I Am Sahra Nguyen, Founder of Nguyen Coffee Supply, and I’m on a mission to transform the industry. In celebration of Earth Day, I’m here to talk about how Vietnamese robusta coffee is the key to a more sustainable coffee industry.
EDIT: Thanks for all of your questions!! Be sure to keep up with us on Instagram and check out our website to learn more!
Vietnam is the 2nd largest producer of coffee in the world with over 90% of its production being robusta coffee, cousin to arabica. Robusta coffee beans are naturally more pest resistant and have the ability to grow in a variety of climates and altitudes in contrast to arabica. Outside of Vietnam, robusta is not a popular bean choice for single-origin or specialty coffee. For decades, robusta has been sidelined as an inherently cheap & undesirable coffee, which is blatantly false. With the rise of specialty coffee production in Vietnam, we’re seeing that robusta can be both delicious & ecologically sustainable. As an importer & roaster of specialty Vietnamese robusta coffee beans, I’m here to talk about all things Vietnamese coffee & beyond in celebration of Earth Day. We’re here to uplift the beans, the people, & the culture! Ask me anything!
Read our 2021 Sustainability Report!
Robusta Rising: Reimagining the Future of Vietnamese Coffee
How Sahra Nguyen Is Reclaiming Vietnamese Coffee
Proof: Here's my proof!
great question - in this reddit ama, i've only answered 1 question from 1 person that I actually know - and it was the very first one - because we had just gotten started and there was no one else in the room, so he kicked it off.
this is a company-hosted reddit ama, as reddit charges us a fee to be here. so yes, in that sense it's business showcase. the handle name is nguyencoffeesupply. it is also a genuine conversation because i've been answering as many questions as i can from everyone else in this thread. once the questions started flowing in from everyone else, i noticed there was a question from someone i knew (we all have friends who come in to support) and i skipped that question because i wanted to move on to questions from people i don't know.
sadly - i answered a question from someone under the name of "linda nguyen" - whom i did not know at all. but some trolls here bullied linda because we have the same last name, and assumed that we knew each other, when we didn't. then linda deleted the question. sad - they felt silenced.
i will continue answering other questions about coffee now.
very well. good luck with the rest of your ama. if you do more in the future, i'd recommend not answering questions from accounts that are less than a day old, or inactive accounts that only comment once every 6 months on your posts because it's really hard to believe those are genuine questions from people you don't know.
Thank you for the advice - I'll consider this. However, the questions come in and I start replying right away, I don't really check the accounts and their history. We promote our reddit AMA to our community via social media and our email list, and it's very possible that some of them make an account or dust off an old one to engage with me. Thanks for understanding.
Hi Sahra! I actually just ordered some beans from you guys this morning - really excited to try the Loyalty blend.
I have heard the coffee business in general is hard to get into and make it (especially, I'd imagine, in a place like Brooklyn). NCS is clearly doing something different than the norm. Has that made it easier or harder for you to grow the business/find a following? I'd love to hear about some of your experience getting the company going.
EDIT: To those who downvoted me, I literally heard about this company like a month ago on r/coffee and saw this AMA was gonna happen because I just ordered beans and checked their instagram. I'm not some marketing phony and my account will turn ten years old this year. I've never spoken to anybody from Nguyen Coffee Supply until this AMA. Maybe cool it on the crusade.
Hey skebump, thanks so much for your order this morning! Depending on what role you want to play in the coffee ecosystem (ie barista to importer to grower), there are various levels of difficulty. For us, as a vertically integrated importer & roaster working with direct trade relationships in Vietnam, there are definitely huge challenges especially with the current supply chain issues. From inception, we set out to do something completely different from the norm (the complete opposite direction, actually). The specialty coffee industry was hyper focused on arabica coffee from Central, South America and Africa. Through my research, I found that the industry was explicitly exclusive of the robusta variety and coffee growing regions like Vietnam -- going so far as outwardly expressing disdain for the robusta and boxing the entire robusta variety into the "cheap, inferior," box -- which is super harmful because this bias pushes entire robusta growing communities (and people) all around the world within a specific part of the market, one forced to grow lower grade quality coffee without opportunity to advance. In the very beginning, launching with an unpopular idea and importing & roasting an unpopular product -- was a little difficult to navigate but I truly believe that it's because of this unique position that has differentiated us from everyone else and eventually became our huge advantage. Ultimately, our goal is not to replace arabica with robusta or vice versa, because arabica and robusta cannot do each other's jobs. They are unique in their own ways. The goal is to expand the coffee conversation, be inclusive of all varieties like robusta and invest in under-appreciated coffee growing regions like Vietnam and broadly Southeast Asia. Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world and the number 1 producer of robusta -- and we deserve to be part of the global coffee conversation for collective care, improvement and advancement. Through expanding the coffee experience, we've found that consumers want diversity in offerings, ideas and perspectives, and they deserve to have the choice of both arabica and robusta to determine which one they personally enjoy -- not what the industry deems "superior."
