Step into almost any Seattle coffee shop for breakfast and you’re likely to find some classics on the menu: a variety of coffee drinks and light meal options like sweet pastries, seasonal fruit and yogurt. But walk into Phin Vietnamese Coffee & Etc. and start your morning off right when you order the s̃a chua cà phê, a Vietnamese coffee specialty combining phin-brewed rich coffee with homemade yogurt. Is there any better way to kick off a great day with efficiency that’s also delicious?
Bao Nguyen opened Phin Vietnamese Coffee & Etc. to bring some of his favorite childhood memories to Seattle.
"My dad took me to coffee shops all the time when we lived in Vietnam," Nguyen said. "Vietnamese coffee is just so prevalent and in Saigon, you’re kind of born surrounded by it."
Having now called Seattle home for 20 years, he wanted to create a space to mimic not only traditional Vietnamese coffee but the ambiance, as well.
"I took all those memories and really tried to create the same atmosphere while paying attention to quality and execution," Nguyen said.
All of the coffee at Phin is appropriately filtered through the phin, a traditional Vietnamese implement to brew exceptionally rich coffee that allows flavor profiles to shine.
"You keep all of the oils and some of the phins of the coffee," Nguyen explained. "The main difference between this and, say, a paper filter is that paper filter basically takes out all of the oils and all of the coffee phins, which makes a very clean and light coffee. With the phin metal filter, you get the full-body experience of oils that have a denser, heavier texture.”
Take this phin filtered coffee and mix it with homemade sweetened condensed milk for a pairing that’s as perfect as tulip fields on a sunny Seattle day. The cà phê sữa with its delightful rich and sweet flavors is Phin’s classic offering, but the menu gets more diverse from there. The yogurt coffee is a must-try, as well as the mocha, which pairs the phin coffee with Fremont’s Theo Chocolate. If you’re in the mood for the ultimate treat, the cà phê cốt dừa, coconut slushie coffee, is your caffeinated calling, which mixes coffee with coconut milk ice slush and condensed milk.
Nguyen paired his chemistry background with a desire to create a sweetened condensed milk that was tastier than what he could get in a can. “We started playing around with some recipes and finally came up with something that worked and we were just amazed by what he had,” Nguyen said. “That was what really got me excited about opening Phin, not even the coffee, but the condensed milk because it’s so good. It just blew my mind.”
Not into dairy? You’re in luck at Phin because the team has also crafted an equally, if not more, delicious sweetened condensed oat milk.
Coffee aside, Phin is also serving phenomenal Vietnamese-inspired sweet treats. The pandan waffle, made fresh to order, is a customer favorite, some of whom buy it by the dozen to freeze at home. The flan topped with coffee ice is a refreshingly cool treat and no one can argue the joy of eating a coconut banana popsicle.
While focusing on quality and execution of Vietnamese coffee, Nguyen also wanted to create a space that felt similar to enjoying coffee in a cafe in Vietnam. “Coffee shops in Vietnam are often operated out of people's homes,” he said. “Families converted their ground floor into a cafe and lived upstairs. We prioritized this cozy, homey, and warm feeling when designing Phin's space. Our first goal is to have a space where we can host our family and friends, as if we're inviting them over to catch up.”
Phin Vietnamese Coffee & Etc. operates with the motto “there is no rush,” since the phin filter takes longer than pulling an espresso shot or pouring a cup of drip coffee. However, the reward of a rich and perfectly sweetened coffee is worth the wait while savoring the decor that transports us to a cafe in Vietnam.
Phin Vietnamese Coffee & Etc. is located at 913 S. Jackson St. Suite D with the entrance on 10th Ave. S. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or order ahead online for pickup.