Friday 31 March 2023

Vince Nguyen, Nam Coffee: “Our company’s mission is to source, roast and provide excellent Vietnamese coffees”

The founder: "Nam Coffee’s mission to source, roast, and provide excellent Vietnamese coffee takes a holistic approach to creating its products. I want everyone involved in Nam’s mission to be treated fairly and to be excited to make coffee that is delicious and good for everyone involved. When searching for the best coffee in Vietnam, it was important for me to focus on the people."

Must read

MILAN – Today we discover the story behind Nam Coffee, the creature of an authentic coffeelover who has combined his Vietnamese origins with his life in California: Vince Nguyen has brought his experience of coffee from his native places, in Pleiky, directly to Los Angeles. The union of these two different cultures, two distant ways of understanding and consuming the beverage, has resulted in a truly unique Vietnamese craft coffee importer and roastery.

Nam Coffee: a vision that combines two worlds

Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world: what does this crop represent for this country and what has it represented for you?

“For me, coffee represents my childhood and my hometown. I’ve loved coffee ever since I was a little kid and actually fell in love with it when I helped my mom run a coffee cart in Saigon’s District One. Coffee is a source of pride for Vietnam, as we grow some of the best coffee in the world, and that’s why I’m so proud to build on my childhood love of coffee and share it with as many people as possible.”

Then you moved to live and work in Los Angeles: from the origins to the other side of the chain, what impressed you from the drink’s point of view?

“The most impressive aspect of our sourcing, roasting, and distribution process for me has been our ability to capture the impressive quality that Vietnamese coffee is known for, and then being able to share it with people in the United States. Working directly with our Đà Lạt coffee farm partner and our Los Angeles roasting partner means we’re able to be involved in much more of the step-by-step process in our coffee’s creation. This level of investment has been crucial in helping Nam Coffee create several different roasts that preserve the distinct flavor of Vietnamese coffee that we’re proud to offer.

Vince Nguyen working on quality beans (photo granted)

Vietnam is famous for its Robusta, but this is often linked to an idea of low quality: with Nam Coffee, how are you acting against this prejudice and promoting the Fine

“Vietnam is the largest producer of robusta coffee beans in the world due to geographic and historical reasons, but it brews an equally good cup of coffee for even the most discerning coffee drinkers. Robusta actually has more antioxidants and usually double the caffeine of arabica coffee beans while also containing fewer fats and sugars. Nam Coffee currently sells three roasts and all of them contain a clearly labeled, significant amount of robusta, including our Đà Lạt roast which is 100% robusta.

Using robusta in all of our products is a concrete way to exemplify the bean’s ability to add nuanced, delicious characteristics to each blend with our Đà Lạt roast as the definitive example of the bean’s solitary and unique flavor derived from the Central Highland’s rich, volcanic soil.”

With Nam Coffee, you import green from Vietnam, roast it and distribute it: how do you select, roast and distribute your coffee?

“Nam Coffee’s mission to source, roast, and provide excellent Vietnamese coffee takes a holistic approach to creating its products. I want everyone involved in Nam’s mission to be treated fairly and to be excited to make coffee that is delicious and good for everyone involved.

When searching for the best coffee in Vietnam, it was important for me to focus on the people who were actually growing the beans in addition to the quality of the coffee itself. That’s why we partner with Thien, whose coffee farm has been in his family for three generations. Thien overseas coffee production at several farms in the highlands of Vietnam and all the people he works with are paid fairly and treated with dignity and respect.

When it came to finding an American-based roaster, I had trouble finding someone who saw Nam Coffee’s potential who also wanted to be in a true partnership with me. I finally found a Los Angeles roaster who had been to Vietnam and knew of the country’s excellent coffee, and it was in this mutual respect for the people and culture of Vietnam that we began our professional relationship.

What do you currently have at your disposal with Nam Coffee?

“At present I have strong, cooperative relationships with our farm partner and roaster to bolster our coffee’s reputation as a premium Vietnamese coffee that’s made with the people behind its creation in mind. Because of the direct-trade relationships built into my business model, I hope to soon be able to import more coffee beans from other areas of Vietnam and support more Vietnamese coffee farmers.

