as good as theirs, I will be delighted.