If you’ve ever enjoyed a truly authentic Vietnamese coffee, also called ca phe sua, you know it’s more than just a caffeine fix, it’s an experience. And if you haven’t already, this Vietnamese specialty is bold drip coffee made with creamy condensed milk. It is a rich, sweet and intense coffee drink commonly made from Robusta beans and a unique vin filter that is characteristic of Vietnamese coffee culture.
Immigrant and businessman Vince Nguyen was born and raised in Pleiku, a city in the coffee-growing region of central Vietnam, and grew up drinking Vietnamese coffee as a child. In 2014 he moved to America to live in Orange County, California. It didn’t take long for him to lose the flavor of what he grew up with, and he even helped sell as a kid from his mother’s coffee stand when they lived in Saigon. He missed him so much that he decided to act and work to bring the Vietnamese coffee industry onto the world stage.
“In Vietnam, coffee is not just a drink – it is a way of life. Like in America, we drink it every day, from morning to night,” Nguyen explains. “But I think one thing the Vietnamese do differently is that we love to enjoy the slow process of making coffee, using a traditional Vietnamese vin filter. That is why we sell our own version of the vin filter in addition to coffee. Vietnamese coffee is very unique because of its bold taste, good aroma and high caffeine content. “.
Enter: Nam Coffee. The company currently produces first-class Arabica and Robusta beans from multi-generational farmers from the central highlands of Vietnam. Nam Coffee currently has three signature coffees for you to try, including our 100% Robusta coffee. Through this company, Nguyen strives to spread the traditional flavors of Vietnamese coffee in California and beyond.
We sat down with Vince Nguyen, founder and CEO of Nam Coffee to talk about his humble beginnings, his story, what makes good coffee beans, and more. That’s what he said.
In what year did you come to the United States from Vietnam? When you arrived, what did you feel was missing in the Vietnamese coffee space in the US?
I arrived in America in 2014 when my mom and I moved to Orange County, California. I noticed that in the United States, Vietnamese coffee at that time did not really match the taste of Vietnamese coffee back home. In America, it was very bitter and usually not very complex in flavour. I ended up asking my sister in Saigon to send me some coffee from Vietnam because I missed her so much.
What inspired you to launch your own Vietnamese coffee brand?
I liked the coffee my sister sent me so much that I asked her to introduce me to the farmer from Cao Dat who grows coffee beans – his name is Thane. In 2020, just before the pandemic, I took a trip to Vietnam and was impressed by how well the coffee industry had developed. From Da Lat to Saigon, there were plenty of 3rd and 4th wave coffee shops, farms, and roasters out there striving for excellence. I knew it was time for the Vietnamese coffee industry to compete on the world stage.
I launched Nam Coffee to honor my culture and to show that, yes, Vietnam can make great fresh roasted coffee. Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world and the number one producer of Robusta beans, which is finally becoming more popular in the United States after it has long been viewed as low quality or low quality.
Can you tell us more about where your coffee comes from? How do you know what makes a good coffee bean?
Our coffee is sourced from a third generation farmer named Thane. He oversees a large number of different plantations in the highlands of Vietnam where coffee is grown in rich volcanic soil. He adheres to small business values and works with his relatives, neighbors and friends who are paid fairly and treated with the utmost respect. Having also grown up in the central highlands of Vietnam, I want to support these local Vietnamese farmers, their communities, and their families through Nam Coffee.
After I reached out to Thien, I tried to find a roaster in the US that would roast our coffee for us. Tried to find one – Seattle, Michigan, Sacramento. However, no one came back to me – people didn’t take us seriously. Fortunately, I’ve hooked up with a Los Angeles coffee roaster that has been in the industry for over 50 years. He has traveled to Asia and Vietnam in the past, so he saw our potential.
How did you first learn about Vietnamese coffee? What is your experience working with coffee?
Vietnamese coffee is very personal to me. I grew up in Pleiku – a city in the Central Highlands, an area that is the food basket of the country. 95% of coffee in Vietnam is grown in the highlands. I tried Vietnamese coffee when I was young with my family. Later, when I moved to Saigon with my mom, I helped her run a coffee stall in District One. Every morning before school and every afternoon, I helped my mom make and serve Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk (ca phe sua) to a small community of clients. So we survived.
What is the biggest challenge of being an immigrant entrepreneur and founder?
Every day I learn how to communicate better in my second language and adapt to the idiosyncrasies of American culture. Despite all these challenges, I never thought about giving up. Before Nam Coffee, I worked a number of jobs in the fashion and food industries and learned valuable lessons. In 2022, drawing on my savings and family loans, I launched Nam Coffee. Although there are challenges, I am happy to be involved in every step of the process from interviewing business partners, ordering packing, all the way to express shipping.
What is your favorite restaurant or cafe to go to for Vietnamese coffee?
I currently live in Orange County, California, which has the largest Vietnamese community in the world. I love pho, bun bo hue and banh mi. There is a lot to choose from, but my list includes: Hue Oi Restaurant, Bo De Vegans, Lynda Sandwiches and Nep Cafe.
What is your personal favorite way to drink Vietnamese coffee? Which expression for Nam Coffee would you use?
Vietnamese coffee is very broad and versatile. I drink coffee twice a day. For classic Vietnamese iced coffee, I brewed my District One blend with a Vin filter. Nam Coffee contains 3 blends that range from bright to balanced to bold tasting notes. For a cold brew, I sometimes use County Orange. The Da Lat mix works well for espresso and latte. I change it constantly. I recently mixed oat milk with 3 shots of espresso on ice – it’s fun.