The secret to delicious coffee? Supply chain transparency
Scott and Nora take a coffee break with entrepreneur and activist Sahra Nguyen, the founder of Nguyen Coffee Supply, the first specialty Vietnamese coffee company importing directly from the source and roasting in Brooklyn. Sahra talks about her experiences as a first-generation entrepreneur-activist, and how she founded the company in 2018 with the mission to increase economic advancement for Vietnamese farmers through specialty coffee production.
Producer: Bella Hutchins
Production, Mixing & Sound Design: Daniel Markus
Senior Producer: Katherine Milsop
Director of Audio: Alan Haburchak
VP, Head of Multimedia: Sarah Singer
Full transcript for this episode below.
Sahra Nguyen: As someone who had always been a freelancer and I was always wearing multiple hats, I really thrived in doing many things at once. But for the first time in my life, Nora, towards the end of that summer, I felt like I couldn't do it all. And I felt like my film career was demanding a lot of me and the company was demanding a lot of me. And for the first time, I didn't feel like I could do both well. I had to make a choice and the way I evaluated that choice was both an internal reflection and an external reflection. It was like, well internally, which one do you love? What are you passionate about? Which one fulfills you? Which one helps you make an impact in the world? And I could say that they both fulfilled all those personal internal desires, just in different ways. The other question was externally, which path has more signals? Which path has more traction? And which path has a greater opportunity for impact here? And when I looked at the external, it was Nguyen Coffee Supply. I was getting so many signals for the company and I really felt like my ability to make an impact in the world would be greater through the coffee channel and so that's when I decided to go all-in there.
Nora Ali: For Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, the podcast that reveals the unexpected business story behind everything. I'm Nora Ali.
Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky. Nora and I are here for your ears, bringing you conversations with creators, thinkers, and innovators who can tell us what it all means and why we should care. Now let's get down to the business of coffee. Coffee. Mm. Do you love coffee, Nora?
Nora Ali: I love coffee. I used to not drink it at all and then adulthood happened and I can't live without it.
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. I hated it. I remember one memory of drinking what I thought was my hot chocolate at Friendly's with my dad and it was his coffee instead. And I spit it out. It was, oh, it was awful, bitter. And I was like, "I'm never having coffee. This is so bad." And then about five, six years ago, I was in Seattle for some projects. And they said, "You have to have coffee in Seattle. You have to. This is the place to have coffee." All right, you know what, let me start with some mocha iced coffee. And that was my gateway. I got hooked on these ice mochas and then now I can have hot coffee.
Nora Ali: Tastes like candy.
Scott Rogowsky: I know. I can do it all.
Nora Ali: Look at you.
Scott Rogowsky: I'm so proud.
Nora Ali: What do you use as your dairy or nondairy in your coffee?
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah, I've got my oat milks, of course.
Nora Ali: Me too.
Scott Rogowsky: Now it's all about the oat.
Nora Ali: For sure.
Scott Rogowsky: But sometimes, Trader Joe's has this blueberry lavender blend of some kind of almond thing, which is the delicious, has this nice little flavor. I like a little flavor in my coffee, the vanilla, little chocolate.
Nora Ali: I feel like as a Morning Brew property, it should be mandatory for us to drink coffee and be knowledgeable about coffee but we've learned that you and I had very little knowledge of the whole supply chain of a coffee bean. The difference between Robusta and Arabica beans.
Scott Rogowsky: I'm not a third waver. I couldn't tell you, I don't know the difference between the waves. We're going to learn about the waves though today.
Nora Ali: Yeah, totally, totally. Today we are so lucky to be talking to Sahra Nguyen, the founder and CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply, which is the first specialty Vietnamese coffee importer and roaster in the US. Sahra, who was the first entrepreneur ever on the cover of Food and Wine Magazine, is telling us about Vietnamese coffee culture, sourcing high-quality coffee, and her experience launching her business in the industry and supporting Asian American entrepreneurs all around. Our conversation with Sahra Nguyen is coming up right after this break. Well Sahra, we have a lot to get to with you. You have such an interesting personal story and the launch of your coffee company. Let's start from the beginning, your journey. You've spoken in the past about growing up feeling different, not seeing yourself represented, maybe in what ways did you feel misunderstood? And how did that help to shape your career ambitions ultimately?
