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.

La Viet Dalat

photos by KelNorm
 
 Carmel Laurino! (Kalsada Specialty Coffee, Philippines). Our SE Asia regional coffee ally, and travel companion for the first part of this most recent Dalat visit.

Carmel Laurino! (Kalsada Specialty Coffee, Philippines). Our SE Asia regional coffee ally, and travel companion for the first part of this most recent Dalat visit.

 

Carmel Laurino (co-founder Kalsada Coffee), Kel, and I have been scheming a collective visit to Saigon and Dalat since meeting up in Portland last year. When we started planning this visit, of course we let Carmel know in the hopes that she could join us - and she did! For three days, we zipped around the Dalat area visiting farms, cafes, and local restaurants trying to pack in as much time together as possible. A fearless and easy-going travel companion, she brought her experience and perspective working to improve and market Philippine specialty coffee on our visits around town. The constantly-collaborative conversations didn't cease and we're cooking up plans for more of course!

La Viet Coffee continues to be the hub of Vietnam's specialty coffee. Quang Tran maintains hundreds of producer relationships in the area, even with growers from whom he hasn't purchased coffee, in an effort to build a viable specialty supply in the Dalat region.

"Procuring and producing a few good lots here and there is easy if you have the budget," says Quang, "but to make specialty coffee sustainable we need to produce higher quality and higher quantities." He says that there's still a lot of work to do to achieve this vision, but he believes it's possible.

While some have chosen to focus on individual farms squeezing out a couple hundred kg of good quality green, maybe even playing with processing techniques, La Viet has a much broader and more long term-oriented approach. Here in Dalat, La Viet plays many roles - dry milling services, retail, roasting, educational and industry hub, tourist destination, consultants, friends to coffee people. There are lots of projects in the works that will (eventually) be written about here... stay tuned!

 Sorting and grading a small order (center), incoming and outgoing product (bags, right and left), with dry milling behind the sliding door.

Sorting and grading a small order (center), incoming and outgoing product (bags, right and left), with dry milling behind the sliding door.

 The La Viet Store, with local products like tea, nuts, and chocolate alongside their coffee to highlight quality products of the region.

The La Viet Store, with local products like tea, nuts, and chocolate alongside their coffee to highlight quality products of the region.

La Viet are also champions of high quality local products, so of course our friends at Marou Chocolate are represented, along with several local tea, nut, and dried fruit products on offer. 

The number of group tours I saw passing through the place was impressive, and they've got multilingual services available - so far in English, Vietnamese, Chinese (Mandarin), and Russian. The LV staff has grown considerably as well, and some folks have stepped up to take on more responsibility, or even change positions completely. I'm looking forward to getting to know the new faces, while continuing to work with the friends I've already got here, as I can sense a lot of passion and enthusiasm in their work.

The cafe area stayed consistently busy at all times of day, with a few short breaks in the crowds every so often - just enough for staff to catch their breath, reset their stations, and take care of ongoing tasks.

 Old school industrial-institutional, sturdy furniture fills out the cafe, which ebbs and flows with visitors all day.

Old school industrial-institutional, sturdy furniture fills out the cafe, which ebbs and flows with visitors all day.

I was able to teach a couple of workshops while in town - day-long, intensive barista & roasting basics courses designed to provide a foundation for future study and practice. In attendance were some LV staff, along with some Dalat-area coffee friends. Considering each day was packed so full of content, the classes were full of attentive students with great questions and conversations.

For Quang to open up the workshops to a few area coffee folks underscores his mission to "lift all boats" in his communities. I was happy to contribute to this vision, and of course will continue to provide as much support as they need.

I'm beside myself. This little coffee scene is growing so quickly - the underlying mission of inclusivity and mutual support remaining intact, with the community-oriented approach guiding all. There have been challenges, of course, and some have yet to be overcome, but with this community I feel like we can take on anything that comes our way. I'm re-energized and can't wait to see how much has happened by the next time I visit.

 Training room and lab, in a momentary peaceful moment.

Training room and lab, in a momentary peaceful moment.