Coffee and Cream Agar Dessert (Thach Ca Phe)

This Coffee and Cream Agar Dessert is a fantastic summer treat that is refreshing and unique tasting.  The recipe uses agar agar, a gelatinous substance derived from seaweed.  It’s similar to unflavored gelatin but has more of a crunch and is vegetarian.  Agar agar is tasteless and so combines well with most flavors.  In Asia, it’s a very popular ingredient in desserts.  Depending on how much water is mixed with it, agar agar can create textures ranging from creamy puddings to solid fudge-like chunks.Coffee and Cream Agar Jelly (Thach Ca Phe) | recipe from

Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks

Ok, getting back to the dessert.  It’s a bit time consuming to make because you have to make each layer individually and allow it to set slightly before starting the next layer.  The key to making a successful dessert is timing the layers just right.  If you wait too long between layers, they solidify and then you have a dessert with layers that just slide off one another.  If you don’t wait long enough and the layer is too soft, the coffee and cream mix together.  (But if this happens to you, don’t despair!  See my post for Marbled Coffee and Cream Gelatin recipe.)  So how do you time the layers just right?  I use a rather sophisticated tool called my pointer finger.  I lightly touch the jelly with my finger and it should be tacky but not wet and stick to your finger.  This is the indication the existing layer is firm enough to hold the next layer.  But, let’s say it’s your first time making this and you’re not exactly sure of the timing.  I have another trick–keep the two mixtures simmering over low heat while you’re making the layers.  The heat helps to glue the layers together.

Other notes on this recipe, you’ll need two dishes.  A larger one for the ice bath and a smaller one for the jelly itself.  It’s best to use a shallow pan which allows the jelly to cool faster.  In the video, I use a 9 1/4 inches by 7 1/2 inches dish.  If you’d like, you can make the dessert in juice glasses, shot glasses or dessert dishes for even more visual appeal.  Please note that I’ve adjusted the water in the recipe to allow for a bit of evaporation during the simmering process and you may have a bit of each mixture leftover.  If you want you can mix the two together for an interesting top layer.

To serve this dessert, you can simply cut it into blocks and eat it with your hands.  You can also dress it up by serving it on a plate with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.  If you opt to serve it this way, I recommend putting some whipped cream on the plate and then placing the jelly on top.  The dessert is quite slippery and may slide around on a plate without something to hold it down.  Another great way to enjoy this dessert is to cut it into small pieces and add to iced coffee.  Use a big boba straw to slurp up the coffee and jelly bits.  (Oh Yum!!)  I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Watch the video for instructions.

If you enjoy this recipe, you may also like: Vietnamese Custard (Banh Flan) and Chocolate Flan Cake.


1 packet agar agar powder (25 grams or approximately 2 Tbsp)
5 1/4 cups water
1 cup sugar (you can add more if you want it sweeter)

for the Coffee Layer
4 tsp instant coffee (I use 2 packets of Starbucks Via)
1/4 cup hot water
3/4 cup cold water

for the Cream Layer
1/4 cup half and half
3 heaping Tbsp coconut cream (this is the top portion of the canned coconut milk)
1/2 cup cold water

for Ice Bath
4 cups ice
2 cups water


Add water into a medium saucepan.  Sprinkle in the agar agar powder and whisk together.  Allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Mix instant coffee with hot water.  Stir to dissolve.  Add cold water to make 1 cup.

Combine half and half and coconut cream.  Add cold water to make 1 cup.

Heat the agar agar powder and water over medium heat stirring constantly to dissolve.  As soon as the mixture starts to bubble, add the sugar and stir until it’s dissolved.  Use a fine sieve or spoon to skim the foam from the top and discard.  Turn the heat down to low.

Pour 2 1/2 cups of the mixture into a second, smaller saucepan.  To the first saucepan, add the coffee and stir well.  Add the cream mixture to the second saucepan and again stir together.  Make sure both pans are now simmering over low heat.

Place the smaller dish inside the large one and add ice so it’s surrounding the smaller dish.  Pour in cold water filling the outside dish about 3/4 of the way full.

Measure out 1 cup of the coffee mixture and pour into the smaller dish.  The setting of the jelly varies depending on the size of your pan.  The one I am using is 9 1/4 inches by 7 1/2 inches and each layer sets in about 3 minutes.

Stir the mixture and measure out 1 cup of the cream.  Using a large spoon, gently spoon the mixture on top of the coffee layer.  Avoid pouring the mixture directly into the dish which could cause the existing layer to break.  Optionally, pour the liquid over the spoon and allow it to drizzle into the dish.

Continue making the layers until all 7 layers are made, 4 layers of coffee and 3 layers of cream.  Be sure to stir the mixture each time before pouring into the measuring cup.  Once the top layer sets, put the dish in the refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours before serving.  Serve cold.