Are all of the workers paid fare wages?
Hey there - we have some information about our wages here in our 2021 Sustainability Report.
You'll see that we actually start our wages above the minimum wage.
I see that people at your head office is paid above minimum wage. But what about your supply side of things, back in Vietnam. How are their wages compared to provincial/national averages?
This is a great question as it came up during our 2021 Sustainability Report interviews as well -- we're paying over 50% more per pound of coffee through our investment to improve the quality with more resources and labor (ie. handpicked red cherries). We're gathering data on specific wages compared to averages across various segments of the industry (ie commodity vs premium), and we will publish this information on our website when we update the Sustainability Report. Thank you for your question!
Thanks for the information. Does the person picking the bean get a proper living wage?
Yes, our farmers get paid a proper living wage. We'll share details about how this compares to national averages in a future report, published to our website.
Excuse you - I am literally going one by one and answering as many as i can. What's your objective here, just to troll?
This might sound like a tactless question, but are the workers treated well and earn fair wages? I've heard so much about those who harvest coffee and cocoa beans have terrible working conditions and would love to support those who have better practices.
This is a great question - since we have a direct trade relationship with our partners in Vietnam, we're able to visit and see the entire operation on the farms. Our network of farmers are neighbors, friends and relatives, so they're definitely treating each other well. Through our partnership to improve the quality of coffee, we're able to pay farmers a better wage than if they were producing for a lower grade market. We talk a little bit about our efforts to improve the industry here in our 2021 Sustainability Report.
I've only heard of robusta and arribica, are there any other major coffee cousins in production for drinking? Once I realized arabica was pretty much a worldwide monocrop it was pretty freaky to realize how unstable the whole system is.
There are lots of different coffee varieties, this article by Daily Coffee News has a nice breakdown. However, you're right - arabica and robusta are the two most popular coffee varieties produced in the world. While arabica and robusta are very different and unique in their own ways, especially from a flavor experience, they are grown very differently as well. Our farmers in Vietnam focus on intercropping for biodiversity and additional revenue streams -- popular crops include black pepper trees and curry trees. Unfortunately many countries, including Brazil, have experienced arabica crop failure in recent years (40% less arabica in one year) and they've also increased robusta output by 20%. Lots to explore here about what the future of coffee looks like. This is why we're really passionate about The Robusta Pledge and helping generate awareness and appreciation for the robusta variety so that it can support livelihoods around the world.
How would you describe the difference in taste between Arabica and Robusto beans? My only experience with Robusto is Folgers…
Robusta beans tend to be more bold, dark chocolatey and nutty in profile compared to arabica beans. This is largely because arabica bean have up to 60% more fats and sugars than robusta beans, leading to fruitier, sweeter profiles with arabica. They're both very different, and depending on how you like your coffee (ie. black, cream and sugar, oat milk, etc.), different coffee varieties and roast profiles can bring out what you're looking for. For example, if you like cream & sugar in your coffee, then I'd recommend a bold coffee profile to complement the sweet, cream. If you prefer your coffee black and naturally sweet, then I'd recommend an arabica blend. If you like your coffee black, bold and strong, then this can be anything from a dark roasted arabica, to dark roasted robusta or a blend of both. Coffee is super diverse and versatile!
Did you goto UCLA by chance?
Sounds like a great idea. Good luck.
Yes, I did! Go Bruins!
Trung Nguyễn [Edit: Nguyên] is perhaps the most common Vietnamese coffee brand around where I live. Are your coffees also butter roasted for that rich, smooth chocolaty flavor that I associate with Vietnamese coffee? I've tried other brands of Vietnamese coffee, but they just don't taste as good.
