Best Coffee Recipes from Asia
Nov 11, 2021
Coffee celebrates diversity. It originated in Africa, where people benefitted from it for centuries before it was discovered by foreigners, then quickly adopted by the Middle East who made it a traditional drink in most, if not all, Middle Eastern countries and then marketed it to Europe, who fell in love with coffee.
As you can see, coffee has had a rich history passing through many different cultures, each one making coffee just a little bit better along the way. Cinnamon and coffee? A Middle Eastern tip. Chocolate and coffee? Europeans invented that one.
But all that is all news. Asia, however, has something to say. The continent has been responsible for some of the best drinks of this century, which, thanks to the internet, are quickly adopted by the Western world. An instagram post one day, an item on a Seattle’s coffee shop’s menu the next.
First off, we’re starting with what is probably the most popular Asian coffee invention — which you probably didn’t know was Asian.
Cold brew is both old and new. How’s that work? Well, it’s because although this brewing method was discovered centuries ago, it didn’t really become commonplace until very recently thanks to advances in refrigeration.
You see, cold brew is a brewing method where you don’t use hot water and instead let the grounds steep for long hours. This is done usually in a cold place, like the fridge, but it can still be achieved at room temperature. The key thing is not to use hot water.
Cold brew was actually discovered in Japan quite a few centuries ago, around the 17th century. It was a signature drink in Kyoto, back then the capital of Japan.
The Dutch were the only ones that could conduct trade with Japan back then, as they were isolating themselves from the rest of the world. During a routine trip, a few sailors picked up this drink and brought the knowledge with them on their trip back.
Even though we’ve had the knowledge, it’s only relatively recently that we’ve been able to enjoy cold brew better. Cold brew can still be brewed at room temperatures, there’s just a lot more variables and a lot more room for contamination. By doing it in a fridge, you ensure that everything goes right.
Funnily enough, Japan is also where another one of the world’s most favored cold coffee recipes was born: the iced coffee.
Even if it already existed before, technically, nobody did it better than them. It came to be known as Japanese iced coffee, and it’s the most common variant served at coffee shops nowadays. The difference between Japanese iced coffee and regular iced coffee is that regular iced coffee is when you simply add ice to your coffee cup, glass, etc. Japanese iced coffee is brewed over ice. There’s a lot of difference flavor wise from just this simple trick.
The pandemic still had some good things. One of them was dalgona coffee, a Korean coffee beverage which is made by mixing instant coffee and sugar in with cream or whipped cream, then dumping it on top of a glass of milk.
The drink had been around in the country for at least two decades, although it was considered somewhat obscure. Then, during the pandemic, it started to catch on.
If you remember the start of the pandemic, one of the things that people seemed most worried about was not being able to get their coffee. We caffeine junkies just can’t function with our daily java. And homemade black coffee? That’s not living— just surviving.
So, people started to look for ways to make better coffee at home. Dalgona was the perfect candidate: it doesn’t require any fancy ingredients or even a coffee machine. Hell, it’s even made with instant coffee, the stuff that makes baristas hiss at you at the sole mention of it!
So videos of people making dalgona at home starting making rounds in Korean social media and the coffee quickly became a sensation. Suddenly, even those with two left hands were able to make a barista-grade coffee beverage without even sweating.
And, in case you were wondering, “dalgona” is the name of a very traditional type of candy in Korea which resembles honeycomb. It’s made by cooking sugar along with baking soda so it puffs up. That roasty, sweet taste is a lot like that of dalgona coffee, so the name stuck!
Vietnamese Egg Coffee
Vietnam is a very important name in the world of coffee. The country is the second most important coffee-growing in the world, producing even more coffee than legendary Colombia. They have been growing, and drinking, the stuff for hundreds of years and there is a rich coffee culture there.
Vietnamese coffee was born, like many revolutionary inventions, out of necessity. The story goes that a certain barista at one of Vietnam’s best hotels found himself out of milk. There was a war going on and supply of many basic things had been cut, including milk. So he looked around. What did he have in the kitchen to make a frothy beverage?
Eggs. That’s right! He used egg yolks, best known for being the creamiest, most savory part of the egg, to create a super frothy coffee that would impress clients so much, it became a permanent item on the menu. This same barista went on to open his own coffee shop, and egg coffee would become the favorite coffee beverage of many Vietnamese people.
This drink is now incredibly famous worldwide. The use of egg to substitute milk isn’t really anything new; it was first invented in Europe with what the French called “Hen’s milk”, which was using egg yolks and whites to thicken up milk. It is actually the inspiration, or the base, for eggnog, a traditional christmas drink in many countries.
Vietnam has many unique drinks that have recently made their way into mainstream culture, although it is obvious that egg coffee in particular is the most popular one, probably because of how different it is from most other types of coffee drinks.
Thai Iced Coffee
If you have to know anything about Thailand, it’s that it’s very hot. And humid. And although this can be paradisiacal, for those living there it can get to be too much. So Thai people are constantly looking for things to cold themselves off.
Coffee has always been a very popular drink here, despite the climate. But it turns out that most people take their coffee iced instead of hot, which makes a lot of sense.
Thai coffee isn’t like any other iced coffee, though. Most of the coffee that can be made at home in Thailand is black, brewed coffee. There wasn’t a lot of access to espresso in the past, which would make it difficult to make an iced coffee that was more than just coffee and ice.
Yet they figured out a way to make it into a frothy drink: using condensed milk. This is a type of milk which has been evaporated, so it’s super dense and thick. Plus, it’s sweet, so you’re essentially killing two birds with one stone: you sweeten the drink, and you make it creamy.
One of the best things about Thai iced coffee is that it’s incredibly easy to make. You don’t need to fire up the espresso machine, you don’t need to calculate the exact amount of ice and water that you need like with Japanese iced coffee.
And that’s the whole point! You’re already sweating everywhere, you just want to put together a coffee and cool off.
Japan is making another appearance here, this time with the matcha latte. You probably have had a matcha latte before, but might not know exactly what it is. What is matcha?
As you may know, green tea is big in Japan. Like, huge. They’ve been drinking it nonstop for thousands of years. So it figures that they would get really good at making it and even growing it: they figured out that they can grow tea trees in the shade, which turns the leaves a darker hue of green, making them more savory.
To double down on it, these leaves are then made into powder (instead of just steeping them, like all other tea) and then diluted into a frothy, vibrant green beverage. This is matcha: powdered green tea which is grown in the shade.
Matcha has a unique flavor like no other type of green tea, one that goes particularly well with coffee. As soon as this was discovered, matcha became a regular ingredient in most Japanese coffee shops and it wasn’t long before the whole world wanted to try a matcha latte.