Beat the heat with Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream. Intense Vietnamese robusta coffee transforms coffee ice cream into something bold and absolutely delicious. Based on David Lebovitz's wonderful coffee ice cream recipe. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning that I get a commission if you take advantage of the offer (thank you!).

Finally success: Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream

If last week’s Berry Galette fail was the agony of defeat, Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream is the thrill of victory. I’ve tried to make an ice cream that tastes like Vietnamese iced coffee for years, and I’ve never gotten it right.

Until now.

This ice cream, friends. It is bold and absolutely delicious.

Vietnamese iced coffee—a favorite summer treat

I absolutely adore Vietnamese food. The first thing I got to eat when I finally made it back into Boston after I was vaccinated was a bahn mi. The second thing was a Vietnamese iced coffee. Sadly my favorite place to get Vietnamese iced coffee did not survive the pandemic (and, yes, it was a different spot than the sandwich), but I still got my fix.  

The combination of strong, robusta coffee, and sweetened condensed milk is one of life’s great pleasures. You can never really mix it up all the way, so there’s always a bit of gooey sweetness at the bottom that contrasts beautifully with the bitter coffee. I can’t wait to try it when I finally get to Vietnam.

Making Vietnamese coffee at home

I’ve made Vietnamese coffee at home for some time now. I used to get Café Du Monde coffee (a blend of robusta and arabica coffee blended with chicory, which reminded Vietnamese immigrants of the coffee from home) and brew it in a Moka pot. I never had it any other way, so I didn’t know what I was missing.

However, more recently, I purchased phin and started getting coffee beans (I like the TrueGrit blend, which is 100% robusta) from Nguyen Coffee Supply (not an affiliate link—I just like it). The phin, which looks like a little cup and saucer with a filter bottom, makes a huge difference.

Use Robusta beans to make Vietnamese Coffee Ice cream. Beans shown with a phin

Robusta vs arabica beans

Most of the coffee, especially popular third-wave coffee in the US is arabica coffee beans. Arabica beans make a smoother coffee and have less caffeine than their heartier robusta relatives. The caffeine part I first encountered in Belize. My first morning in Punta Gorda, I started my day with a mug of coffee, what I’d assumed would be the first of a few. My hair nearly stood up on end by the time I’d finished it. Stuff is s-t-r-o-n-g.  And best had in small doses.

US coffee roasters have typically looked down upon robusta beans, but that’s changing. I’ve definitely found that the coffee I’ve been getting is balanced and tasty. The small amount brewed with the phin is plenty.

How to brew Vietnamese coffee

To brew, you start with a coffee cup, to which you’ve added a little sweetened condensed milk. Next, you place a little saucer-shaped filter on top of your cup, sit the phin on top and add your finely ground robusta coffee to the phin. Next, you take a little press and place it atop the coffee. Then you pour water into the phin and top with the cap. The coffee brews right into your cup, and the whole process takes about 5-7 minutes.

On hot days, I make it iced.

On really hot days, I make Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream.

No-churn ice cream experiments

It took a while for me to get this recipe right, and the saga starts with my foray into no-churn ice cream. Before I got an ice cream maker, I had hopped on that no-churn bandwagon. You know the one, where you whip cream with sweetened condensed milk and get something akin to an ice cream texture? I made it several times, and the only flavors I ever wound up liking were a salted chocolate flake and coffee.

Every other no-churn ice cream I made wound up being entirely too sweet, because of the sweetened condensed milk. Even with those flavors, the ice cream had an unpleasantness to it, due to the straight cream. I mean, if I really wanted ice cream, I guess it was OK? It wasn’t really OK.

Early attempts to make Vietnamese iced coffee ice cream

When I got an ice cream maker, one of the very first ice creams I tried to make was Vietnamese iced coffee ice cream. The flavor, bang-on perfect, but the texture disappointed. It never really hardened, and the texture was more like soft serve. It was the sweetened condensed milk.

The recipe was a custard-based ice cream (also known as French, which uses egg yolks), so I also tried the New York style ice cream. Again, tasty, but it also didn’t freeze quite right. I just don’t think sweetened condensed milk works in ice cream.

Steeping whole coffee beans, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick in milk, cream, and sugar to make Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream

I gave up for a while, and then I discovered the perfect coffee ice cream

After the disappointments, I decided to focus on other ice creams (and sorbets). To that end, I picked up the Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz. In addition to a chocolate ice cream recipe that is divine, the Perfect Scoop contains the perfect recipe for coffee ice cream.

Lebovitz uses an unusual (to me, anyway) method for extracting the coffee flavor. He leaves the beans whole and steeps them in warmed milk and cream for an hour or so, before proceeding with the custard. The result is a richly flavored base. It might not look quite like coffee, though, as the color doesn’t transfer so much as the flavor.

