It is almost a no-brainer that phin might possibly be one of the best options to buy as a souvenir while you're in Vietnam. Most phins on the market come in different shapes and sizes (kudos to that!), are sold at major touristy sites and most importantly affordable.
Perhaps I have jumped ahead of myself too soon. What is a phin even? Why do I want to buy it? What does it have anything to do with coffee?
Now, for the curious yet clueless, phin is a Vietnamese name for the coffee filter widely used and distributed in Vietnam. As a given, phin can be found perched on a small stool by the pavement or humbly nested on a corner of the streets of Vietnam. As a given, it is adored by the local and sometimes the non-local. As a given, phin is a part of Vietnam's coffee culture.
Yet, despite being the popular gift, how to use phin to its best ability, as well as how to choose a phin of quality remains a mystery.
Sure, you can pick it up at your closest coffee shop or supermarket, but the quality is more often than not mediocre at best. Those phins are usually made of aluminium or inox, which is not the ideal material used for brewing. Such materials are not qualified for heat retention, hence the chance that your coffee turns cold before it is ready to be tasted is incredibly high.
As the old saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them. Specifically in Saigon, in order to cope with the coffee turned cold, the local decide it's best to make the coffee even colder by adding ice and a lot of it. It also happens that the Southern Vietnam's climate caters just right to iced beverages. In the end, it works out perfectly.
On the world map of coffee, the naysayers have expressed their disdain time and again towards the incompetency of Vietnamese beans. It is bitter! It is commodity coffee! It is...wait for it...Robusta!!! And yes while it's true and it is all Vietnam has been capable of growing for decades, centuries even, the time has come for the third wave of coffee culture to finally arrive here in Vietnam.
Vietnam has seen some major changes for the past few years in terms of coffee quality. Whilst the Robusta beans remain a staple in the local's daily consumption, Arabica beans are also slowly, but surely, creeping up on even the most traditional of coffee drinkers.
Fancy coffee tools are now introduced across cafe shops in Saigon and Hanoi. There's V60. There's Chemex. There's Kalita. There's also siphon for the showoff. Such fast change brings us to the question: Where does phin stand anymore?
The short answer is, worry not, phin is here to stay and it's not going anywhere soon.
The long answer is, against all odds, phin has remained to be the most popular home-brewing method. It is an ideal tool for one person's usage. It's affordable, low maintenance and easy to wash. And it's capable of giving Vietnamese people exactly what they want in their cup of coffee: a strong taste and a boost of caffeine.