Sahra Nguyen: Just for a little bit of context for anyone listening, I was born in the 80s, born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, which was kind of infamously a very racist town. And I didn't grow up around any Asian Americans. I grew up in a pretty diverse neighborhood where there was a heavy immigrant community, primarily Dominicans and Puerto Ricans and Haitians. But there weren't really any other Asian Americans or even Vietnamese Americans. And so going through the public school system throughout the 80s and 90s, during that time race was a very dichotomous concept to people. It was either Black or white, there was no room for nuance or no room for the Asian American experience. There was only Chinese. And this was a time, this was pre-social media, pre-YouTube, pre-Instagram. All we had, we meaning myself and my peers and even my teachers, all we had was television. Because there was a lack of representation, there was a lack of understanding from people around me as well. When they saw me, they just saw Chinese. All of this kind of really attributed to me growing up feeling really unseen. And then through that, feeling really small and invisible, which impacted things like my self-confidence, my self-esteem, which eventually shifted when I reached high school. But for most of my childhood, it was quite difficult growing up. And on top of that, you layer in my parents who were refugees and immigrants to this country so they didn't speak English. They didn't look like the other parents at school. There were so many moments of just feeling embarrassed, ashamed, invisible, unwanted, unwelcome. And I think for a young person, those are very, very challenging experiences to navigate. Especially when you don't have anyone around you to kind of help you unpack it. However, fortunately, as I got older into high school, that's when I started unpacking things and things started to shift for me.
Scott Rogowsky: It seems like a common experience for a lot of immigrant kids in America, not seeing yourself represented in the wider mainstream culture, having a more intense environment with your family and feeling the pressure. What were some of those family and cultural expectations and traditions that you had growing up?
Sahra Nguyen: For me, a lot of the pressures that I felt growing up was be a lawyer, be a doctor or be a pharmacist. And when I place my parents' experiences within the context, it makes sense why they wanted us to have such secure jobs. Because my parents grew up in a communist country in Vietnam. They also grew up quite poor and they lived through a war and they escaped. And so for them, they're like, "We escaped Vietnam. We came in a boat, so you better get a decent job. That's the least you can do." Because for them, it was their whole being was all about survival. And so even when they came to America, they were still surviving. And I think for them, feeling poverty and feeling scarcity, they don't want their kids to feel that. And so, that was a very, very strong pressure growing up. And for me as a kid, I was the total opposite. I was a very creative kid. I loved arts and crafts. I loved drawing, so I never really felt called to those things. But definitely there's a lot of pressure. There's a sense of guilt where it's like, oh, your parents sacrificed so much for you to be here. The least you can do is make them proud and happy. So I definitely worked through a lot of those tensions growing up.
Nora Ali: And launching into entrepreneurship is the opposite of the safe kind of job. And I've had to explain to my parents, switching careers and starting my own thing. And they're like, "But you had a job that paid you well and we came here to the US for that security," exactly how you said. But then you're launching this company that celebrates their culture and your family's culture. How do your parents feel about sort of the category and the cultural celebration versus the expectation of trying to have the secure job?
Sahra Nguyen: Yeah. Actually when I first launched Nguyen Coffee Supply, my parents were really supportive but that's because I was in a super insecure job. I was in freelance film and journalism.
Scott Rogowsky: Anything's better than that.
Sahra Nguyen: And on top of that, when I went to college, I majored in Asian American studies and they were like, what is that?
Nora Ali: What job does that turn into?
Sahra Nguyen: What job does that turn into? And they didn't go to college and they don't know what poli-sci or ethnic studies is. They couldn't understand it. And on top of that, they're like, "Asian American studies? You're already Asian American. This makes no sense to us."
Scott Rogowsky: We didn't teach you enough?
Sahra Nguyen: They were like, "What is happening?" And for six years, I worked as a full-time freelance filmmaker and journalist. They didn't understand the concept of a freelancer and they definitely didn't understand the concept of journalism because in Vietnam, there is no freedom of speech. And both my parents are actually business owners themselves, so they actually can appreciate entrepreneurship. My mom has a laundromat business and my dad has a floor sanding business. For them, they've always been self-made. Around 2016 was when I started thinking about this, I told them that I wanted to start a Vietnamese coffee business. They were thrilled. They were like, "This makes sense to us, you buy a bean, you sell a bean." It's tangible. And they were like, "Oh, and it's Vietnamese culture? Oh, we can probably help you with this." They've been super supportive from the beginning and they're amazing. It's awesome.