I also really like a lower caffeine, but strong cup of coffee. Less caffeine means I can drink more, without getting jittery. Is robusta not for me, or can you point me in the right direction of something to try?
Hey grindermonk - great question!! Our coffees are not butter roasted -- we don't add anything to our coffee beans.
I've tried the butter roasted coffee in Vietnam and yes, I agree - they're delicious! The butter really adds a unique flavor to the robusta coffee bean and compliments the bold, nutty profile of robusta beautifully.
If you're looking to recreate a similar experience, I'd recommend brewing a regular Vietnamese robusta, then adding a tiny bit of butter into your coffee -- kind of like when you add milk, cream, coconut milk or sugar! It will achieve a similar texture and combination of flavor profiles.
If you prefer lower caffeine content, then it's possible that robusta is not for you since robusta beans have up to double the caffeine content of arabica. However, caffeine content changes depending on how it is roasted and then brewed (extracted). The darker the roast, the less caffeine remains in the bean. The deeper the extraction, the stronger the coffee. So if you want a less caffeinated brew, I'd recommend something like a dark roasted arabica brewed through a V60 pourover or an auto drip, with a high ratio of water to coffee (like 1:6 or 1:8 if you want it more diluted). If you really enjoy the profile of robusta, then I would recommend a dark robusta robusta and brew it through a light extraction with extra water. Let me know how it goes!
What's your favorite Robusta brewing technique excluding Phin?
I love brewing robusta through an espresso machine -- the crema is BEAUTIFUL, velvety and delicious!
Will you have to certify your growers and suppliers to ensure responsible practices so they are not destroying forests or kicking people out of their villages in order to plant more coffee?
Interesting question -- we have not encountered this at all as our producing partners are professional, kind and passionate people. This is one of the benefits of having a direct trade relationship because we're able to have conversations about codes of conduct, wages and quality expectations. Our network of farmers are friends, neighbors and relatives who have spent generations in the coffee industry -- they're working together. Outside of COVID, we are visiting our partners in Vietnam every year to strengthen our partnership.
I wasn't trying to imply that anyone was unprofessional. Merely stating that in the future when the business reaches the size you would like to see it at, it would be nice to certify that all your suppliers follow your vision. And those beans can be followed through the supply chain and are purchased only from those that agree with your practices to avoid misconduct.
Thank you for clarifying -- I hear you, and absolutely agree. As we grow to the point where it is not 100% direct trade to each farmer, we will look to bring in 3rd party institutions to support our goal and implement a code of conduct. So far, we've identified potential partners like the Coffee Quality Institute who already have 2 in-country partners in Vietnam, and we are also a member of the International Women in Coffee Alliance, Vietnam Chapter. We share a little bit in our first ever Sustainability Report here, and while we've done a lot in a short span, there is still a lot of work to be done. Through conducting more Sustainability Reports (conducted by a neutral 3rd party), we'll continue to be accountable to our community about how to remain rooted in our mission as we grow. Thank you for your question and expressing your priority!
Hi Sahra! I help manage a small shop and I'm trying to integrate some of my vietnamese heritage into some signature drinks. Do you have any suggestions for a dairy-free or even vegan vietnamese egg coffee recipe?
Hi kinky pasta - love to hear that you're integrating your Vietnamese heritage and sharing it with the world!! We have some vegan recipes on our site here. However, we have not tackled a vegan Vietnamese EGG coffee recipe yet. Not sure how we can make a base ingredient of egg vegan, but perhaps we'll explore and get back to you!
In an earlier answer you mentioned planning in advance to compensate for supply chain problems, is there any planning you're doing with your farming partners to help compensate for the effects of global warming?
This is a great question and the answer is - yes. Over the last year, through the request of our farming partners, we have offered better net terms and even an advance payment on shipments -- because they were struggling with labor shortages and delays caused by COVID. In these moments, I'm grateful for the opportunity to be in a direct relationship with them to hear their needs and do what I can from my position to support them. In the coffee industry, partnerships and collaboration can be more meaningful for the end producer than expensive certifications.