As Nam Coffee grows, we continue to develop more relationships with cafés, restaurants, and retailers in the United States who can taste the difference in quality of our coffee. My hope is that this network of industry professionals continues to support our growth and encourages others to try our products.”

What comes most from Vietnam today? What are the most popular origins on the market?

“Almost all of the coffee grown in Vietnam is robusta, with arabica making up about 5% of the annual coffee crop. The vast majority of coffee exported from Vietnam comes from the Central Highlands in the Lam Dong province, which is also where we source Nam Coffee’s beans. That said, the most popular coffee bean origins from Vietnam are from Lam Dong province.

How have you established a direct network with Vietnamese farmers?

“After trying some incredible coffee my sister sent me from Vietnam, I asked her to introduce me to the farmer who grew it. His name is Thien, and his farm is Cau Dat Farm in Đà Lạt. I wanted to work with Thien, who is a third-generation coffee farmer, not just because of the coffee’s flavor but also because of his philosophy of treating farmers with respect and paying them fairly. Making a real-life connection with Thien has allowed us to foster a cooperative direct-trade partnership that transcends the traditional supply chain.”

How far does your reach as a distributor extend and what is your target audience?

“As a distributor, Nam Coffee can ship all across the United States and we have positive reviews from Los Angeles to New York City. We also have partnerships with several cafés, restaurants, and retailers in Los Angeles, San Marino, and Washington D.C. I started Nam Coffee because I was frustrated with the lack of premium Vietnamese coffee available in
the United States when I moved to Orange County, California. My target audience is anyone who misses the familiar flavors and distinct taste of premium Vietnamese coffee, as well as anyone who wants to try an excellent coffee that’s produced through cooperation and a shared love of Vietnam’s coffee heritage.

Where would you like to reach with Nam Coffee products besides the US?

“Currently, we can ship to any address in Canada and the United States. In the future, I would love to share our coffee with people all over the world.”

From your point of view, what is the future of Vietnamese coffee cultivation, also considering the threat of climate change against which Robusta has been more

“Ideally, I’d like the future of Vietnamese coffee to be centered on fair pay, fair treatment, and a desire to share some of the world’s most delicious coffee. With the climate crisis unfolding in real time, I think it’s imperative now more than ever for coffee producers to know who is growing their product and having regular conversations with them about the evolving differences, year-over-year, they’re seeing on their farms and how those changes are affecting their harvests.

As farmers, roasters, distributors, and coffee brands begin to adapt their supply chains, the demand for robusta beans will probably increase because of its known resiliency in the face of climate change. Working closely with farmers and creating an open dialogue between what they’re capable of harvesting versus what a coffee company’s needs are will
help everyone involved plan effectively for the future of coffee production.”

What could you tell us about the production of Arabica in Vietnam? How is it going to develop?

“● Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer of coffee but the vast majority of coffee
produced in Vietnam is Robusta. Only now is there a small amount of Arabica making its way to the US through specialty roasters like Nam Coffee.
● We think Robusta is just as good as Arabica — and that it is Western consumer palates that have made Arabica “superior.” They are simply different: Robusta is chocolatier and nuttier, Arabica is fruitier.
● Vietnam grows quality Arabica in the highlands and we source ours from Da Lat, where the climate and elevation are perfect for Arabica, which is harder to grow.

Nam Coffee is the first Vietnamese craft coffee importer and roaster based in Los Angeles

Born in the highland city of Pleiku, founder and Vietnamese immigrant Vince Nguyen sources beans directly from coffee farms like those prevalent in his hometown. Newly launched in 2022, Nam Coffee is Nguyen’s love letter to all the places he’s lived — the Central Highlands, Saigon, and California — and the coffee culture he grew up with from a young age. Nguyen first found his love for coffee at age 12, when he began working at his mother’s street side coffee cart in Saigon. Now, he’s created a brand that spotlights the traditional as well as the modern tastes of Vietnamese coffee. The brand’s 2022 drop includes: the super-bold Da Lat (100% Robusta) is inspired by Vietnam’s beloved coffee-growing highlands, while the balanced District One (50/50 Blend) is named after the bustling central hub of Saigon, and the light and fragrant Orange County (70/30 Arabica-Robusta Blend) is made for the West Coast palate. Learn more about Nam Coffee at the website and in Instagram page.

Latest article