Barista Magazine

DEC 2017-JAN 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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ran Han could easily pass for a barista anywhere in the world. She has a brilliant blue tattoo on her left shoulder, a natural sense of casual fashion, a personality that radiates enthusiasm for life, and she's almost always smiling. At 23, she has only been working in the coff ee industry for three years, but you would never know this upon meeting her. Her willingness to share her story and listen to everyone else's—to glean as much as she can from the coff ee-life experiences of those around her—is astounding. Of course, she's not a barista from anywhere in the world. She's Vietnam's fi rst (and second) National Barista Champion. Some may fi nd it shocking that the second-largest coff ee-ex- porter in the world is just recently entering the international barista competition sphere, but Vietnam is defi nitely here to stay. And there may not be a better ambassador of Vietnam's specialty-coff ee scene and barista culture than this native Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) dweller who didn't enjoy her fi rst cup of coff ee until age 20. While many Vietnamese youth in Ho Chi Minh City were thinking about their path to university, Tran Han realized early on that this was not her calling. If anything, her "aha" moment came while working in a restaurant when a head barista taught her how to make simple latte art. She thought, "Maybe I can do this—I want to learn more." And that was it. She attended a latte art class and met her current boss, Nguyen Canh Hung of Bosgaurus Coff ee. He showed her "a totally new vision for Vietnamese coff ee." She thought, "Even though we are a very large exporter of coff ee in Vietnam, no one ever said that we have really good coff ee, so I started thinking, maybe we can change that someday… if we form a community and do it together." The average Vietnamese barista working at an established spe- cialty café in Ho Chi Minh City makes $170–$225 per month. It's not a lucrative career even by Vietnamese standards, but it's a path that off ers the possibility of joining a tight-knit commu- nity with a creative outlet. It's also the sort of career that's, not surprisingly, hard to explain to parents. Tran Han's parents came around when they saw her compete at the fi rst-ever Vietnam National Barista Championship in 2016 and realized that she wasn't just "making coff ee." For Tran Han, developing as a barista also required a par- ticular skill set that not everyone has: the ability to articulate the nuances of specialty coff ee to a community that has little experience drinking coff ee that isn't roasted to an oily sheen and adulterated with sweetened condensed milk and other addi- tives (soybean, corn, fi sh sauce). Sure, every specialty-coff ee community faces the challenge of educating their customers, but traditional coff ee culture runs historically and culturally deep in Vietnam. Tran Han and her community of baristas and coff ee enthusiasts are taking on this challenge not by eliminating tradi- tional coff ee culture but by folding it into the future and thinking carefully, as a community, about their proximity to Vietnam's high-altitude coff ee farmers. I sat down with Tran Han at The Workshop coff eehouse in Ho Chi Minh City to talk about just that. Sarah Grant: I would love to hear more about your transition into coff ee. For someone who knew very little about coff ee, how did you become so deeply involved in the industry? Tran Han: Once I knew there was more to coff ee, I started se- riously focusing on brewing coff ee: making espresso, improving my latte art skills. Then two years ago I started working at Bos- gaurus Coff ee, and that's when my whole life changed. My boss is amazing and gave me a lot of knowledge about coff ee. He taught me about the atmosphere of a café and what it means to have "feeling" for coff ee. He made me want to share the story of our coff ee to customers and share our mission of promoting Vietnamese Arabica, because usually people only drink Robusta in Vietnam. When I met him, he told me about his vision for the Vietnam- ese people to drink more high-quality Arabica, and that's why we developed a plan for our café's specialty drink: cà phê sua đá. We have a distinct blending ratio between Vietnamese coff ee and Ethiopian coff ee—one is lighter, one is darker—and it brings out fl avor, complexity, and even a slight bitterness, which is what Vietnamese want. We also developed a small project on a coff ee farm because we wanted to sample a new processing technique to improve the quality of Catimor. Several café owners and producers are working in Vietnam's high-altitude farming area to develop experimental processing techniques that can then be shared with a larger pro- ducer community. Baristas will visit the project during the harvest to gain a better understanding of how processing aff ects quality. Now that I have some experience as a barista and competing, I want to be a trainer. We have a small training center upstairs, and we provide low-cost training so that people can aff ord to take the course, but we also ask our students to come hang out and learn more about the coff ee culture here in the city. So my life is all based on sharing… sharing, sharing, and sharing. SG: This sense of community seems very strong in the Vietnamese coff ee scene. Tell me about your average day. What does a barista champion in Vietnam do? TH: My life is very simple. In the morning, if I work a shift, I come to the café, test, and taste with my colleagues, because we need to make sure the coff ee is consistently good every day. Even though it's simple, I think it's a meaningful experience from day to day because we get to know new customers and we stay in touch with them, communicate with them, deliver stories, hear their stories, and exchange information. When I have a day off , I usually go to other coff ee shops to meet friends and talk about coff ee, share ideas about coff ee. 66 barista magazine

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