This Woman’s Vietnamese Roastery Is About So Much More Than Coffee

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Coffee is the hero of so many drowsy mornings, but few of us think about the joe in our cups, let alone where it came from. It’s important to acknowledge that coffee is a global product historically tied to white colonialism, but today there are people of color working to reclaim their country’s coffee heritage in positive ways.

One such leader in the industry is Sahra Nguyen, a first-generation Vietnamese American and daughter of Vietnamese refugees. Her parents left the country after the Vietnam War and raised Nguyen in Boston, where she grew up. She went on to graduate from UCLA with a degree in World Arts and Cultures, and Asian-American studies, and developed her career as a writer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur.

Nguyen always loved coffee, and the drink became her main focus later in life. Inspired by New York’s coffee culture when she moved to Brooklyn in 2012, she noticed that cafes offered bean varieties from around the world, but that Vietnamese coffee was never on the menu. This surprised Nguyen, as Vietnam is the second-largest producer of coffee in the world, and the first in terms of robusta beans, which are found in most coffee varieties on the market today.

So Nguyen took things into her own hands. In 2018, she launched Nguyen Coffee Supply, an importing & roasting company with a more direct-to-consumer approach for the arabica and robusta beans she roasted in Brooklyn and sold online in the U.S. It also takes a more direct-from-farmers approach for ingredient sourcing.

According to the Nguyen Coffee Supply website, Nguyen was able to make connections with Vietnamese coffee farmers because of her extended family ties and frequent visits to Vietnam. Nguyen’s aunt introduced her to a coffee farmer in Da Lat. Today, she is able to import and introduce their harvests to American coffee drinkers who otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to the rich flavors.

"As we approach our two year anniversary, we are thrilled to be building a diverse and inclusive coffee culture where the bean, the people, and the culture are celebrated," she tells CircleAround. "We have lots of exciting plans ahead, including new product launches and taking Nguyen Coffee Supply global."

She currently partners with Mr. Ton, a 4th generation farmer who owns and operates his family farm in Vietnam’s famed Central Highlands. “As one of the only coffee roasters in the U.S. to import premium green Vietnamese coffee beans, we’re proud and honored to partner directly with farmers in Da Lat… to grow and process our beans,” Nguyen posted on her Instagram.

She goes on to explain that, while this process allows access to a more sustainable product, and a better wage for the coffee farmers, it isn’t without its challenges. Time zone differences, language translations, bean processing, and the shipping of freshly roasted beans, are all handled by Nguyen and her Brooklyn-based team. But it’s the only way they can ensure equity for all components of the coffee process — and that’s motivation enough for Nguyen to keep going.

Today, Nguyen is still importing, processing, and roasting beans while working on ways to distribute her products to coffee shops across the U.S. She also has produced a line of coffee accessories that pay tribute to Vietnamese coffee culture. Her Phin filters are a hybrid between the pour-over coffee method and a French press, where hot water drips through coffee grinds within a metal chamber. Phin filters are portable and reusable, making every part of her coffee process sustainable down to the very last drop.

Nguyen posts blogs about her company and how she is bringing Vietnamese coffee to the forefront of U.S. coffee culture. She uses her photography talents to provide original photos for her blog and her social media sites, touching on every aspect of the company she’s grown in such a short timeframe. She’s transparent about the way coffee beans are roasted once they arrive at her warehouse, the history of French imperialism and Vietnamese coffee’s deep ties to colonialism, and how they are producing products safely within the current restrictions due to the pandemic. Nguyen wants to educate consumers and investors as much as possible, but more importantly, develop a new voice and narrative within the global coffee community.

“Nguyen Coffee Supply is expanding third-wave coffee culture by celebrating diversity in the coffee community,” she writes on her website. “The brand slogan, ‘For the People’s Grind,' reflects our mission to inspire and fuel the universal grind.” She’s been able to make a name for herself and raise awareness for her culture’s coffee in a short amount of time, making change for Vietnamese coffee farmers, one bean at a time.

Tags: Travel, Start Up, BIPOC, Travel

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

CircleAround will make financial distributions to benefit current Girl Scouts: the next generation of trailblazers who will CircleAround after us. So CircleAround for inspiration, and CircleAround the leaders of tomorrow. CircleAround is owned by One GS Media, a subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA.

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