Scott Rogowsky: Well, let's get into this Vietnamese coffee. I think many of us listening, myself included, have seen Vietnamese coffee on menus. We've tasted what we think is Vietnamese coffee. That's sweet, condensed milk, turns orangy. It's delicious. I love it. Probably too much sugar for me. But what I've read in researching your background and researching your coffee company, a lot of these companies that say they're selling Vietnamese coffee, aren't actually selling Vietnamese coffee. Meaning the beans aren't coming from Vietnam. It's a certain type of bean species, right?
Sahra Nguyen: Correct.
Scott Rogowsky: Can you explain what the Robusta bean is and how it differs from most of the coffee we see in the States here?
Sahra Nguyen: Yeah, absolutely. When we talk about Vietnamese coffee, it's one, the origin of Vietnam. Coffee beans grown in Vietnam, just the way when we say Columbian coffee, Ethiopian coffee, we think about the origin, the coffee grown in Ethiopia or Columbia. Somehow that concept got lost when it came to Vietnamese coffee. When people think Vietnamese coffee, you think sweetened condensed milk. It's a totally different direction. First, it's about the origin. And the reason why calling out the origin is so important is because we want to involve the people and the communities at origin, in this transaction, in this story. We cannot forget about the people behind the bean. It's coffee beans grown in Vietnam. And then second, Vietnam is not only the world's second largest producer of coffee, they're also the number one producer of the Robusta bean, Scott, which you mentioned and that's what makes Vietnamese coffee really unique, the variety itself. In the coffee world, there are two main varieties. One is Arabica and one is Robusta. And most of the specialty coffee offerings on the markets today are made with 100% Arabica. There's kind of this thing where it's people love to proudly proclaim, it's a 100% Arabica and it's really visible on a lot of the packaging in the supermarkets and on websites. Robusta has explicitly been excluded from the specialty third wave experience for some odd reason. And I say explicitly because it's all over the internet, people have maligned this bean, they malign Vietnamese coffee and it's well documented on the internet. They'll use words like cheap, inferior, disgusting, tastes like grandma's socks and rubber tires. And I'm like, "Yikes, can we just talk about the bean and it's natural unique properties?" Like the way we would talk about a Merlot or a cabernet? Some of the unique properties of Robusta beans are one, they have up to double the caffeine content of Arabica. Two, they have up to double the antioxidants of Arabica. And three, they have up to 60% less fats and sugars than Arabica. What that means from a flavor profile experience is definitely more of a caffeine kick and more of a dark chocolatey, bold, nutty profile.
Scott Rogowsky: Sahra, you've mentioned this term third wave coffee a couple times. And for those uninitiated, myself included, what do you mean by third wave coffee?
Sahra Nguyen: Yeah. Third wave, I guess I'll go back to maybe the first wave, second wave, and how we got to a third wave. First wave coffee is often described as instant coffee, making coffee at home. Instant coffee, maybe brands like Maxwell's and Folger's. Second wave coffee was the introduction of cafe culture into go culture like Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks. Third wave culture is building upon the second wave and going deeper into the exploration of transparency and single-origin coffees. Because with Starbucks, while Starbucks introduced Italian coffee culture to America, espresso and ventis and cappuccinos, there is no understanding or care for the origin of the bean. With third wave, we're seeing third wave is about exploration of the origin of the bean, the variety, the processing, harvesting method, the roasting methods and the extraction methods. And so that's what I mean when I say third wave.