Another question! You and I have chatted a little via dm on Instagram, but I figure I’d ask ya here. (And thank you in advance) I work at a specialty importer, but not on the sourcing side. How can we encourage importers and buyers to value and appreciate Vietnam as the coffee powerhouse it rightfully should be? I feel there’s lacking representation (maybe understanding?) of the quality of coffee available. Is there an easier way to get farmers access to the market? I’m sure there are a lot of barriers, but genuinely curious. Thanks for taking the time to respond!
This is a great question, and thank you in advance for your thoughts and advocacy to create systemic shifts within your role! I just came back from Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Coffee Expo in Boston, and there was a huge presence of Vietnamese coffee green bean producers and importers there. The Coffee Quality Institute hosted a tasting of 15 Q Graded Vietnamese robustas scoring 80+, ranging from natural to full washed process -- the diversity in flavors was incredible! A lot of important work to improve the quality of Vietnamese coffee has already been happening on the ground in Vietnam for years, and yes, you're correct, a lot of the issue now is building the bridge and understanding so that more people can begin to explore the Vietnamese coffee industry's current and future potential as a contributor, rather than it's historical box of purely "instant coffee." I'm happy to chat with how we can connect more importers with Vietnamese producers - DM me!
Hey Sahra, can you talk about the logistics of getting coffee out of Vietnam? I know the this past two years has been a struggle for most importers/exporters. Is there anything unique to Vietnam that may make it easier/more difficult?
Hey there Ex-Spectator, great question. We at Nguyen Coffee Supply have also felt the pain of the supply chain crisis over the last year -- huge delays, congestion at both ports, lack of workers and lack of availability on freights. Specifically during the Summer to Fall of 2021, Vietnam experienced its worse wave of COVID-19, which led to months of lockdown and directly impacted labor shortages across the supply chain. Our lead times have more than tripled and freight costs have quadrupled. The best way we've been able to respond to this has been planning much earlier in advance with importing our coffee beans. It is still a struggle though!
Now the most important question of all:
Tea of coffee? And why?
To each their own :) They both offer something very unique and perhaps not meant to replace each other. I enjoy both on different occasions and moods.
When purchasing coffee from your business, is it a subscription/reoccurring order system or can we make single purchase to try out this coffee? And how many trees did you decide to plant?
When you have the option to do both! You can purchase one time and/or subscribe for recurring purchase. We're still running the Plant A Tree initiative until the end of the month - so we'll update you on how many trees we're able to plant!! Thank you for supporting!
Hi Linda, thank you so much for your commitment to spreading the word about quality robusta!! It's champions like you who help us change the narrative and ultimately, shift the industry. For starters, I would love your help amplifying The Robusta Pledge and getting as many people as possible to sign The Robusta Pledge. You can also share our robusta coffees with people to open up their minds about what robusta can taste like. If you're shopping at your local grocer or cafe, try asking the decision makers there if they offer robusta coffees. The more businesses hear from consumers about the growing interest in robusta, the more of a ripple effect this will create in the coffee supply chain. I love to conduct blind taste tests with friends and have them taste a 100% arabica, 100% robusta, and various blends of robusta & arabica - and I ask them how they enjoy each coffee. Through a blind taste test, people are free from preconceived notions of coffee varieties and biases. Let me know if you have any ideas!
This is likely the reason:
Robusta coffee beans are naturally more pest resistant and have the ability to grow in a variety of climates and altitudes in contrast to arabica.
Yes!! Thanks for sharing this Zoetje!! The extra caffeine content in robusta acts as a natural pest repellent.
I literally stumbled across your brand earlier this morning trying to find a way to get more caffeine in my life. I'm looking for a dark blend robusta will no acid and great for cold brew, do you offer something like that?
Nice to meet you!! We are getting ready to launch a dark roast robusta and robusta blend next week -- follow up in Instagram for the drop or find it on our site on 4/27 !!
I literally have never met u/walwenthegreenest....
Hi Sahra! You have been such an inspiration and trailblazer for Vietnamese women. Keep up the great work! My questions are: What is the best brewing method to enjoy robusta beans? Do you plan to open your own roastery one day and allow the public the visit?
