The best way to explore a city is by poking through its nooks and crannies. A collaboration between Rice Creative and Vietcetera Media, Trip Tips is your guide to all the best places in Saigon to "Drink, Eat, Go, See, Shop, Sit or Stay." With no more than 10 carefully curated tips per category, our lists are being constantly updated to ensure you remain in the know. Today, Trip Tips is taking you to Bosgaurus Coffee, where founder Nguyen Canh Hung is "Keeping Hope Awake."
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”... Perhaps one of the most inspirational quotes from Stephen King, famously adapted in Shawshank Redemption. Nguyen Canh Hung, founder of Bosgaurus Coffee, shares with us that this is not only his favorite film, but also one that inspired the foundational belief system of his business. “Keeping Hope Awake” the slogan of Bosgaurus reads, echoing powerful messages of hope that are confronted in the film. Hope is the foundation for all dreams. Without hope, there is no reason to believe that the future holds something better.
We sat down with Hung to reflect on the growth of the specialty coffee scene in Vietnam since the founding of Bosgaurus, in 2016, and their hope, turned into a single-focused dream, to change the world’s perception of Vietnamese coffee and push forward the coffee culture in Vietnam and abroad.
How was Bosgaurus founded?
I always say that coffee chose me, I didn’t choose coffee. Because I was originally an engineer. I traveled around Europe a lot back then for work. And on one trip, I stopped at a coffee shop in Amsterdam. I saw that people were drinking this coffee that was so different from what I knew. In my mind coffee was a singular thing, I didn’t know that it could be so different.
I was so curious about it so I read and I studied. During my course, I learned that Vietnam is the country with the second highest export of coffee in the world. But, it’s just Robusta – which is low price and low quality. In my mind at that time, I thought that Vietnamese coffee was good and that everyone agreed… But people still saw it as low quality.
I came back to Vietnam, talked to a few people who were making coffee around town, and they told me that we still produce Arabica coffee in Da Lat. I went to Da Lat and realized that Vietnam is producing quality coffee. I felt like I had to show this to the world – so I started Bosgaurus.
From the beginning to now, Bosgaurus has 100% focused on one thing: using Arabica coffee. Back then, most people were still only using Robusta because the weaknesses of Arabica coffee are pretty obvious... When we first started, we couldn’t make cà phê sữa đá. When we made it the traditional way with a phin, the coffee came out really light and tasted very weird, very sour. I had to experiment and adjust a lot of things, but we finally successfully produced this Arabica sua da product.
You acknowledged that using Arabica can be difficult, so why do you choose to continue using only Arabica?
This is what we call our “big dream.”
Back when I traveled for my company, I brought with me these coffee bags with Vietnamese phin. Vietnamese people are used to Robusta, but for foreigners, when I let them try Vietnamese coffee, they would start feeling shaky… they say it's too strong for them. The first time they try it they love it, but they all say that they wouldn’t want to try it a second time.
We use Arabica because it’s more approachable for people who aren’t used to Vietnamese coffee. We’ve made it so that they can drink it, truly enjoy it, and have the chance to try it again. So I would say our “big dream” is to popularize Vietnamese culture and bring these things to the world.
What does your slogan ‘Keeping Dreams Awake’ mean?
When we started four years ago, it was ‘Keeping Hope Awake,’ and we still believe in that, it’s still on our logo.
But at a certain time, we realized that we needed some change. After 2-3 years, we saw that our hope in this business was working. We saw the change that we created for Vietnamese Arabica. At this point, it was clear to us that it wasn’t just “hope” anymore… We needed a “big dream” – so we changed out “hope’” and went with “Keeping Dreams Awake.”
What values are most important to your business?
Our business philosophy is based on the concept of “truly specialty coffee.” We think that this encompasses justice, respect, responsibility, sustainability, and profit. This applies to our work with partners, suppliers, and also in recruitment for new staff.
When I say profit, a lot of people assume it has to do with money, but it’s not always that. ‘Profit’ can mean a lot of things, but the main implication here has to do with benefits for the community. Of course, money is an important factor – the farmers who spend a lot of time into quality coffee, they need money to support themselves and their families. But we bring ‘profit’ to farmers through a sustainable business model. We build relationships and do long term business with them. Same goes for the staff here. There is just a lot of transparency in everything we do.
The coffee culture in Vietnam is already pretty rich, what is Bosgaurus doing to push that forward?
First of all, the way we are designed is totally different. We’re inspired by the minimalism of Japanese and Scandinavian architecture. We try to eliminate any distractions and let people focus on the coffee. Even the way the stainless steel open bar operates, it lets the customers interact with the barista. You can see everything.
Another way that we are changing the industry is that we are changing the standards of coffee quality. Before us, nobody knew about Arabica in Vietnam. Bosgaurus introduced new processing methods and new fermentation techniques, applying my knowledge as an engineer and experience working with breweries. We turned Vietnamese coffee “from zero to hero.” And now, we hear a lot of people say that they didn’t expect this from Vietnamese coffee, they’re very surprised about the quality.
Once we started getting international recognition, people were coming to Vietnam to try to source Arabica coffee. This increase in demand made farmers realize that they need to focus on the quality of their coffee production.
In the first two years, we only worked with one farmer and now have two. I’ve had a lot of farmers come to me, saying they want to do business with me because of the fair prices we pay. But for me, my business is just one store so my production needs aren’t much. We expect that once the business grows, we can maintain the way we are doing business and help out more farmers.
But the good thing is that our farmers can help other farmers. Every year we go visit our farmers and see a lot of growth. They’re applying new techniques, new farm management methods that lower the operation cost and raises the value of the coffee.
That means there’s space for investment – they’re investing in the farm, building trees, planting flowers, and just overall bettering their living conditions.
What do you want to see from the future of coffee in Vietnam?
The specialty coffee scene is definitely growing in Vietnam. I think more and more people doing specialty coffee is a good thing. It means that the coffee industry will grow, perhaps people will start drinking more Arabica, and most importantly, we’ll be able to help farmers make a good living.
For me, the most important thing is that they pay high prices for farmers. We pay our farmers about triple the amount they would get paid normally. How is it possible for us to do that? Because the customers accept it. That’s what makes it a sustainable business. The way we employ minimalism and transparency means that we give customers transparent information: they understand the quality, they accept that quality comes at a price, and we pay that back to the farmers.