Nora Ali: It feels like this distaste for Robusta beans is manufactured and it came for no reason, really. And you've spoken in the past about how this push for 100% Arabica is actually detrimental and deeply impacts the livelihoods of those who rely on demand for Robusta beans, overseas especially. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Sahra Nguyen: Yeah, absolutely. I wouldn't say it came out of nowhere. I have my ideas. I can't 100% pinpoint it but my thoughts here are Robusta is 40% of the world's coffee output. Before the explosion of cafe culture through brands like Starbucks and Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle Coffee Shop, the rest of the world drink instant coffee. And Robusta coffee beans have been a big part of the instant coffee market. In a lot of ways, the world already has a love and appreciation for Robusta coffee beans, whether or not they know it or not. And as the industry evolved and we saw so many beautiful, wonderful things about the third wave that focused on sustainability, it focused on single origins, it focused on better processing methods at the source, it focused on extraction methods at the barista level. So many exciting experiments in discovery through third wave. However, as the entire industry was collectively invested in making specialty coffee and in general, making coffee better in Ethiopia, in Columbia, in Brazil, this level of investment wasn't being applied to Vietnam. It was kind of like, well, Vietnam doesn't count. Or well, Vietnam is like an instant coffee product. Yes, there's a reason for that, because the whole world drank instant coffee. Now our movement and our philosophy is not, how do we eliminate instant coffee? That's not the case. It's, how do we make coffee better, period, across the spectrum? For all the producers who produce Robusta for instant coffee or Robusta for single origin specialty coffee, how do we make their livelihoods better? Because, Nora, you are exactly right. There are so many farmers, whether they're Robusta farmers in South America, in India or Vietnam, they're on the internet. They know what's happening with specialty coffee. They're like, "How do I get that price?" They're like, "Oh well, if I handpicked every ripe cherry, if I use all natural bio fertilizers, if I did a honey process, I could get a better bean. If I could get a better bean, I could sell for a better rate." However, what was happening from a lot of the producers in Vietnam was they would do these changes and at the end of the season, Nora and Scott, they would lose money because buyers, importers, they wouldn't believe that Robusta could be better. They just kept boxing Vietnam and Robusta in this other narrative. And so what farmers are forced to do is they are forced to sell better product into the commodity instant coffee market because that's all they're allowed to participate in. It's this vicious cycle where it's exactly as you were saying, what is the demand? Oh, the demand is we want a lower-quality product for instant coffee. And so it raises the question of, who is invested in keeping the price of Robusta down? Who is invested in keeping this variety of Robusta in this inferior narrative? And when we have these narratives, like you were saying, it is so deeply harmful to global communities all around and that's not just Vietnamese coffee farmers, it's Robusta farmers everywhere.
Scott Rogowsky: Big Arabica is to blame. Juan Valdez himself. It's keeping you down.
Sahra Nguyen: No, we don't want to blame on Arabica. We don't want to position them against each other. We love Arabica, too.
Nora Ali: We love all the beans.
Sahra Nguyen: Import Arabica as well. We want to make room. We want to make room for all.
Nora Ali: All right. I think it's a good time for a very quick break. More with Sahra when we come back. Sahra, we've learned so much about the Robusta bean and Arabica bean. Scott and I had no idea but it seems like you've taken on this endeavor of flipping the script on the Robusta bean, a space for all beans. As you're embarking on launching this company, how do you go about figuring out that narrative, the branding, the storytelling? What were those first days like where you learned all of this information, you decided, I'm going to do something about it and tell the story to others?
Sahra Nguyen: Oh, great question. Well, in my research, my early, early research, going back to Scott's story earlier of I, as a freelancer in New York, I spent a lot of time in coffee shops. And I started seeing Vietnamese ice coffee pop up on these cafe menus. And it reminded me of when matcha first entered the scene and chai entered the scene. It was like matcha on a cafe menu. I was like, "What's this green drink?" And now matcha has exploded right into its own category. I was like, this is a signal of the entrance of an Asian-inspired beverage into major American culture. I was like, oh, what's happening. But then as Scott mentioned, every time I would try the Vietnamese iced coffee on the menu, it was never a Vietnamese coffee because I would ask the barista, "What's in this?" And they'd say, "Oh it's our house Ethiopian, our house Columbian. We add sweetened condensed milk." I'm like, "Why don't you just call it Ethiopian coffee with sweetened condensed milk?" Because you're actually rendering the real farmers invisible. What happened to this priority of transparency and care? All of a sudden it's out the window and you're also looking to leverage and profit off the culture cachet of Vietnam but yet Vietnamese people and communities are not part of this transaction. Now I was like, why don't these just use real Vietnamese coffee beans? And then I was like, oh I couldn't find it in any of the major supermarkets. I couldn't find it on any of the craft roaster's websites. And I was like, maybe Vietnam doesn't make coffee. And then, well, when I learned through my research that Vietnam was the world's second largest source of coffee, I was like, how did I not know this, as a Vietnamese American? And then that made me feel like it was because of lack of transparency. I was like, oh, this needs to change. That was kind of the real, one of the earliest trigger points for me of this needs to change. And to your question, Nora, about how do you tell this story? We often call ourselves a people-centered company. We care so much about the people and communities behind the bean. And what I felt about just consumer culture in American in general is there's a lot of divorcing the product from the source. We take the bean from the source. We take matcha tea from the source, we take oolong tea from the source. We even take the V60 pour over from the source, and we throw it in a Western culture context and there's just not enough connection back to the culture or communities at origin. When I was thinking about launching the company, telling the story, I asked myself, "Well, what are some universal values that I think all people can relate to?" Not everyone's Vietnamese like me, not everyone's going to care about Vietnamese coffee like me, but what are the connective tissue that we can all relate to? And for me it was the lack of transparency, lack of representation, lack of visibility, the desire for inclusivity, the desire to be seen, the desire to build social, cultural equity. And those are values that we've kind of always promoted from the jump. And I think that's what's really built our community because whether you're Vietnamese or Asian American or Black, you can relate to being underrepresented in mainstream American culture. Or if you're a POC or marginalized community, you can relate to this sense of Western cultures divorcing the product from the source. I really leaned in heavily on that and I feel like through those values, those universal human values, is where we've gotten a lot of our support.
