Coffee has become an integral part of our lives. We wake up, rub the crust from our eyes, and head downstairs to set out on a coffee run. We love it, crave it, but most of usare limited to seeing our favorite barista pull espresso shots at the local neighborhood coffee shop. We know that roasted coffee doesn’t grow on trees, so we ask ourselves: just how much of the process have we missed out on?
What seems like an ordinary cup of joe is actually the product of months of cultivating, laboring, and processing. The journey from tree to cup is not a short one, and it takes a chain of passionate people to get your favorite pick-me up in your hands every morning. In Southeast Asia, there are plenty of coffee plantations that offer tours and courses on how coffee is processed, but if you don’t see yourself paying the farmers a visit anytime soon, you’ll be delighted to know that there are other ways to learn about your cup of Java.
While wandering around the second floor of the art arcade on Đồng Khởi Street, I came across a couple rattan pans of coffee green beans drying by the concrete railings. The pans didn’t end up there by accident, and as it turned out, they belonged to the coffee shop at the end of the hall. Curious, I made my way inside the cozy-looking nook.
From de-pulping, drying, roasting, to brewing, the only thing Saigon Coffee Roastery doesn’t do at their shop is grow coffee. The foyer is lined with tubes of roasted coffee and a giant clock that serves to remind that anytime is a good time for a cuppa. The space had aged feel courtesy of the 100 year old building, and the shop’s clean and slightly vintage look further complemented the shop’s architecture.
The middle of the shop is where you’ll find the baristas’ counter and all their pour overs, French presses, and cold brew tower. Opposite to the counter was a mural depicting a roasting facility in full swing, a fitting image for a roastery such as this. A couple paces from the counter was a quiet room where you could catch up on emails, settle down with a book, or watch the people of Saigon go about their day from the narrow window with a steaming Americano in hand.
Not long after I settled down, Saigon Coffee Roastery’s team started bringing out containers of, not roasted beans, but ruby red coffee cherries. After laying everything out, the team got to work on de-pulping the cherries by hand and getting them ready for a nice sunbath. I’ve seen numerous establishments roasting their green beans, but I’ve certainly never seen a shop de-pulping their own coffee.
De-pulping and drying are steps in the coffee making process that not many people get to see, so to watch it happen at a local neighborhood shop is a real treat indeed. When I later sat down with Pháp, Saigon Coffee Roastery’s founder, I asked about whether they were this hands-on with their coffee all the time, he smiled and proudly stated that they were, especially since it was harvest season.
Prior to opening a shop of his own, Pháp worked at Illy Coffee for ten years where he developed a love and passion for the craft. A year ago, he set out to open his own shop where he could process, roast, and serve the coffee that he so loved to the people who loved to drink it. Working closely with farmers in Dalat, Saigon Coffee Roastery is committed to serving the best of Vietnam whether in a cà phê đá, or in an espresso.
Aside from roasting coffee for their own shop, Saigon Coffee Roastery was also a supplier to numerous establishments around town. Don’t be confused as to the lack of roasting machine in the shop; while they are able to dry their beans right in front of their entrance, building regulations dictated that they could not roast inside. To make up for this, Pháp has a roasting facility close by.
I noticed that the pans outside held a variety of brightly colored beans of different hues, that’s because the roastery implemented numerous of ways of processing from wet, natural, and even the rarer red and yellow honey processes. If you fancied something from outside Vietnam, Saigon Coffee Roastery also had a selection of origins from other places in the coffee belt.
As Vietnam hurtles towards the future at breakneck speed, the decades-old building Saigon Coffee Roastery resides in will eventually become a casualty of modernization. From their windows, you can spot Saigon’s subway construction site a couple yards away. Pháp tells me that in order to facilitate the city’s growing infrastructure, the building will eventually be demolished in less than two years.
Even though the impending demolishment of the building is a shame, Pháp regards the future with a smile. With less than two years on the clock, Saigon Coffee Roastery shows no signs of slowing down and will eventually move to a new home. Wherever they plan on moving, the roastery will continue their hand-on approach to coffee and educating the people of Saigon. With great coffee, and great people behind the counter, no doubt their loyal customers will tag along.
Many thanks to Pháp for the warm hospitality and kindness. Saigon Coffee Roastery is truly one of a kind.