Windmills Cafe, Downtown Đà Lạt
Windmills has 3 stores throughout Đà Lạt, one about a block away from the central market area, another one about 10 blocks downhill from the same area (pictured), and one about 2km the other direction on a road full of resorts, hotels and fancy bars. Vy, the managing partner, also runs a local flower business (one of Đà Lạt's larger agricultural exports - along with coffee, tea and vegetables - a variety of flowers with Chrysanthemum and Hydrangea being the most prized types). They are definitely the top dogs in a new generation of young, hip operators currently making up the Đà Lạt espresso explosion.
Their build-outs all share the cute raw wood theme, with brightly colored accents that stand out well against a muted background. Their simplicity is a nice break in this land of bright plastic and seizure-inducing light installations, and the music is consistently at tasteful volumes (regardless of the content, which seems to be staff-run). The espresso menu is pretty simple, along with a variety of flavored syrup-laden blended shakes (tropical fruit and espresso options) and Italian Sodas. I usually stick with straight espresso or tiny Americano, with the occasional lychee shake if I'm feeling adventurous.
Latte art is the norm for hot drinks, with hearts being the favorite pour, and the milk is steamed well - silky foam, mostly bubble-free and served in tasteful sizes (6-10 oz).
The espressos and Americanos have been consistently prepared, and there's always a nicely-colored (albeit thin-textured) crema floating on top. A Robusta-Catimor blend, it's not the tastiest, but they are doing well with what they've got. No acidity and very little sweetness, burnt chocolate and nutty-earthy finish.
The staff knows nothing about the coffee roaster/purveyor, and I only know what's in the blend thanks to a local expat-friend who has been working with them (on-bar espresso and milk preparation training sessions). He says that he asked to visit the roaster, and they quickly shut him down, saying that they don't allow visitors to the facility.
I'm finding that, on the vendor side, this is the usual mode of business here, with people guarding their "trade secrets" with an iron curtain. Sounds pretty familiar to me, the old pre-3rd wave approach of opaqueness and generic blends, and one-person brain trust operations. No coffee peers, guilds or information sharing... sounds pretty lonely to me. I sure hope there are some folks who want to collaborate soon! Perhaps it starts with enthusiastic, curious and demanding baristas, as it has in other places. I think this calls for a local latte art and barista appreciation event...