Nora Ali: Well, you said you zero experience in coffee going into this. Did you have moments of doubt when you started, where maybe you're wondering why you of all people should be the one to do this. Why aren't other Vietnamese coffee lovers tackling this industry? And then of course, Sahra, there comes a time in many entrepreneur's life where you have to decide it's time to rip the Band-Aid on everything else, your other streams of income and go all in full force. What were those decision making processes for you, whether it was financial milestones or feedback from customers, your own savings, what made you go all in on Nguyen Coffee Supply?
Sahra Nguyen: Oh, that's such a great question. I have a very, very vivid moment. For the first year of the company, I didn't pay myself at all. I was still freelancing on the side to support my lifestyle. I remember it was the summer of 2019. We had our first big major press moment and the Wall Street Journal published a story on us and a few other brands as well. We were in print and digital. And from there, just the organic love and support just kept growing. And I was still doing film on the side. After that, as someone who had always been a freelancer and I always wearing multiple hats, I really thrived in doing many things at once. But for the first time in my life, Nora, towards the end of that summer, I felt like I couldn't do it all. And I felt like my film career was demanding a lot of me. And the company was demanding a lot of me. And for the first time, I didn't feel like I could do both well. I had to make a choice and the way I evaluated that choice was both an internal reflection and an external reflection. It was like, well internally, like which one do you love? What are you passionate about? Which one fulfills you? Which one helps you make an impact in the world? And I could say that they both fulfilled all those personal internal desires, just in different ways. The other question was externally, which path has more signals? Which path has more traction? And which path has a greater opportunity for impact here? And when I looked at the external, it was Nguyen Coffee Supply. I was getting so many signals for the company and I really felt like my ability to make an impact in the world would be greater through the coffee channel and so that's when I decided to go all in there.
Nora Ali: I just want to repeat that. You said ,which path has greater opportunity for impact? That's so wonderful and I think entrepreneurs can learn when they're making those decisions for which path to take for their career, where can you have most impact? Thank you for saying that, Sahra.
Scott Rogowsky: Well, our path is leading us to another break but when we come back, we're going to talk more with Sahra about the impact she's making through her work. Stay with us. Sahra, I want to talk about just your styles of coffee and the product offerings and because transparency is so important to the mission of Nguyen Coffee Supply. You have this farm in Da Lat, Vietnam, where you source your beans. When did you decide on this farm? How did you decide in this specific area? And what is that process of cultivating these higher quality beans?
