Available in : Vietnamese
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. The sweeter and more expensive Arabica beans are the most popular type of coffee in the world, compared to the more bitter Robusta beans. The latter are used predominantly in instant coffee and as filler due to their lower price and thus are seen as the inferior bean by many. For anyone who has been to Vietnam and tried the caffeine-laden Robusta-based coffee, they will testify to its own special qualities that make it an excellent drink when made and drunk correctly.
Guest on A Vietnam Podcast, episode 7, Brooklyn-based Sahra Nguyen has set out to change that perception and is on a mission to transform the coffee industry through diversity, inclusion, and transparency. 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.
With coffee in hand, I clicked with Sahra right away over my love for coffee and Vietnam and thankfully didn’t encounter any technical difficulties despite communicating 13,500km (8,400 miles) apart from the USA. I was even confident and comfortable enough with Sahra to immediately challenged her on the pronunciation of her own family name on a Ted Talk! (‘Ng-win’ rather than ‘Nu-gen’.) 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.
Before talking about coffee, 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 talked about it on the show – much to Sahra’s mum’s excitement! Drew was extremely excited to see phin coffee in action and try Nguyen Coffee Supply. To Niall, after being in Vietnam for so long, this seemed like a daily mundane experience!
As I finished my first cup of coffee for the day for this early interview, the caffeine kicks in just in time to discuss one of his favorite things in life… coffee! Sahra was motivated to start her own coffee company since “Vietnamese coffee” was becoming popular in New York specialty coffee shops slash hipster cafes – yet was made with Arabica beans, usually sourced from Ethiopia or Brazil. The “Vietnamese” part of it simply being to add condensed milk to the house arabica-based blend, not actual Vietnamese coffee beans. “Vietnamese coffee never tasted Vietnamese” Sahara adds, sadly.
Then we discussed the recent increase of attacks on people of Asian origin in the U.S. and how even some people won’t recognize the problem in their own community until it happens to them. This problem extends to more than just the Asian community with racism and prejudice existing between and among the different cultures that make up America. Nicki believes education is the solution but it will take time through continual small actions, comparing this to nurturing day by day a Bonsai tree to grow straight. Finally, we talked about how that drunken decision one night to open another restaurant led to her being Netflix and a ‘celebrity chef’! “I was lucky! I didn’t even know how to cook Vietnamese food…
Listen to Sahra Nguyen’s full story on Seven Million Bikes Podcast HERE
Available in : Vietnamese