What’s more, this ice cream freezes perfectly, and it has a glorious texture. Homemade ice cream does not always get either of these things right, but this recipe does. Really, it’s delicious, and you should make it.

Adapting that recipe

The Perfect Scoop has a recipe for Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, but it’s a New York style (no eggs), and, alas, for me, I didn’t like this one. It uses half-and-half, which cut way down on that slickness that no-churn ice cream suffers from. However, it didn’t freeze that great for me.

So, instead I turned to his coffee ice cream recipe. I swapped out the regular strong coffee beans (presumably arabica) with Vietnamese coffee beans. I added cardamom pods (something I liked from one of my earlier attempts), as well as a bit of cinnamon stick, to bring out the flavors in the coffee. I kept the vanilla.

Something that occurred to me is that Vietnamese iced coffee is so good because the coffee is so strong and it contrasts with the sweetness of the condensed milk. Maybe a whipped cream would work?

Behold, Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream

Friends, this is tasty. The robusta beans make for a much bolder coffee ice cream, and the hints of spice bring out the flavors. It’s so good. I’ve kept the steeping time for the base the same, but I almost wonder if going a little longer would make this an even more intense treat.

The ice cream is sweet enough on its own, but I missed the fun of the sweetened condensed milk. To serve, I whipped some cream with a little bit of sweetened condensed milk and topped that with a little coffee powder. I recommend doing the same. Alternatively, you might put a little sweetened condensed milk at the bottom of your bowl.

Let me know if you make it!

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Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream serving suggestion: with whipped cream. a disassembled Phin is in the background

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream

Now this is coffee ice cream. Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream uses strong robusta coffee beans in place of arabica, giving it that bold flavor. The custard-based ice cream gives it that smooth texture that freezes perfectly. Cardamom pods and a bit of cinnamon bring out the coffee's flavor.
Serve with a bit of whipped cream, sweetened with sweetened condensed milk and sprinkled with a bit of coffee powder, if desired.
This is based on David Lebovitz's excellent recipe for coffee ice cream in the Perfect Scoop. His guidance on technique will strengthen your skills in making ice cream.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Vietnamese
Servings 1 quart

Equipment

  • Ice cream maker
  • Fine mesh strainer

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream, divided use ½ cup in the custard base and stir the base into the remaining cup
  • 1 ½ cups robusta coffee beans, whole I use Nguyen TrueGrit
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • ¼ tsp vanilla
  • ¼ tsp finely ground robusta coffee plus a little more to serve
  • heavy cream, whipped with a bit of sweetened condensed milk, optional to serve

Instructions
 

  • Gently heat the milk, ½ cup of the cream, whole coffee beans, sugar, salt, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan (I use Le Creuset). When it is warm, turn off the heat, cover, and let steep for one hour (you might try a little longer for a more intense flavor)
    Steeping whole coffee beans, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick in milk, cream, and sugar to make Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream
  • Once the mixture has steeped, rewarm it. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl large enough to hold the ingredients. Slowly pour the warm coffee mixture into the eggs (I use a soup ladle to do this) and whisk constantly (this is to avoid scrambling the eggs). Pour the mixture back into the saucepan
    Whisking tempered egg yolks and ice cream base with whole coffee beans to make Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream
  • Add the remaining cream to a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients and put a fine mesh strainer over it
  • Over medium heat (take care that the mixture doesn't boil), use a heatproof spatula to stir the mixture, scraping the bottom of the pan. Stir constantly until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the spatula. You'll notice a change in texture
    Cook the Custard with Vietnamese Coffee
  • Pour the mixture into the strainer. Press on the coffee beans to try and extract as much of the flavor out of them. Discard the beans. Mix in the vanilla and the finely ground robusta coffee, and stir until cool (stirring over an ice bath will help this to go faster)
    Extracting as much of the coffee flavor out of the beans to make Vietnamese coffee ice cream.
  • Chill the mixture for several hours (a day is better). Then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to containers and freeze for several hours before serving
  • To serve, top with whipped cream sweetened with a bit of sweetened condensed milk and a bit of coffee powder
    Serving Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream

Video

Notes

Note that the cook time is for for the base. It does not include the overnight rest. Because ice cream makers vary extensively in freeze times, I have not included a time there, but assume at least an hour. You will then need to freeze the ice cream in your container(s) for a few hours before it is ready to serve.
My ice cream maker makes a pint at a time, so I get two batches. This recipe makes a quart.
TIP: Put all of your utensils and containers in the freezer while the ice cream is freezing in the machine in order to keep things cold. Work as quickly as possible.
Keyword Coffee, ice cream, Ice cream recipe, Vietnamese, Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream
Tried this recipe?Let me know what you think!

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