Sahra Nguyen: I want to say that currently we source from multiple farms right now, across different regions. However, our first producing partner and our main one, is in Da Lat. We first struck this partnership in 2016 when I was visiting my relatives in Vietnam and I was asking them, "Does anybody know anyone who has a coffee farm? I'm really interested in importing coffee beans." And my aunt was like, "Oh, I actually know someone. He's a friend of mine. We used to work together and he left the company to take over his family farm." And so in 2016, I flew from Hanoi down to Da Lat with my aunt and my uncle. And that's when I met my current producing partner. And my producing partner in Vietnam actually has won awards in Vietnam for best organic coffee practices. And so while it's not FDA approved, the whole thing about certifications is a whole nother conversation. But we met at his farm. I learned about his farming practices, his passion for clean coffee and I was like, oh, this is the perfect partnership. There is a movement in Vietnam that's been happening for over 10 years now called, cà phê sữa or cà phê nguyên chất. Cà phê sữa means clean coffee, cà phê nguyên chất means pure or integrity coffee. Because this is the movement that's happening in Vietnam that many people don't understand because they keep boxing Vietnam into this cheap, instant coffee market. Kind of how, when people think of Vietnam think, oh Vietnam equals war. So much has happened but this narrative hasn't really visited the rest of the world. For so long, Vietnamese coffee was not the best quality and there's a reason for that. After the Doi Moi reform, and Vietnam is a communist country, the government set one price for all coffee to try to equalize it. When that happened, no one was incentivized to improve their production. And through that, when Vietnam was, after the French had come in and chose coffee, Vietnam became a global coffee contributor and now the second largest. They even pushed into the instant coffee market and that's why there's no incentive to improve it. Now in Vietnam domestically, because Vietnam the war ended in 1975. It's a war-torn country. It's very, very economically poor. In Vietnam domestically, they would cut their coffee with things like roasted soy or other ingredients that just weren't healthy because it was cheaper and it just met the economic lifestyle of Vietnamese people in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. However now, we have a new generation like myself and people have the internet and there's a growing awareness for consumer culture and consciousness and people are like, I want to eat healthier. I want better coffee. I don't want roasted soy in my coffee.
Scott Rogowsky: We can do better.
Sahra Nguyen: We can do better. This whole movement. Because when I went to Vietnam a few years ago, I asked the hotel person, "Oh, where is a good place to get coffee?" And she was like, "Down the street, they have this place they serve cà phê sữa. Clean coffee and it's cà phê tươi." I'm like, "That means fresh coffee." I'm like, "Oh, fresh coffee. What do you mean?" She was like, "Oh they grind the coffee right in front of your eyes."
Scott Rogowsky: What a concept.
Sahra Nguyen: I'm like, oh.
Nora Ali: Imagine that.
Sahra Nguyen: Because that's their evolution because before that, it was all pre-ground street coffee and we didn't know what it was cut with but there is this consciousness that's changing of we want clean coffee, we want fresh coffee. We want freshly ground coffee. We don't want put those other things in our bodies anymore.
Scott Rogowsky: They were still on that first wave heading to the second and you were on the third.
Sahra Nguyen: Exactly. And now they're also heading to the third. And there's a huge emergence, a huge community and associations and farmers and growers, baristas and roasters in Vietnam who are pushing the third and the fourth. But the rest of the world doesn't see this. They only see cheap. All that to say, when I was meeting my producer in Da Lat, he was like, "I want to change the culture around Vietnamese coffee. I'm passionate about cà phê sữa. I'm passionate about organic coffee and integrity, pure coffee." That was his mission. I was like, "Oh this great. I think we'll be great partners."
Scott Rogowsky: Perfect.
Nora Ali: You are an encyclopedia on coffee, Vietnamese coffee. I had no idea about all this, but that's the thing. People care more about the sources of what they're consuming and you've said that even though Vietnam is such a huge producer of coffee, when it comes to the US, it just becomes coffee, not Vietnamese coffee. And this sort of feels like a parallel for how Asians and Asian Americans have historically and stereotypically been perceived, sort of invisible, erased, in the background. Was there a deeper motivation for you to bring Vietnamese culture and power to light, especially in your broader work around anti-Asian racism and fighting against that?
