Will Frith
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» As it cools

Specialty coffee in Vietnam: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) coffee shops, roasters, and baristas, and Dalat green coffee farmers, processors, and evangelists.

UCC-Olam-La Viet Producer Contest

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend and assist for Dalat's first arabica-only producer competition, held in the lobby/reception area of the old Dinh II hotel. The event was organized by La Viet's Quang Tran, with UCC and Olam contributing the funds and authoring the competition format. The finalists won cash prizes, and the top lots were purchased by UCC with Olam's assistance for logistics and shipment. La Viet handled the processing and packing.

UCC and Olam chose the cupping panel, which included three people from the UCC Vietnam office, Armando Sierra from Olam's Lam Dong office, Quang Tran of La Viet, and Dung Nguyen of The Workshop in Saigon. Over 30 samples of the region's best catimor/arabica blends were submitted, with 21 making it into the competition. The judges definitely had their work cut out for them, with nearly 5 hours of cupping.

 Samples await while UCC's Shunta Baba briefs the volunteer staff.

Samples await while UCC's Shunta Baba briefs the volunteer staff.

Quang tapped me to help with the front-of-house operations, where we put together a brew bar and espresso bar, along with a generous spread of snacks available to all attendees. The reception was excellent, with many producers and their family members having their first proper cappuccino and pour over that day. Many from Vietnam's fledgling specialty scene also showed up, with some folks eager to have a go at making their own filter coffees, and even a couple of aspiring baristas who were curious about the espresso we were serving (an arabica blend from Dalat, of course).

 The espresso and brew bar, loaded with snacks. At the top is the cupping panel in action.

The espresso and brew bar, loaded with snacks. At the top is the cupping panel in action.

The event was well-attended, with nearly 200 people visiting throughout the day and many nervous growers pacing the halls awaiting the results. At the end of the day, the hard-working judging panel retired to the sidelines while the points were tallied. The top lots came from a mix of familiar faces and new, and I look forward to seeing more from those who participated, especially now that they had a chance to network and chat with one another throughout the day.

In first place was one of my favorites, Mr Thanh An Le, or "Mr An" as we call him at La Viet and The Workshop. He has produced some of the most consistently good lots of bourbon, typica, and catimor I've had from Dalat. Mr Son (from my last post), good friend of La Viet and Mr An, placed 6th with his catimor.

 And the winner is Mr An (right)!

And the winner is Mr An (right)!

After the winners were announced, there was a buffet open to all participants and attendees. Many drinks and smiles were shared, and good times extended into the night.

I can confidently say that this event (hopefully the first of many) was a success, and I hope that the enthusiasm and spirit of community it encouraged can sustain itself for years to come. It's already inspired some of us to plan a more specialty-oriented competition, which I'll have details about soon when we're ready to announce it.