As the child of Vietnamese refugees, Sahra Nguyen’s identity has been the driving force behind her professional pursuits, which span documentary filmmaking, writing, visual art, and hospitality entrepreneurship. After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a dual degree in Asian-American studies and world arts and cultures, Nguyen worked as a video mentor at Artists For Humanity and as the director of the Writing Success Program at her alma mater. In 2012, Nguyen moved to Bushwick, Brooklyn, where she was inspired by local entrepreneurs to film the web series “Maker’s Lane,” which led to the production of NBC docuseries “Self-Starters” and her award-winning documentary “Deported.”
In 2014, Nguyen teamed up with three other first-time restaurateurs to open Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen in Bushwick, which has been featured in The New York Times, Time Out NY, Thrillist, and VICE. Nguyen’s current focus is on her latest project, Nguyen Coffee Supply, the first ever Vietnamese-American-owned importer, supplier, and roaster of green coffee beans from Vietnam. Although Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world, Nguyen felt Vietnamese beans were being slighted by specialty coffee roasters. She aims to change this by showcasing the vibrant flavors of the Arabica and Robusta beans from her parent’s home country, while promoting Vietnamese culture globally.
Nguyen continues advocating for racial justice, diversity, and community empowerment as a storytelling strategist with podcast incubator, Listening Party, and as a Google NextGen Tech Policy Leader.
What inspired you all to create this company?
I started Nguyen Coffee Supply to disrupt the current coffee industry, push the conversation around transparency to a holistic humanizing level, and empower communities for a more equitable world.
Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world, yet only 16% of American consumers associate Vietnam with the production of coffee. Even more, the United States is the #2 importer of Vietnamese coffee beans. With a 3rd wave coffee movement that cares so much about “transparency,” why don’t more people recognize Vietnam as a major player in the coffee world, in addition to the United States’ longstanding ties to Vietnam’s coffee industry?
Living in New York City since 2013, I noticed that Vietnamese food and culture was quickly on the rise. On a similar wavelength, “Vietnamese coffee” the beverage was becoming increasingly trendy — popping up on menus all around the city. However, after trying these “Vietnamese coffees,” I discovered that coffee shops were using their house drip or house cold brew (generally a South American or African bean) and calling it “Vietnamese coffee.” Not only is this total miseducation to consumers, but it exploits the actual producers of Vietnamese coffee. If a business intends to benefit from a trend or buzz worthy experience such as “Vietnamese coffee,” then the producers of Vietnamese coffee and culture deserve to benefit from this transaction as well.
What excites me the most is the potential I have to change lives through the world of coffee. On the consumer level, people feel represented, seen, and inspired. On the producer level in Vietnam, they also feel seen, represented, and empowered to be included in a global movement for change.
What distinguishes your company and product in the market?
We are the first company dedicated to offering specialty Vietnamese coffee and uplifting the movement of Vietnamese people for clean coffee and better wages. The current specialty coffee scene in America does not offer direct trade, single-origin, and fresh roasted Vietnamese coffee beans. We work directly with farmers in Vietnam, import green coffee beans, fresh roast in Brooklyn, package, and sell through multiple channels: DTC (e-commerce) and B2B wholesale (restaurants, cafes, offices, supermarkets).
As a 1st generation, Vietnamese-American, Millennial female founded company, our mission is to disrupt the coffee industry by building a people-centered ecosystem focused on increasing transparency, building true sustainability, and empowering communities for a more equitable world.
We operate within the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) realm and intend to disrupt the $80 billion coffee industry by leading the next secular trend of Asian-inspired beverages: Vietnamese coffee.
Previously successful secular trends of Asian beverages include boba tea and matcha. Given the rising interest in Asian culture, the high caffeine levels of robusta beans, and the nostalgic flavor profile of Vietnamese coffee, Vietnamese coffee as a bean, beverage, and culture will be the next explosive experience within the coffee world.
In addition, Vietnamese people and producers have faced decades of injustice and cycles of poverty through lack of transparency and corporate control. The United States is the #2 importer of Vietnamese coffee beans, channeling the beans through commercial-grade products without clarity or visibility about the coffee’s origins.
As 3rd wave specialty coffee movements rapidly grow in the United States, Vietnamese people abroad are growing their own movement around clean coffee, specialty coffee, and socio-economic sustainability.
However, due to its history with corporations and commercial grade coffee, American consumers fail to see the potential of Vietnamese coffee in the specialty movement, and also suppress Vietnamese people from elevating their production and ultimately, their lives.