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.

K'Ho Coffee

photos by KelNorm

I've written about K'Ho Coffee in the past, and they've been keeping at it, with all sorts of new improvements. The cafe in the touristy Lang Cu Lan Village has since changed hands to become a K'Ho Coffee account, rather than being run by Josh, Rolan, and the family themselves. This opened up some bandwidth for Rolan & Josh to build a cafe near their home, which would be much better overall for the K'Ho Coffee brand. Now, they receive dozens of visitors per week, a focused audience who have made the choice to visit them specifically (rather than just needing a cup of coffee while at a tourist village).

 I was probably just kidding. Carmel isn't impressed.

I was probably just kidding. Carmel isn't impressed.

 The local zebras aren't like other ones around the world, and aren't actually zebras at all. They're a local hybrid of horse and striped tabby, and they purr when you scratch behind their ears. And they will eat your weeds. Ok, jk it's a horse with painted stripes, and he does love a good scratch behind the ears..

The local zebras aren't like other ones around the world, and aren't actually zebras at all. They're a local hybrid of horse and striped tabby, and they purr when you scratch behind their ears. And they will eat your weeds. Ok, jk it's a horse with painted stripes, and he does love a good scratch behind the ears..

 K'Ho Cafe is probably the best example of a paradise cafe scenario I can imagine. The local-est cafe, with all steps in the supply chain being less than 10 meters away from Carmel's table.

K'Ho Cafe is probably the best example of a paradise cafe scenario I can imagine. The local-est cafe, with all steps in the supply chain being less than 10 meters away from Carmel's table.

Their cafe is probably the closest to ideal retirement scenario I could think of - situated on a coffee farm, just behind the micro wet mill, storage, and roasting areas, less than 50 meters away from the drying area, with the residence just a couple dozen steps away from the bar. From my barstool, I could study productive coffee trees, stare at the mountains, watch chickens and pigs run around the grounds, all while having a carefully prepared cup of coffee - coffee that was grown on the very plot I'm consuming it. If that's not a virtuous cycle, I don't really know what is.

 Inside the drying tent. Screened sides and roof panels encourage good air circulation, while plastic panels retain heat while protecting the drying beds from the near constant rain during harvest.

Inside the drying tent. Screened sides and roof panels encourage good air circulation, while plastic panels retain heat while protecting the drying beds from the near constant rain during harvest.

 The trek from the street to the cafe takes guests through the coffee garden, which had chickens and little pigs running around (too quickly for the camera!).

The trek from the street to the cafe takes guests through the coffee garden, which had chickens and little pigs running around (too quickly for the camera!).

K'Ho Coffee has expanded a lot. Last time I saw them in 2015, they impressed me with the drying tables they'd built, which they would place in the street near their house to maximize space. This time, Josh brought me to an adjacent lot where they had built a large greenhouse for drying coffee. He said they built it with extra capacity to accommodate the growth they were experiencing, and are already outgrowing it! During peak harvest, the greenhouse is full and they're scrambling to find/create more surface area for drying incoming batches. Intelligently built, the greenhouse has a combination of screens and plastic to retain heat and allow air to circulate when needed.

 K'Ho Coffee cofounder, Josh Guikema, host with the chillest vibes.

K'Ho Coffee cofounder, Josh Guikema, host with the chillest vibes.

Their coffee continues to find new fans (of both the green coffee quality and the roasted coffee), and they've found a way to invite people over to see what they do, without having to put a half-day's work aside in the process. As is the case with agriculture, patience is one of the highest virtues and theirs is beginning to pay off - the quality maintains while they slowly expand volume/capacity. One of K'Ho Coffee's many goals is to represent, educate, and empower their community by being a positive, inclusive presence. They buy coffee from neighbors, share knowledge and resources, and act as a community hub. Josh is a tireless representative, traveling around the region to visit buyers and to perhaps land another coffee account, bringing nearly all of the value back to the village. Whereas before, captured value would have stopped at the end of the street with the loan sharks and cherry collectors, earning them less than 10% of the final value of their coffee (and often in the form of predatory, high-interest loans leading to a lifetime of debt servicing).

It doesn't just make me happy to see them doing well, it's that they're doing well while empowering their neighbors in an organic way that's much more appropriate to the local culture - and on their own terms, without the pressure of loans or collectors.

Hopefully, I'll be back in the area for this year's harvest. Can't wait to see all of their processes up close in real time, and of course I can't wait to hang out with Josh again! (And Rolan, of course, who was busy with guests/clients when we visited this time. Also, I'd like to congratulate them on the newest addition to their family! How time flies...)

 Seedlings! Great off-season use of drying beds.

Seedlings! Great off-season use of drying beds.