Our Women in Coffee series highlights the experiences of female leaders and women-owned businesses at every level of the coffee supply chain. In a predominantly male-led space, we recognize the importance of addressing gender disparities and championing the women who point the way to a more diverse and inclusive future for the coffee industry.
We are honored to have Sahra Nguyen (@oneouncegold) share her experiences as the owner and founder of Nguyen Coffee Supply, working to represent authentic Vietnamese coffee in the United States.
How long have you been working in the coffee industry?
"I’ve been working in the coffee industry since 2018. This is when I started building and launched Nguyen Coffee Supply."
What inspired you to start your business or work in coffee?
"I was frustrated at the misrepresentation of “Vietnamese Iced Coffee” in coffee shops that would use an African or South American bean, add sweetened condensed milk and then call it “Vietnamese.” This lazy attempt at diversity rendered African, South American AND Vietnamese workers invisible for their true labor and contributions. It’s a problem when people or businesses want to profit off the cultural cachet of a concept like “Vietnamese Iced Coffee” but the creators of this product and culture (Vietnamese people) are completely left out of the transaction. This is not transparent, sustainable or equitable. Also, calling it “Vietnamese-inspired” doesn’t work either -- since many countries around the world enjoy their coffee with sweetened condensed milk. It’s crazy how people try to twist the truth to leverage the buzz of “Vietnamese” but are unwilling to invest in Vietnamese coffee production. Just call it “_insert origin country_ coffee with sweetened condensed milk.”
In addition, I could not find a specialty, single origin Vietnamese arabica or robusta bean fresh roasted anywhere in the U.S. market. I searched all the major supermarkets and websites of 3rd wave roasters; I even searched the offerings of green bean importers -- no one was offering Vietnamese beans on the specialty market. When I inquired about this with industry folks around me, everyone told me the same, tired narrative like, “Vietnamese coffee is cheap, it’s gross, it tastes like grandma’s socks.” As a Vietnamese American growing up knowing Vietnamese coffee, I was shocked. Maybe Vietnamese coffee isn’t for everyone (coffee is subjective, after all), but I refused to believe in blanket statements created and perpetuated by gatekeepers and coffee snobs.
Most importantly, I found it incredibly hypocritical that some folks in the specialty coffee industry claim to care about the values of transparency and sustainability, yet were not willing to apply those values to Vietnam. The specialty coffee industry is a collective global investment from people all along the supply chain -- it did not happen on it’s own. It’s a commitment from people around the world to work together, support farmers, share knowledge, educate consumers and elevate the coffee industry for quality production, agricultural sustainability and economic advancement. All of this led me to start Nguyen Coffee Supply where I began importing and roasting Vietnamese coffee beans myself. My mission is to bring diversity and cultural integrity to the specialty coffee experience through elevating Vietnamese coffee, championing the beloved robusta bean and create opportunities for economic advancement."
What are the highs and lows you've experienced working in this field?
"The lows: entering the coffee industry doing something largely frowned upon -- importing and roasting Vietnamese robusta beans. The specialty industry was exclusively focused on arabica beans from Africa and South America. We just want to provide diversity in offerings since the coffee drinking community is diverse in all backgrounds.
The highs: hearing so many people tell me how much they love Vietnamese robusta beans and how Nguyen Coffee Supply has completely changed their perception. (Lots of real reviews and feedback on our website under respective products!). In addition, being able to work directly with farmers in Vietnam to grow the opportunities for producing specialty coffee beans, improving farming practices and investing in agricultural sustainability."
How do you see the coffee space changing to be more inclusive and supportive for female leaders?
"I love seeing so many dope women in coffee make waves in the industry. I definitely see the coffee space changing quickly to be more inclusive and supportive of female leaders because we’re going to continue speaking up and taking space. When leadership diversifies and includes more women and people of color, our unique perspectives will trickle down in all the work we do, and be able to resonate with a wider, more diverse and more inclusive audience, which ultimately builds strong connections within the community."
What's thing you want to change/are working to change about the coffee world?
"I believe Vietnamese robusta is the future of specialty coffee, and I’m working on leading us there. In this process, we’ll be able to change the physical landscape of Vietnam by creating more opportunities for farmers to transition from commercial coffee to specialty coffee production, which leads to better wages, better farming practices and true cultural, economic and agricultural sustainability."
Anything upcoming or exciting for you or your business?
"Lots in the pipeline. Follow us on Instagram (@nguyencoffeesupply) and join our mailing list to find out! ;)"
Photo credit: Eric Medsker