Founder + CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply
AAPI HERitage Month
Welcome to our first feature for AAPI HERitage Month. We’re introducing you to some amazing Asian-American and Pacific Islander women who are making change, selling cool stuff, and/or being bad*sses. Enjoy!
She’s making our mornings better. In 2018, Sahra Nguyen (she/her), founder and CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply, got tired of going to work in Brooklyn coffee shops where they’d serve iced Vietnamese coffees that weren’t actually Vietnamese at all. “It would be a house Ethiopian or Colombian coffee served with sweetened condensed milk,” she says, “It troubled me that these places could label something Vietnamese coffee and the sale of that product didn’t benefit any Vietnamese communities.” So, Sahra set out to right that wrong and diversify the American coffee industry.
Why was it important for you to get Vietnamese coffee in front of an audience that might not have been previously familiar with it (even if they’ve been drinking it unknowingly for a long time)?
“Vietnamese coffee” as a concept was already starting to gain traction in the U.S., but there was no product integrity or real connection to the communities at origin; that’s why it was so important for me to get real, single origin Vietnamese coffee, locally roasted in Brooklyn in front of the audiences here.
Also, it’s crucial to me to effect change in the unfair reputation of the robusta bean. I was raised with Vietnamese coffee, so I know first hand the overall coffee potential. In the American market, the robusta bean has not received the same attention or usage as the arabica bean has (particularly as it relates to global investment for elevating specialty coffee production), so it was unfairly relegated to the instant coffee market. This systemic issue traps Vietnamese farmers and robusta farmers worldwide in economic exploitation as they’re not given the opportunity to improve and elevate their crop for the premium and specialty coffee market. By investing in education, innovation, and collaboration with Vietnamese farmers growing both arabica and robusta, we’re able to give robusta a premium makeover and highlight all the delicious, complex flavor notes that distinguish it from arabica and show the bean’s versatility.
What makes robusta coffee special?
Vietnamese robusta coffee has a bolder, nutty flavor with twice as much caffeine as its arabica bean counterpart. Robusta also has 80% more antioxidants than arabica. The bean itself is much less labor intensive than arabica, as robusta beans ripen at the same time, allowing for mass-harvesting, as opposed to arabica beans which must be hand-plucked. The high caffeine content acts as a natural pest repellent and makes robusta more disease resistant, which ultimately makes robusta easier to grow for farmers and delivers a higher yield per volume.
How is Vietnamese coffee traditionally brewed and prepared?
Traditionally, Vietnamese coffee is brewed with a phin filter, which is more sustainable as it doesn’t require a paper filter like other brewing methods. Phin filters call for a finer grind size, and the energy from the beans degassing often causes the gravity press on the inside of the filter to tip over, which is a sign of a truly fresh brew.
There are several delicious ways to prepare Vietnamese coffee. Besides drinking it black, other traditional takes are the cà phê dừa (robusta coffee with fresh coconut milk over ice) and the beloved cà phê sữa đá (robusta iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk). Nguyen Coffee Supply has ready-to-drink cold brew flavors that pay homage to these classic styles.
We know that your brand seeks to help Vietnamese farmers while also being sustainable. How do you achieve these goals?
Besides robusta’s sustainability, our organic practices, and the paperless phin filters, we also founded the Robusta Pledge, a commitment to advancing opportunities for robusta farming communities, where major coffee industry members have provided signatures. Additionally, we are an inaugural member of the International Women in Coffee Alliance (IWCA) Vietnam Chapter, which invests in women farmers by teaching them specialty coffee production.
What’s next for you?
Creating new coffee flavors and expanding our brand to Whole Foods nationwide! Our entry to Whole Foods is a landmark moment for Vietnamese coffee since we’re believed to be the first 100% robusta product from Vietnam ever sold at the major grocer.
In 2022, we focused on product development and innovation, releasing 3 new dark roast coffees and 3 cold brew cans made with 100% robusta beans. Out the gate our cold brew won BevNET’s Best New Product Award in December 2022 and we were named a NEXTY Award Finalist for Best New Beverage in March 2023. With our amazing products ready to go, this year we’re focused on expanding our distribution channels so we can bring the Vietnamese coffee experience to as many people as possible. Earlier this year we released our first Anaerobic Robusta, one of the biggest innovations in the specialty coffee industry since the anaerobic processing method has traditionally been reserved for the arabica bean. We competed in the U.S. Barista Championships with our Anaerobic Robusta and made it to the national stage—the first time a 100% robusta coffee has been represented and elevated in this way.
And now for a fun one: What’s your fave way to drink your coffee?
Our Loyalty coffee bean (a blend of robusta and arabica), double shot espresso, with steamed whole milk and a 4 second squeeze of sweetened condensed milk. 😋