Hey Thataintitokay! Thanks so much for the kind words. We would love to have our own roastery today and invite the public to visit -- this is def a dream!! Until then, we're very happy growing with our partners in a shared roasting facility. Starting out, we were really lucky to find co-roasting facilities in Brooklyn, which enabled us to focus on getting our products roasted and out to the world. In re: to the best brewing method to enjoy robusta beans - this really depends on your personal preference as a coffee drinker. If you want it super strong and bold, then I'd recommend a deep extraction brew method, like a phin filter, french press or even a cold brew. If you want it bold in flavor but less strong, then I'd recommend a lighter extraction method like a pourover or auto drip. People often ask me for recommendations on the "best way" to brew something but coffee is super personal and subjective, so I encourage you to brew the beans in a variety of different ways and find what works for you, there is no wrong way to enjoy coffee -- to each their own!
Hi Sahra, How does robusta coffee taste?
Great question! Since robusta beans have up to double the caffeine content of arabica beans, robusta coffee is very strong. So it'll also make you feel more stimulated, alert and energized. If you're sensitive to caffeine but want the flavor of robusta, I'd recommend increasing your water to coffee ratio to have lighter brew, or use a lighter extraction method like a V60 pour over or auto drip. On the flip, if you wanted the boldest, strongest cup of robusta, you can go for a deep extraction method with full immersion, like the Vietnamese phin filter or french press. Robusta beans have up to 60% less fats and sugars than arabica beans, which means robusta coffee tastes bold, dark chocolatey and nutty! We've heard a lot of our customers describe our robusta coffees as super smooth and low acidic due to its unique properties. In addition, since robusta beans are generally more bold in nature, you can drink a medium roast robusta and feel like it's a darker coffee. Robusta beans are super versatile and will taste different in a variety of origins, roast styles and brew methods. Lastly, due to their bold flavor profile, robusta beans pair perfectly with milk and cream (or non-dairy options) - the flavors of bold robusta and creamy milks are very complimentary. Cheers!
I love robusta ! Its so good. Amd i love your message however how are we going to ship this amazing stuff around the world in a sustainable mannor? Planes/ships/trucks are still distroying the planet...
Great question Dreaming Panda - candidly, this question about the global supply chain, freight logistics and the environmental impact from shipping relates to all types of exports -- from sneakers to iPhones to coffee beans. This question is better for folks working in sustainable or renewable energy sources to help reduce the harm created through movement, rather than restricting movement entirely.
Hi Sahra (it's Julie from invision). :) How do you come up with the ideas you have for things like the LNY envelopes, mugs, robusta pledge, etc.? They are so creative and appealing, and help to drive your vision. I'd love to know the vetting and design process.
Hey Julie!! :) This is such a fun question, thanks for appreciating our creativity! Personally, at my core, I'm an artist. When I was a kid I was really passionate about arts and crafts, painting, drawing, anything to be creative. Art class was my favorite class growing up, and during the summers I used to spend my days in the local public library (free AC!!) and I would grab all the books that taught you how to draw, how to fold origami, and how to do arts & crafts. I spent a lot of years painting (from canvases to murals), and eventually I evolved my creativity to design and documentary filmmaking. So I have a pretty big creative gene and oftentimes when I'm not thinking coffee beans I see Nguyen Coffee Supply as a vehicle for me to get some creativity out :) When we first launched I designed everything from the website to packaging to merch to social media myself -- having creative skills REALLY came in handy as I was bootstrapping.
However, since then, my team has grown and I would also say that a lot of the creativity we experience as the Nguyen Coffee Supply universe now is due to the creativity, talents and collaboration of the entire team. We bounce ideas around and combine our brains to continue pushing the envelope, pushing innovation and pushing the boundaries. Together, we're constantly striving to do something that's never been done before :)
hey Sahra, would you consider deleting this fake AMA and pretending it never happened?
no - because this is a real AMA, company hosted, there were disagreements, some bullying, lots of great questions and an overall true experience. not everything is perfect and shiny and i'm fine with people seeing that this is the reality here.
i have one simple question. in this ama, have you replied to any commenters who you personally know in real life or have met before?
it's very hard to believe that so many people created an account or logged into an account with no activity just to ask a question on this relatively small AMA. combined with the fact that you're hardcore treating this like a business showcase rather than an open honest conversation, it's hard to believe that these questions or replies are genuine except for the ones where you're getting mad and can't just reply with a pre-scripted response.
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