Posted in Kafevend Blog
As we've discovered this week, Vietnam is one of the world's top coffee producers, even if much of it remains, for the moment, anonymous robusta processed to make instant. Once predominantly a nation of tea drinkers, the rapid rise of coffee cultivation has lead to a higher proportion of coffee drinkers. This is reflected in the ubiquity of coffee shops in the nation's capital city Hanoi, where one of the top favourites is cà phê trứng, or egg coffee.
While Scandinavians use the whole egg, and often the crushed shell as well, in their version of egg coffee, the Vietnamese use only the yolk, whisked to a froth with sweetened condensed milk. This sweet, fluffy cloud is served on top of the contrasting strong, dark, bitter coffee. The two are generally mixed together before drinking.
Sweetened condensed milk is also a key ingredient in cà phê sữa đá, Vietnamese iced coffee, but forget the coffee a moment and look at the four words signifying it – have you ever seen so many accent marks? The Vietnamese language was originally written in a siniform script called Chữ-nôm, so looked similar to Chinese characters. However, in the seventeenth century Catholic missionaries worked on a Latin based script known as Quốc Ngữ. The accent marks form an essential part of the script, some denoting additional sounds, others indicating the tone of the word; like many east Asian languages Vietnamese is tonal. It contains six different tones compared to Mandarin which has four.
A language very different from our own then, and yet look at the word for coffee - cà phê. It's pronounced ca-fay, the same root word for coffee heard right around the world.