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A Historical past and Look into Its Cultural Significance

We study extra about condensed milk—which has turn into an integral a part of delicacies in lots of locations across the globe—and supply a Vietnamese iced espresso recipe.


Featured photograph by TheUjulala through Pixabay

As an individual of Southeast Asian descent, I grew up seeing condensed milk as an on a regular basis ingredient—a pantry staple that might be utilized in a large number of the way. All through my dad and mom’ house nation, the Philippines—in addition to different Southeast Asian nations like Vietnam and Cambodia—condensed milk is a typical addition to each meals dishes and drinks. Ever had Vietnamese iced espresso? In that case, you already know that the candy, syrupy style of condensed milk serves as the right counterpoint to the smokiness of dark-roast robusta espresso, making a daring beverage that packs as a lot of a punch with taste because it does with caffeine.

To most, it’s a little bit of a thriller how condensed milk, an American invention, got here to be such an integral side of Southeast Asian delicacies and the worldwide culinary world at giant. At this time, we’ll hint the historical past of condensed milk, the methods during which it’s used all over the world, and how one can incorporate condensed milk into espresso drinks at house.

A Vietnamese iced coffee in a tall clear drinking glass with a long spoon and long blue straw.
Conventional Vietnamese iced espresso makes use of condensed milk to steadiness the daring, smoky taste of dark-roast robusta espresso. Photograph by Frank McKenna through Unsplash.

The Origins of Condensed Milk

Canned condensed milk was first invented within the 1850s by an American newspaper writer and inventor named Gail Borden. On the time, refrigeration was practically nonexistent. A substitute for contemporary milk was wanted—particularly for fogeys searching for secure methods to feed their infants. Actually, the invention of canned milk led to a big drop in toddler mortality in the USA.

All through the previous few many years of the 1800s, canned milk would turn into a serious product within the Western world. Within the 1900s, it turned referred to as a wartime meals, serving as a go-to amongst troopers who wanted moveable, calorie-packed meals throughout World Wars I and II. Canned milk would then step by step make its approach across the globe, changing into particularly helpful all through Southeast Asia and different areas that had little entry to contemporary milk.

Totally different Makes use of of Condensed Milk

In Southeast Asia alone, condensed milk is utilized in quite a lot of methods—in baked items, ice cream, shaved ice, and extra. You could find condensed milk in each Vietnamese and Cambodian iced espresso. They each use dark-roasted espresso and, at occasions, different spices like chicory, cloves, and cardamom. You’ll additionally see condensed milk in areas exterior of Asia: Scotland, Brazil, and the UK, for instance, all use condensed milk in quite a lot of candies and desserts.

Water is poured from a gooseneck kettle over a phin filter. The filter sits on a clear glass mug and has condensed milk in the bottom. On the table beside it is a clear glass mug with a purple ube latte, which has a rosetta design poured into it. There are potted plants on the table behind the drinks.
Portland Cà Phê’s Vietnamese espresso is brewed on a phin filter. Their slow-drip espresso is pictured right here with an ube latte. Photograph courtesy of Portland Cà Phê.

Recipe: Conventional Cà Phê Sua Dá

Wish to strive making cà phê sua dá (Vietnamese iced espresso) at house? All you’ll want is a few dark-roast espresso, condensed milk, and ice. I like to recommend brewing your espresso the standard approach, in a phin filter.

A phin filter consists of three elements: the physique (the primary cylinder-shaped centerpiece the place the espresso grounds go), the filter disk (which works into the physique and lies on prime of the grounds), and the lid (which retains the espresso from dropping warmth whereas brewing).


  • 1-1.5 tablespoons of dark-roast espresso (Conventional cà phê sua dá recipes usually use Café du Monde espresso, however we love Portland Cà Phê’s collection of coffees, which founder and proprietor Kim Dam sources from Vietnam and roasts herself in PDX.) 
  • 2 teaspoons condensed milk (modify to style)


Preheat your filter by pouring a little bit of sizzling water by way of it.

Place your filter above your mug/cup and take away the steel filter disk to position your espresso grounds into the physique.

Place the filter disk again on prime of the espresso grounds, gently urgent down.

Pour in your boiling water till the filter is crammed. Place the lid on prime of the filter and let the espresso brew till all the water has dripped down by way of the filter.

Stir your condensed milk into your espresso and prime it with crushed ice. It’s also possible to go away the ice out for those who want to drink your Vietnamese espresso sizzling.

A silver phin filter over a clear glass mug with coffee brewed into it, over a layer of condensed milk on the bottom. It sits on a small tray with a sliced pandan waffle in a traditional waffle shape.
Pandan waffles and Portland Cà Phê’s conventional Vietnamese espresso, which makes use of condensed milk and low sourced from Vietnam and roasted by the café’s founder, Kim Dam. Photograph by Analy Lee, courtesy of Portland Cà Phê.

Condensed Milk At this time

Many cafés like Portland Cà Phê are honoring the historic and cultural significance of condensed milk by incorporating it into café drinks. At this time, the ingredient stays a long-standing a part of the meals and beverage world. It’s a reminder that what we eat at this time is influenced by centuries of invention and commerce.


Emily Pleasure Meneses (she/they) is a author and musician based mostly in Los Angeles. Her hobbies embrace foraging, cortados, classic synths, and connecting together with her Filipino roots by way of music, artwork, meals, and beverage.


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