Meet the roaster bringing Vietnamese coffee and circular economics to Sydney
Luckily for us, we’re in the privileged position of being able to watch smart and creative people build coffee businesses from scratch. Nothing is more exciting than seeing ideas that never would have occurred to us long-time industry folk being conjured up and realised by new entrants in our coffee world. This is why coffee never really goes stale.
Take Linh Le. Linh is the founder of Oui Vina, a coffee roasting company specialising in coffees grown in Vietnam, roasted specifically for brewing in the traditional Vietnamese manner.
Coffee as a vessel for learning and exploration
While Linh’s day job is working as a mechanical engineer, she had long dreamed of starting a company that would allow her to celebrate Vietnamese style coffee culture while building a business model rooted in environmental and economically sustainable practices. Linh gained close exposure to Vietnamese coffee through her uncle, who operates a coffee roasting business in Saigon. Her uncle has become renowned for sourcing and roasting great quality coffees from nearby farmers, and for supporting local indigenous coffee farming communities. This inspired Linh and demonstrated first-hand the positive impact that you can make by participating thoughtfully in the coffee industry.
“It started as a passion project, but now, my intention is to create an example of a business based on ethical business practices as well as circular design. I also simply wanted to see, if I tried implementing these ideas myself, what real-world challenges would come into play. I wanted to know– can we actually run a business based on a cooperative model where the benefits are distributed throughout the supply chain?”
Different brews for different folks
So what exactly is Vietnamese coffee? Linh explains:
“When I say Vietnamese coffee, I am referring to coffee grown in Vietnam, that is brewed and enjoyed in traditional Vietnamese style. There is also a specific roast profile associated with Vietnamese coffee which is darker than that which most Sydney coffee drinkers are used to. The coffee is brewed using a coffee filter called a ‘phin’, which is a small, portable and economical flat-bottomed pour-over. Most people know Vietnamese coffee as mixed with condensed milk and served on ice. That’s the typical final product. But we also want to share the Vietnamese culture around the drinking of the coffee, which involves taking the time to filter the coffee through the phin, to take a moment for yourself to slow down and spend quality time with friends and family.
While Vietnam might not be the first country that pops into the average coffee drinker’s mind when they think of coffee growing regions, it is a coffee producing powerhouse. In fact, Vietnam is currently the second largest grower of coffee in the world, following Brazil. Most of Vietnam’s production is Robusta, which Linh is not shying away from. Robusta is well suited to ‘robust’ (i.e. on the darker side) roast levels and bold, punchy brews. Oui Vina offer coffees that are 100% arabica, 100% robusta, or a blend of the two to her customers.
I’m not gonna lie, I really enjoyed my taste of arabica and robusta blend. It’s dark. It’s weighty. It’s bitter. But damn, it’s satisfying! It unabashedly tastes like cawfee. Whether you enjoy it as an unadulterated black filter coffee or with some condensed milk, it’s an extremely satisfying brew for a cold winter morning.
Staying humble, but dream big
Linh is the first to admit that she is still early in her journey with Oui Vina. Currently, Oui Vina operate a market stall in Glebe every Saturday. They also have an online store as well as a couple of wholesale accounts that serve Linh’s coffee Viet-style. Linh is still steadily growing the business so that she will have the capacity to invest in realising her dreams for the business.
“I wanted to use the business to understand global economics a little bit better. I’m not just talking about the financial side, but the ethics, the wellbeing of the whole supply chain. And on the environmental side of things, product design is essential. Which materials, how they are disposed, how they fit into the whole environmental mission. Seeing how to navigate the landscape and be innovative with design is a major goal.”
When it comes to Linh’s ultimate dream for the business, it is based less on profit and more on turning her ideals into reality:
“What does success mean for me?” The ultimate success would be to develop a micro-economy that has a political voice around what I stand for: more ethical supply chains and circular design. I haven’t got big dreams about growth. Success is me being able to say that there are 100 people here serviced by this crop in Vientam who are sharing in the journey and everybody who is involved, from the farming communities to the environment, having a net positive impact.”
Linh didn’t originally intend to roast out of a co-roasting facility, but after she completed her coffee roasting course with Kelvin, it seemed like the obvious choice:
“ECRE has got a great environment, everybody is very helpful and very friendly. Why would I go and spend upwards of $100K to get a warehouse and roasting equipment? ECRE has a great culture incubate coffee brands.”
We congratulate Linh on starting such a brilliant business and wish her all the luck in the world.