Sahra Nguyen: Absolutely. 100%. Prior to starting Nguyen Coffee Supply, my whole career in media and journalism and film was all about increasing representation of the Asian American experience and increasing representation around immigrant communities. Because I felt like if we could tell more of these stories, we could humanize the Asian American experience, communities to other non-Asian Americans and then maybe that can make us closer together. And so definitely through starting Nguyen Coffee Supply, again, I didn't come from coffee. It's not like I wanted to get into something as difficult as importing, especially right now with the whole supply chain crisis. I just felt like this was an opportunity and a channel for me to bring respect and recognition to what's already in existence. And through that process, we can actually improve the quality of coffee. And through that process, we can actually elevate communities in Vietnam. And also through this process of elevating the Robusta. We call it the rising Robusta movement, through this process and starting with Vietnam because Vietnam is the number one producer of Robusta, that will have a ripple effect for farming communities all around the world. Because one, we'll now create a demand for Robusta coffee in the US. And now Robusta farmers all around the world will have opportunity to elevate. And then the other kicker here is we advocate for Robusta as the solution to climate change or as an alternative to climate change because Robusta is actually considered a more resistant bean than Arabica. Because Robusta has double the caffeine content, it has a natural pest repellent, the caffeine. Already for farmers, when they're choosing between, do I grow Arabica or do I grow Robusta? Robusta has a lower barrier of entry so it's also an economic justice issue as well. But if you're saying Arabica is what we all want, a lot of people can't afford to enter Arabica. Now Robusta coffee beans, they're not immune to climate change. However, they are known to be more climate resistant because they can endure higher temperatures than the Arabica bean and Robusta beans can also be grown at multiple altitudes, elevations, and various climates. Which means they can be grown anywhere. Whereas Arabica needs a very specific altitude and elevation, which also requires a more advanced irrigation system to be grown. And we've already seen over the last few years where Brazil, Brazil was all in the news last year because Brazil experienced a lot of crop failure due to Arabica. And over the last three seasons, Brazil has already increased the Robusta output I think by 20%, to try to adjust for the Arabica crop failure. If we can generate excitement and appreciation for what Robusta has to offer, it will not only allow current Robusta farmers to enter the market in a better way, it will also allow a pathway for current Arabica farmers to sustain their livelihoods in the face of climate change by converting to Robusta. But we can't do that if everyone says, "We don't want Robusta," which is the narrative we want to change.
Nora Ali: There's a rising Robusta movement and there's also a rising movement of Asian American entrepreneurs who are celebrating their cultures, tapping into their roots, launching companies that bring a little taste of Asia to America. You and I have some friends in common like Sanzo, which is Asian inspired seltzer or Fly By Jing chili oil, which everyone loves. How does it feel to be a part of this movement? And is there a lot of support in camaraderie amongst this amazing group of entrepreneurs?
Sahra Nguyen: Oh my gosh. It feels amazing. It feels really exciting. It feels like I was just watching the Jeen-Yuhs documentary, the Kanye documentary. And you saw everyone come up during that time, you see Beyonce and Jay-Z and Jamie Foxx and Pharrell and Kanye. Then I'm like, oh my gosh, this feels like us on the come up. All of us first generation Asian American entrepreneurs, shaping culture through consumer culture, telling stories through consumer products. It feels so freaking cool. There's so much camaraderie between us. Our parents' generation I feel operated from more of a scarcity mindset, which made sense because there were refugees and immigrants looking to survive. And our generation, I feel really is breaking away from that and operating from an abundance mindset because we grew up knowing what it felt like to be invisible. We grew up knowing what it felt like to be alone and we operate with this philosophy of a rising tide lifts all boats. And I'll give you an example, Sandro, who is one of our mutual friends, Nora, the founder of Sanzo, the work that Sandro has done with Sanzo of entering Whole Foods national, that's opened up a pathway for all of us Asian food founders. Because now Whole Foods is like, oh, this category can work. Fly By Jing is also in Whole Foods now. The work they've done by entering mainstream spaces is really opening up the pathway for all of us founders who really want to put forth products rooted in culture. And so, yes, there's so much camaraderie, and truly a firm believer in the philosophy of a rising tide lifts all boats.
Nora Ali: Yes. Feeling empowered.
Scott Rogowsky: I'm feeling uplifted and I have no skin in this game. I feel like I'm rising here.
Nora Ali: You're a consumer, Scott. You buy the product, support the cause.
Scott Rogowsky: I'm buying it. But it's time for Quizness Casual, the Business Casual quiz.
Scott Rogowsky: Yes. We're getting quizzical.
Nora Ali: She's tipping her coffee to prep.
Scott Rogowsky: I know.
Nora Ali: She's getting fueled.
Scott Rogowsky: Get hopped up. Get hopped up for this one. We're getting quizzical here with Sahra Nguyen and Nora. You're going to be working together. Today's quiz is all about coffee. I think you should do well with this one, Sahra. You know your stuff.
Sahra Nguyen: Oh my God. I'm nervous. I'm so nervous.
Scott Rogowsky: No, don't be nervous. Here we go. Qumero, numero uno. Which country consumes the most coffee per capita, Italy, Brazil, Finland, or Canada?
Sahra Nguyen: I should have Googled these answers earlier. Is it Italy?
Nora Ali: Do we have any reasoning for that? Or does your gut just tell you that, Sahra?
