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

Post-Tet Dalat Coffee Trip Round-Up

After spending a chill New Year with friends at home, I headed to Dalat to catch up.

 Josh Guikema, of K'Ho Coffee, at the entrance to the K'Ho Cafe, about 20km from Dalat

Josh Guikema, of K'Ho Coffee, at the entrance to the K'Ho Cafe, about 20km from Dalat

My first stop was Josh & Rolan at K'Ho Coffee. Josh is an American and his wife Rolan is a member of the K'Ho Cil tribe. The K'Ho Cil community grows coffee near Lang Biang Mountain, and Josh and Rolan (along with their friend Nick) have been bringing that coffee down to Saigon through periodic events. 

I met Josh back in 2013 when I first moved to Dalat. Back then he was just getting started in the village, trying to find customers for the green coffee that was being grown. Now he's helped them create a branded roasted coffee product for sale at their farm. They also have a cafe in Lang Cu Lan Village.

The next day Josh recommended that we hike to the summit of Lang Biang to get a better view of the area. The lower half of the hike was rocky pine forest with coffee farms around the base.

 Coffee plants in bloom and Lang Biang Mountain in the distance

Coffee plants in bloom and Lang Biang Mountain in the distance

The hike took about four hours, and it was tough enough that we took a nap at the summit. From up there you could see the entire Lang Biang plateau, which is where the majority of Lam Dong Province's arabica coffee beans grow. 

 There's coffee beans in them thar hills

There's coffee beans in them thar hills

Josh's long term vision for the K'Ho Coffee brand is to capture as much value from coffee sales as possible for the producers, hence the roasted product. 

Next I spent a few days with my friend Quang and his crew at La Viet. We roasted coffee for orders, which gave me a chance to get to know their new 20 kilo CRM roasting machine. Quang convened a group of producers and I led a discussion about specialty coffee that included an introduction to the concept of specialty, its place in the market, sustainability, and the importance of a transparent, open network of collaborative players in the developing industry. There was a mix of familiar faces, including An & Son, and newcomers who Quang has been networking with over the last year. Overall, the spirit of the discussion was lively and inquisitive. The producers shared their different perspectives and techniques regarding coffee growing and processing. We had a long discussion about various wet processing approaches. A lot of information was shared and I could feel the beginnings of a strong producer community forming before my eyes.

 La Viet's Quang Tran at the producer meet up last week in Dalat

La Viet's Quang Tran at the producer meet up last week in Dalat

I ended up holding an impromptu barista training for a few people at La Viet's warehouse the next day. There's a lot of curiosity among Quang's staff and family about brewing technique, including his Uncle Son, a coffee farmer. I touched upon the basics for consistency and hygiene and, predictably, everyone was super excited about latte art, though I did have a few passionate pour over artists as well.

The next day I visited Son's farm in a suburb of Dalat near the old Cam Ly airport. Son is pretty much the most passionate coffee farmer I've ever met. He had noticed that some of the trees on his land were larger than the others with very big fruit and seeds, so he marked them all with white flags and instructed his pickers to keep them separated. He produced about 200 seedlings from these trees this harvest along with a few samples of the green coffee for me & Quang to taste and begin to identify. 

 Son with a bunch of cherry from the larger trees

Son with a bunch of cherry from the larger trees

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Son's farm was a new covered parabolic drying patio and wet milling area:

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Son's coffee has been the most consistently clean and delicious that I've had from Dalat, and his continual improvement gives me a lot of faith in what he's going to do in the future.