Yields: 12 servings

Tools I Love and Use in My Kitchen

Chilled Coffee and Cream Agar Jelly Dessert for your sweetheart | recipe from

Chilled Coffee and Cream Agar Jelly Dessert Bars | recipe from

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26 Responses to Coffee and Cream Agar Dessert (Thach Ca Phe)

  1. Sherron Haney June 27, 2017 at 9:01 am #

    None of the Markets around here carry the Agar Agar powder.
    can I use Knox Original unflavored Gelatine instead of Agar Agar Powder?
    it has 4 envelopes net WT 1 oz (26g)

    thank you

    • Trang July 6, 2017 at 5:41 pm #

      Hi Sherron,
      Yes Knox unflavored gelatine works great in this recipe. Please see this recipe where I use Knox gelatine instead of agar agar powder. You can make it into layers or marble it as I did in this recipe. Let me know if you have any questions and enjoy the recipe!

  2. Kim August 24, 2016 at 8:23 am #

    My coconut layer turned out grainy , is it due to the fat content of my coconut milk?

    • Trang August 25, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

      Hi Kim,
      It may be the fat content. Did you perhaps use the milk portion instead of the cream portion of the coconut? The grainy texture may also be due to separation of the coconut if not evenly mixed with the agar agar. How did the coffee layer turn out?

  3. Dorinda July 4, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    My daughter married into a Vietnamese family and they make this type of dessert and I LOVE it!!! I am so pleased to find a recipe and clear instructions. Now I don’t have to wait for family get togethers to enjoy this treat. πŸ™‚ Thank you for sharing!

    • Trang July 24, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

      Hi Dorinda,
      I so happy to hear you love this dessert. Perhaps you’ll surprise them by making this dessert for them along with some other treats! Thanks for stopping by. πŸ™‚

  4. Christine March 26, 2016 at 5:29 pm #

    If one decides to use an agar stick or bar, how much would you use?

    • Trang April 9, 2016 at 8:20 am #

      Hi Christine,
      This is a tough question to answer because the amount varies by brand and form: powder, flakes, stick/strands or bar. If you can grind (use a coffee grinder or small food processor) the sticks, strands or bar to flakes it will be easier to measure and convert. Generally, the ratio for powder to flakes is 1 tsp powder is equal to 3 Tbsp flakes. Good Luck!

  5. Tan Fern Ling November 7, 2015 at 11:48 pm #


    Is it ok if i use the Nescafe Brand of Coffee to substitute? Will it taste similar?

    Tan Fern Ling

    • Trang November 9, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

      Hi Tan,

      the Nescafe brand of instant coffee is just fine. It will be delicious! Enjoy the recipe.

  6. Resham December 27, 2014 at 10:59 am #


    If i don’t want to use milk and cream (to make it dairy free), can i substitute with coconut milk and coconut cream?


    • Trang December 28, 2014 at 6:48 am #

      Hi Resham,
      You can use coconut milk for a dairy-free option. I’ve also used soy milk and almond milk in the past and they worked out well.
      Enjoy the recipe!

  7. maria August 4, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    hi how are yours im like know th name coconut cream you used for this
    recipe please , im need know im try to fine one the same but im never can

    thank very much for you answer , send to me by email you answer

    thanks again


    • Trang August 5, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

      Hi Maria,
      In the recipe I am using the brand AROY-D. I also use Chaokoh and Thai Kitchen. They are all equally good.
      Hope this helps and good luck!

  8. Katherine May 11, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    I made the coffee layer only, with 2 cups real coffee. 1 Tbs agar in 4Tbs hot water, then heat all of it, cool, refrigerate. It didn’t solidify at all.
    Do you have any advice? Maybe the agar agar wasn’t fresh enough? Or, is real coffee too acidic? Or does it need the other layers?

    • Trang May 13, 2014 at 8:14 am #

      Hi Katherine, there’s a certain technique to cooking with the agar agar. You need to mix the agar agar with water first and then let it stand for 15 minutes. This allows the agar agar to expand and thicken later when refrigerated. Also when boiling, make sure to dissolve the powder completely. Any remaining powder will cause it to not solidify. Since you want to make with all coffee, I would use 1 cup water for the agar agar and then add 1 cup of coffee. (Make the coffee stronger so when you add the agar agar/water mixture you’ll get the same coffee taste.) Good Luck and let me know how this turns out for you!

  9. nhica February 28, 2014 at 12:25 am #

    IT looks very delicious, it can be start for busines, thank you

    • Trang March 3, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

      Thank you! You are very kind πŸ™‚

  10. cheenu October 31, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    thankz for ur recipe .itz very useful for me πŸ™‚

    • Trang October 31, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

      My pleasure! I hope this delicious dessert turned out beautifully for you.

      • Jade September 20, 2014 at 1:07 pm #


        For the cream layer, you used half and half.
        I wonder what is half and half?


        • Trang September 21, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

          Hi Jade,
          It’s equal portions of milk and cream. For this recipe, combine 2 Tbsp milk + 2 Tbsp cream to make 1/4 cup half and half. Hope the helps!

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