I'm now splitting my time between Saigon and Singapore, but I've moved my life (and my cat) back to Saigon, which doesn't suck at all. I just returned to Vietnam from Singapore, where I supported one of my New Black baristas, Lin Nur Azlina, at the Singapore 2015 Barista Competition. For a first-time competitor, Lin did splendidly, and did my chosen home of Olympia, Washington proud by using Olympia Coffee's La Pastora Kenya Process.
The competition itself was fierce, with 2008 and 2009's champion (and, spoiler alert: this year's too) John Ryan Ting of ARC killing it. Plus, Dennis Tang, co-owner of my personal favorite Singapore coffee roasting company Nylon, competed too, as did Hee Wei using Nylon's Bokasso.
While I was working full-time in the big city-state of Singapore, my friends and colleagues here in Saigon were up to all kinds of new stuff. WORK Saigon has expanded to a second location at the glassy Bitexco Tower, just upstairs from the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in a shopping mall. The gig is a partnership with AIA (an insurance company) and the design is a knockout. Plus, owners Tuan and Laure managed to find a barista with roasting aspirations, and he's keeping the place well stocked with espresso, pourouver and even Robusta offerings (for the ca phe sua da, naturally).
The Workshop is kicking their coffee program up a notch, and I am excited to help where I can. For the next few weeks I'll be acting as the interim production roaster while training a few of their staff and one of their partners in roasting. I can't wait to see what roasting talent is waiting among their current barista staff, all of whom have proven themselves super solid and excited to learn more.
My good friend Truc over at the former [a] cafe (relax, it's just a re-brand) has launched [a] coffeehouse, a sleek new shop that still manages to retain the location's warm and friendly origins on a great alley between two busy Saigon traffic arteries. Truc is also roasting his own coffee, and like The Workshop, has begun to offer international coffees. A few weeks ago Truc brewed me a solid Esmerelda Geisha from Panama. I had a great time spending a few days with his new barista staff getting them ready for launch.
After a quick trip to northern Thailand for the holidays, I also had a chance to check up with Quang at La Viet up in Dalat. Quang has moved a workshop/laboratory down from the mountainside coffee farm and into the city of Dalat. His hope (and mine) is to be able to connect buyers and cafe owners to quality control technology when they visit Dalat without having to make the ~20km trek up to Me Linh to visit his pristine farm and processing. We also spent a few hours on a coffee farm picking cherry to use in a wild little experiment with fruit shrub. The result was tested out (favorably) on our extended specialty crowd at a secret cafe in our friends Greg & Minh's vintage shop, Antique Street, on Le Cong Kieu. Kelly and I served pour-overs and cold brew along with the shrub and we were quite pleased to meet a bunch of new people at the event. Hopefully there will be more to come!
In the meantime, I'm getting used to living in Saigon again while still developing the menu and focusing on QC for The New Black. I must admit the less demanding schedule is most welcome. I spend most mornings at The Workshop even if I'm not working there, and it's a great feeling to see just how far Saigon's little specialty scene has come in the two years since I returned.