Sahra Nguyen: I say Italy, just because Italian coffee culture is so massive. It's so global and Germany is actually the number one importer of Vietnamese coffee beans. And I know in general, Europe is a huge importer of coffee beans so I just guessed Italy.
Nora Ali: This sounds good to me. We're locking it in, Italy.
Scott Rogowsky: You're definitely right about Europe being a huge importer but even more so than Southern Europe, it's the northern Nordic countries. They go nuts for their coffee because it's so cold. Finland is the answer here. According to the World Atlas at least.
Nora Ali: Wow.
Scott Rogowsky: The national coffee consumption average in Finland 26 and a half pounds per year.
Nora Ali: Whoa.
Scott Rogowsky: Coffee is typically consumed all day every day and coffee breaks are required by most workers' unions in Finland.
Nora Ali: Cool.
Scott Rogowsky: Isn't that wild?
Sahra Nguyen: Gosh, that's amazing.
Scott Rogowsky: Okay. Here we go, Q2, where is coffee believed to have originated, Ethiopia, Turkey, Mexico, or Ecuador?
Sahra Nguyen: I'm going to say Ethiopia.
Nora Ali: Because of any evidence or because your gut tells you again?
Sahra Nguyen: Yeah. Oh, because I do believe that a lot of coffee varieties originated in Africa and Ethiopia was the only country from Africa.
Nora Ali: Yeah, Sahra knows.
Scott Rogowsky: You got this one right, yes.
Sahra Nguyen: Woohoo!
Scott Rogowsky: Just like maybe humans are also came from Africa, coffee.
Sahra Nguyen: Yes. I was thinking that as well. I feel like all things came from Africa.
Scott Rogowsky: All things trace back to Africa.
Sahra Nguyen: Yeah, it's true.
Scott Rogowsky: Back to the 9th century, you can find coffee, the ancient coffee forest of Ethiopia where a legend says a goat herder first discovered the potential of coffee beans after he noticed his goats were jumping and prancing after eating the fruit of a nearby tree.
Sahra Nguyen: I have heard this story. It's a good one.
Scott Rogowsky: The goat jumper juice. Okay, you got one for two here. Let's see if you can break the tie. Vietnam is the second largest coffee producing country in the world, as you mentioned, but who is the first Columbia, Ethiopia again, Peru or Brazil?
Sahra Nguyen: I know this one. This is definitely Brazil.
Nora Ali: It is.
Scott Rogowsky: Definitely, lock it in. Yes. According to the World Atlas again, Brazil is the world's largest coffee producer. In 2016, they produced a staggering two and a half metric tons of coffee.
Nora Ali: Holy moley.
Scott Rogowsky: We got to pick it up, the rest of the world. Let's go. But Vietnam's not too far behind. Well, Sahra two for three, you nailed it. You win the quiz. You get the bragging rights. You can put that on the packaging now.
Nora Ali: She's a genius.
Scott Rogowsky: Nguyen Coffee Supply, winners of the Quizness Casual Quiz.
Nora Ali: Thank you, Sahra, so much for your time. You rock.
Sahra Nguyen: Aw, thank you for having me. It was so much fun.
Scott Rogowsky: We love hearing from our listeners at Business Casual so please hit our line. We're working on an upcoming episode about family-owned businesses, talking with the Stew Leonard's family, anyone shop at Stew Leonard's? I used to. Do you have experiences with family-owned businesses? Do you have one yourself? Are you part of a family that owns a business? Whatever it is, let us know. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Twitter @bizcasualpod. That's B-I-Zcasualpod, with your thoughts.
Nora Ali: You can also leave us a voice memo on our website, businesscasual.fm or give us a ring and leave us an old-fashioned voicemail. Our number is (862) 295-1135. As Business Casual grows, we are excited to get to know our listeners, old and new. Drop us a line and don't forget to leave your name of where you're calling or writing from so we can hear from you in a future episode.
Scott Rogowsky: Business Casual is freshly ground and brewed with 100% Robusta to beans by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins, additional production sound design and roasting by Daniel Markus. Alan Haburchak is the director of audio at Morning Brew. Sarah Singer's our VP of multimedia. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. If you like what you heard, please follow Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get nasty with your casty. And we'd love it if you give us a great rating and a review.
Nora Ali: Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali.
Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky.
Nora Ali: Keep it business.
Scott Rogowsky: And keep it brewing, baby.