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.

Coffee Panel & Barista Team Challenge at Bosgaurus

photos by KelNorm
 Dzung Nguyen (Founder of The Workshop, Saigon); Son "Pacamara" Nguyen (Producer, Cafe-Roastery owner, Dalat); Quang Tran (Founder of La Viet); yours truly; Hung Nguyen (Founder of Bosgaurus Coffee, Saigon)

Dzung Nguyen (Founder of The Workshop, Saigon); Son "Pacamara" Nguyen (Producer, Cafe-Roastery owner, Dalat); Quang Tran (Founder of La Viet); yours truly; Hung Nguyen (Founder of Bosgaurus Coffee, Saigon)

A few days after arriving in Vietnam, some friends and I facilitated an industry panel, a "state of the specialty coffee industry in Vietnam" event. Organized by The Workshop and Bosguarus Coffee, the event took place at Bosgaurus' upper floor, home to their training and cupping lab. We expected that about 30-40 people would attend (if we were lucky), but by the end of the day, the count was closer to 200! It was a lively and long discussion between the panelists and audience lasting over 2 hours.

Our moderators were Dzung Nguyen (The Workshop) and Hung Nguyen (Bosgaurus Coffee). Panelists: Juliet Dang (trainer @ barista school), Han Tran (Bosgaurus Coffee, 2-time VN Barista Champion), Phap Nguyen (Saigon Coffee Roastery), Son Nguyen (producer, founder of Son Pacamara, Dalat), Quang Tran (La Viet). There were definitely more questions than answers. The event was recorded for posterity, and I'll update with a link once it's ready.

A lively 2 ½ hour conversation about the state of VN specialty coffee, current challenges, career paths, and much more, we covered topics ranging from: Traditional vs/and Modern, Commodity vs/and Specialty, coffee prices, barista wages, customer expectations, market potential. The main takeaway for me was - we've covered so much ground over the last 5 years, and we still have a long way to go. Whereas in the past I'd have struggled to find a table full of people who want to discuss coffee and specialty market potential, this event showed me that there were dozens upon dozens ready to take up the conversations.

 Me fiddling with my phone, not being nearly as stylish as Bosgaurus' lead barista and event panelist, Han Tran (2-time VN barista champion, and coach for this year's winner).

Me fiddling with my phone, not being nearly as stylish as Bosgaurus' lead barista and event panelist, Han Tran (2-time VN barista champion, and coach for this year's winner).

The panel was preceded by a Barista Team Challenge, a fun event involving randomly-assigned teams of three baristas, tabletop roasters, a couple of mystery coffees, and 15 minute espresso and filter coffee presentations, all within 2.5 hours. Of course the coffees tasted fresh as heck, but we three judges - Juliet Dang, Hung Nguyen, and myself - tasted some great examples of creative, collaborative problem solving on the part of the barista teams (4 teams of 3 each). The room was full of the smells of roasting coffee, alive with the chatter of teams and spectators, and it began to dawn on me just how much this little coffee scene has grown. As I scanned the room looking for familiar faces, it was full of strangers and new friends. The old friends were there, of course, but there were so many people I hadn't met, and the enthusiasm for all things coffee was palpable.

The Workshop's FB page has the best summary of the event's winning team, along with more action photos of the day. 

 Barista Team Challenge participants getting intense.

Barista Team Challenge participants getting intense.

 Barista Team Challenge participants get the lowdown on the rules and flow of the event. A row of tabletop roasters await their deployment.

Barista Team Challenge participants get the lowdown on the rules and flow of the event. A row of tabletop roasters await their deployment.

 Three judges for the Barista Team Challenge: Juliet Dang (trainer @ Barista School), yours truly, Hung (Bosgaurus)

Three judges for the Barista Team Challenge: Juliet Dang (trainer @ Barista School), yours truly, Hung (Bosgaurus)

 Me, Hung (Bosgaurus), and a table full of swag and prizes, including 1 kilogram of Panama Hartman Geisha.

Me, Hung (Bosgaurus), and a table full of swag and prizes, including 1 kilogram of Panama Hartman Geisha.

 Roast quality assessment and blend strategies...

Roast quality assessment and blend strategies...

 Best buds: Dzung (The Workshop), Frithie "hey you got something right here lemme get it."

Best buds: Dzung (The Workshop), Frithie "hey you got something right here lemme get it."