Traditional Vietnamese egg coffee made of raw egg yolk and condensed milk. Photo by Oleg Doroshenko via Alamy.
Strange as it is, we’ve probably all heard of egg as a condiment for coffee. Whether that’s in an enhanced-protein coffee served at your local gym or Hanoi’s finest dessert-style ca phe trung, the combination has become a mainstream favorite in some circles, and more ways to enjoy the holy matrimony of these breakfast staples continue to emerge.
Kopi telur has long been a favorite in Padang, the capital and largest city of the Indonesian province of West Sumatra. Much like its distant Vietnamese cousin, ca phe trung, the drink consists of egg, coffee, and condensed milk, but it is the distinctly Indonesian Sumatra roast that balances the dairy’s custardlike richness. To understand kopi telur, one must understand something of the Indonesian archipelago’s relationship to the coffee crop that serves as the drink’s base as well as the coffee houses that serve kopi telur regularly.
Indonesia is undoubtedly one of the most popular sources of coffee, but while many of us enjoy steaming black cups of coffee made with single-origin Sumatra beans at the crack of dawn or lovingly refer to our afternoon cups of coffee as “Java,” few coffee drinkers are familiar with the whirlwind of activity encapsulated by the group of islands that provided us with these terms.
The Republic of Indonesia is a country composed of more than 17,000 islands encompassing 741,000 square miles of landmass, earning it the title of the world’s largest island nation. The country’s sprawl makes it home to more than 700 languages, 1,300 ethnic groups, and several hundred species of plants and animals, making it one of the most diverse nations on earth.
Because of climate and geography, each island has its own approach to and relationship with coffee cultivation and cafe culture. With coffee farms on Java, Sumatra, Bali, Timor, and Sulawesi, Indonesia is the fourth-largest producer of coffee globally just behind Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia. And Indonesia’s coffee farms are 90% owned by families and small businesses.
Padang is one of a few Indonesian cities known for their freshly thriving cafe scenes. Coffee is a common enough beverage — with some natives opting to grab roadside instant coffee — but the opening and specialization of cafes is a recent development, especially since cafe culture in Indonesia is commonly associated with an upper middle class that only developed over the past 20 years.
Indonesia suffered from extreme poverty well into the 1970s but then sustained an impressive annual growth rate of around 5% in GDP until the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the economy in 2020.
Home to more than 10 million people, Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta is located on the northwest coast of Java, the world’s most populous island. Coffee businesses in the city range from the independently owned Kopi Mank to the corporate giant Starbucks, and kopi telur is one of a few distinctly Indonesian drinks included on menus in cafes that source Sumatra beans from independent farms strewn across rural Sumatra. Kopi telur is a great way to enjoy coffee for breakfast or dessert. In Indonesia, it’s usually used to punctuate the copious dishes served with rice in a nasi padang meal.
To craft your own kopi telur, all you need is some boiling water, an egg yolk, condensed milk, and some dark roast, as well as additional flavorings of your choosing.
For this recipe, mix honey and vanilla. The floral and tangy notes embedded in the thick body of a fresh cup of Sumatra really shine bright against the sweetness of the condensed milk, making it a highly recommended choice for the coffee in this beverage, but feel free to substitute any earthy dark roast you prefer.
To make, vigorously whisk boiling water into an egg yolk along with the honey and vanilla. Once foamy (roughly two minutes into the process if whisking by hand), pour in the condensed milk. Pour hot coffee into the hole left by the milk. The appearance of this drink may be reminiscent of a macchiato with three distinct layers present. The custard should sink to the bottom, and coffee should be suspended in the middle, with a thick layer of foam on top. Enjoy either hot or cold.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 print edition of Coffee or Die Magazine as “Sumatra’s Sweet Secret.”
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