Will Frith
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» As it Cools

A blog about the emerging specialty coffee industry in Vietnam, as well as the growing third-wave coffee culture in Saigon

VN Coffee Festival Expo, part 1

Too much happened today for just one post, so please excuse the blogorrhea... It seems that I have the best luck when Kelly and I just strike out on our own and start talking to people. Today at the Expo, we met and talked with some people doing good work in Vietnam, and in Specialty coffee in general.

We stumbled into the booth for Golden Bell S Coffee looking for Arabica and were immediately welcomed into conversation with Professor Yue-Wen Wang, of the National Taiwan University's Department of Agronomy. Yue, as he prefers us to call him, has been very active in Specialty Coffee for the Taiwanese market. Once a member of the SCAA, Yue studied everything available and subsequently co-founded the Taiwan Specialty Coffee Association. His booth was impressive, with espresso being prepared alongside siphon pots (didn't try that just yet), poster-size photos of the farm and facilities, examples of green and roasted coffee and comfy tables for relaxing and beating the heat.

He invested in a Đà Lạt coffee farm and processing facility, where he set up a cupping lab and began to teach folks there how to properly process, sort and cup their coffee. He began the process in a brilliantly simple way - having pickers taste fresh cherry and decide which ones were the best. After a few rounds, he led them to choose for themselves what was ideal for harvesting based on which color they thought tasted sweetest. This led to a dramatic improvement in picking the very next day as he ramped up his plans to train his collaborators. His friends from Taiwan include an engineer who designed and developed all of the processing and roasting equipment used in his facility.

He went on to tell us about his work at the Đà Lạt farm and facility while we sipped his Catimor-Robusta espresso blend (pretty ok, clean and defect-free), and he shared some fresh, light-roasted Catimor beans with us to try later. He's in the process of converting the farm to 100% organic practices, growing shade trees throughout the plot and finding/developing Arabica cultivars that work well for the location, all while further training everyone involved in all things growing, processing and cupping.

Yue was eager to learn about our ambitions, and was excited by the fact that we live in Đà Lạt, just a few kilometers away from all of the action. We learned that he split his time between Taiwan and Vietnam, and that he was willing to show us around next week. He offered his lab space to us for use, which was exactly the approach we were hoping he'd take. He understands the importance of a culture of sharing, and that there are no "secrets" in Specialty Coffee production. He acknowledged that we all have to work together if it's going to work at all, and it felt like we were in the presence of a kindred spirit. He is a scientist and professor, after all.

He also showed us the sample roaster he's been using for a number of years, a Lysander. I was not aware of this machine's existence. Not only was it pleasing to see, but the price range was just right (about $200). I'd love to have one. If there are any Angel Investors reading this, I'll take some seed money now, and this will be my first purchase:

Compact and cute, electric motor, for use with any reliable heat source.

Even though it's narrated in Chinese, I highly recommend taking a look at his video.

We'll definitely return to the Expo tomorrow to continue our conversations, brew some coffee and get to know his shop roaster (pictures to come). Here's to quick connections and good people!