A pool of green coffee beans is piled on the workbench at Nga Po Nam, the coffee house that has a bar and a basement for coffee making. Several pouches of coffee beans sit on top of the workbench along with roasting apparatus and grinders. Inside this small shop on the eastern edge of the city of Hanoi is one of the oldest artisanal coffee houses in Vietnam. Over the past decade or so, several of these shops have opened their doors across the country in an effort to revolutionize the country’s coffee industry. “More and more of the people are beginning to see it’s important to support the small farmers as well as producers in general,” said Mr. Nguyen Hue Minh, a 45-year-old barista and owner of Nga Po Nam. He thinks a lot of people are confused about coffee — what does it mean to be a coffee person? Is it a beverage or a product? These are questions that the people of Vietnam may have to answer as they continue to drink a high concentration of brewed coffee compared to many other countries around the world. The country consumes a relatively high percentage of locally grown coffee beans as well as high-end coffee from Brazil and elsewhere. While that may give their coffee a rosier reputation than is usual for its origin, it is also importing an enormous amount of beans and roasting the coffee at home.
“It’s because more and more people want to buy their coffee in more high quality options,” Mr. Minh said. In addition to shops like Nga Po Nam, Vietnam is home to a growing number of small coffee makers like Concha Cacao, one of the largest and most well-known coffee suppliers in the world. In addition to supplying Starbucks and other major coffee chains in the U.S., these coffee houses sell high-quality beans from farms around the world. This is an experiment that Vietnam is trying to make — they want to produce a premium product but offer it at a reasonable price.
Mr. Minh admitted that he didn’t know much about coffee beans when he first opened up Nga Po Nam but now he makes it part of his regular routine to come in to work each day. He loves his job, and watching as coffee makers across the country develop a following is fun too. “The movement is very good,” he said. “It has just started.”
Mr. Minh makes a specialty coffee called Burgundy each day and prices for the coffee range from $6 to $8 per cup. More expensive coffee does indeed appear to be popular with consumers in Vietnam. “More and more, the higher quality, the better,” Mr. Minh said. It’s a category that is growing at a fast rate, and Americans may have found an attractive version of coffee in this slow cooker-like chain of coffee houses.
Nga Po Nam is one of eight coffee houses in the region that makes artisanal coffee regularly. Their coffee is sold only in their own shops or on site at Fair Trade Fairgrounds, an annual fair for coffee producers outside of Hanoi. Some of the coffee shops also host art exhibitions and live music events. Nga Po Nam used to have a live band and now they play music. “I think music makes people feel relaxed,” Mr. Minh said.