It is a lesser-known fact that Vietnam is the number two producer of coffee in the world. Vietnam predominantly produces Robusta beans, rather than Arabica beans, which are grown predominantly in Latin America. Compared to Robusta coffee, Arabica coffee is not only sweeter and pricier but also more popular! In fact, Arabica coffee is the most popular coffee type in the world. Robusta coffee is predominantly consumed as instant coffee and as filler due to its lower price, and thus seen as inferior in the coffee world. 

For anyone who has tried the infamous caffeine-laden Vietnamese Iced Coffee or Cà phê sữa đá will testify to Robusta’s unique qualities that make it an excellent coffee type when made and drunk correctly. 

Here to cast a spotlight on Vietnamese coffee and burnish its reputation is Brooklyn-based Sahra Nguyen, the first ever Vietnamese-American and female-owned importer of premium Vietnamese coffee. 

A guest on A Vietnam Podcast, episode 7, this enterprising coffee aficionado is on a mission to transform the coffee industry through diversity, inclusion, and transparency.

Who is Sahra Nguyen?

She is the Founder & CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply, America’s first specialty Vietnamese coffee importer & roaster, and has recently appeared on the Drew Barrymore TV show, several other podcasts and Zoom panels. Since high school, she has been involved in activism, notably recently in support of the Asian and Pacific Islander Communities, especially in light of the recent violence towards this community in America.

Sahra’s parents left Vietnam in 1978 shortly after the war ended, but didn’t meet until they settled in the U.S., despite having a similar timeline and story to get there. As for many at that time in Vietnam, life was difficult for their parents’ families, with little work and a shortage of food, having to “mix potatoes and rice just to try and extend the meals”.

They made the difficult decision faced by many and decided to flee Vietnam. After several attempts, they were finally able to get on a boat and after being at sea for several months, they successfully left Vietnam. Coincidentally, both made it to a refugee camp in Hong Kong where they stayed for around 2 years. They finally met, fell in love and, once they were safe and settled, started their family in Boston, Massachusetts.

Sahra shares how she ended up being a guest on the new Drew Barrymore Show. Twice!

This was a massive moment for her and her family, being fans of Drew Barrymore since E.T. all the way through to 50 First Dates. Thankfully, Drew Barrymore lived up to her public sweetheart image – with Sahra fangirling hard when she met her, even for the second time. Before anything else, Drew checked in with Sahra to ask if she was OK in the light of the recent attacks on the Asian community and if she was comfortable talking about this subject on the show. 

Before her second appearance on the show, Sahra’s mum sent a serving of bún thịt nướng for Drew and her team to try. Not only did they love it, but Drew also talked about it on the show – much to Sahra’s mum’s excitement! Drew was extremely excited to see phin coffee in action and of course, to try Nguyen Coffee Supply.

Sahra was motivated to start her own coffee company during the advent of ‘Vietnamese coffee culture’ in New York where according to Sahra, ‘every specialty coffee shop slash hipster cafe was serving Vietnamese coffee.’ Unfortunately, their renditions were sans the key ingredient - Robusta coffee, and instead used Arabica beans sourced from Ethiopia or Brazil. The ‘Vietnamese’ part of the coffee is derived from simply adding cheap condensed milk to the Arabica-based beverage and does not actually use Vietnamese coffee beans. “Vietnamese coffee never tasted Vietnamese,” Sahra adds, sadly.  

Nguyen Coffee casts a spotlight on the origin, quality and creators of Vietnamese coffee

This prompted Sahra’s inner activist to come alive and give credit where it's due. According to Sahra, “it renders the actual creators of the product - Vietnamese producers, farmers and people - invisible. Why not just call it Ethiopian coffee with condensed milk that profits off the cultural cache of Vietnamese coffee?” Admittedly, this reluctance to use Robusta in specialty coffee stems from social and cultural constructs that relegate Robusta in the coffee chain hierarchy.  

This sense of injustice and lack of transparency in the specialty coffee industry drove Sahra to create Nguyen Coffee Supply. She hopes to change the narrative around Vietnamese coffee being ‘cheap and instant’ to specialty, single-origin, sustainable and organic. 

Nguyen Coffee Supply

This is especially important considering the surge in demand for Vietnamese coffee in recent years. According to Sahra, Nguyen Coffee Supply has received 500 calls from businesses since 2019 to sell Nguyen coffee or wanting Vietnamese beans to roast themselves. According to their own research, 

Vietnamese coffee cafes in the United States are growing 1100% year on year. 

Even Vietnam’s own King Coffee chain has opened its first store in Anaheim, California. “There is a wave of Vietnamese coffee culture happening in the States now,” Sahra excitedly adds.

Listen to the podcast and read the original article here:

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