Vietnam is currently undergoing a specialty coffee revolution. In Quy Nhon, District 1 Coffee exemplifies this wave of new cafés where exquisite cups of joe are meticulously brewed. This specialty coffee shop is the first of its kind in the small seaside town of Quy Nhon, located 1 hour by air from Ho Chi Minh City. We spoke to the owner, Cong Nguyen, to find out what inspired him to open District 1 Coffee and how he sees the changing landscape of Vietnam’s coffee scene.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Cong Nguyen. I’m 27 years old and I’m from Sai Gon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City. I just opened District 1 Coffee, but I’m also working as a sound engineer and Foley artist doing sound post production for feature film and cinema.
Can you describe the coffee scene in Quy Nhon?
The coffee scene in Quy Nhon is still like the old style of café houses that are mostly frequented by older people. Imagine a coffee shop with a big outdoor yard, trees and light everywhere. It doesn’t have a modern aesthetic to it [like what you might find in HCMC].
In these cafés, people mostly drink traditional Vietnamese coffee. But the style of coffee served in Quy Nhon is changing day by day. More and more people are looking for and drinking good coffee, like single origin specialty coffee, third-wave coffee, and espresso based drinks. They are looking for a pure coffee that is more healthy and has a better taste. Before that, they were drinking coffee from beans roasted with soy beans, which makes the coffee bitter, corn powder, which is added to make the coffee more sticky, and butter, used to make the coffee more shiny and fatty. The coffee roasters earned a lot of money that way, but it is not good for the people who drink it.
Why did you decide to open District 1 Coffee? What inspired you?
The reason I decided to open District 1 Coffee is to bring true high quality coffee to everyone, especially to the people living in Quy Nhon. I love this city, this is my wife’s hometown. I also want to create a place to connect young people and artists to help us make Quy Nhon better. If more and more people know what good coffee is, what it has to be, then I think it will change the coffee scene in Quy Nhon a lot.
What inspired me? I think it’s coffee. The first time I came here was about 3 years ago. Back then, I drank a lot of coffee in Quy Nhon and it tasted like a chemical in my mouth. So I thought, I had to do something. My friends drink coffee everyday, my parents, my wife, my relatives – everyone loves coffee. So I decided to open District 1 Coffee. Naturally, I am also a coffee lover.
How did you become interested in specialty coffee?
When I started to learn about coffee, I had a chance to drink different types of coffee made with different brewing methods. I recognized that when brewed in different ways, I could taste the beans more clearly with more details of its specific characteristics. I was able to smell different aromas and original flavors of the beans, not just the flavor of the roasting process. That’s what I want to share and bring to everyone.
How do you source and roast your coffee?
For my espresso based menu, I roast the beans at medium dark level to achieve more caramel aroma. Plus the medium dark roasted beans are also good to combine with condensed milk and fresh milk. For the drip and pour over coffees, my beans are light roasts, because I want everyone to taste the original flavor of the beans.
What is your favourite brewing method?
My favourite brewing methods are Hario V60, the traditional Vietnamese phin metal filter, and AeroPress. I choose the method depending on what beans I have.
Did you take any barista or coffee roasting courses?
Yes, I took a barista course which took about 2 months. But it took me more than 2 years of research and learning about coffee to get to the level of understanding that I have right now. And there is always more to learn about coffee.
How do Vietnamese coffee beans compare to beans from other regions in the world in your opinion?
In Vietnam, we mainly grow Robusta beans. With regards to Arabica, we also have some in Vietnam, but I don’t think it is anything special compared to other growing regions like Ethiopia, Nicaragua, or Colombia… We’re trying to make our Arabica better day by day. You can find good Arabica beans from Da Lat, Cau Dat, Dien Bien, Son La, and Khe Sanh. The Robusta beans in Vietnam have an aroma like earthy, chocolate and caramel and they are heavy bodied. Most of them come from Buon Ma Thuot.
About District 1 Coffee
District 1 Coffee is in the new, southern part of town.