At its simplest, Ca phe da is made with coarsely ground Vietnamese-grown dark roast coffee individually brewed with a small metal French drip filter (cà phê phin) into a cup containing about a quarter to a half as much sweetened condensed milk, stirred and poured over ice. The coarse grind allows the use of the cà phê phin. Ca phe sua da is iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk.
Coffee was introduced into Vietnam in 1857 by a French Catholic priest in the form of a single Coffea arabica tree. Vietnam quickly became a strong exporter of coffee with many plantations in the central highlands. The beverage was adopted with regional variations. Because of limitations on the availability of fresh milk, as the dairy farming industry was still in its infancy, the French and Vietnamese began to use sweetened condensed milk with a dark roast coffee.