Meet the Expert: Francois Carteau of The Warehouse

By: Aleksandr Smechov

How did you get into wine?

Wine, since I come from France, is obviously part of our culture. We drink wines with meals - since I was a kid I remember seeing wine on the table. But I never pushed further until I decided to follow some studies and complete a certification. At the beginning it was like a game, a fun thing to do.

Photo by: eddie welker

You were in the wine trade before you really started to appreciate wine?

The certification was wine business, how to deal with wines, how to trade, how to sell wines. So I never learned how to make wine, but I did learn some techniques. The point was to learn everything we need to know about wines in order to talk about it and sell it. Slowly, it became very interesting. I had a chance to meet passionate people and I think that’s the key. People working in the wine industry have to be passionate. The wine industry is not too complex or difficult to understand - it’s constantly evolving and changing. So in order to keep doing what you do, you can always review, always learn more. It becomes more and more addictive, and you meet new people and those people have new experience they share with you.

Arriving in this environment of passionate and professional people, it started to make sense. It was fun to learn, it was extremely interesting, and that’s why I decided to go deeper and deeper. Once I started to travel, I found that different countries and different cultures had different takes on wine. I went to Canada and ended up selling wines there for a year. The North American approach is different. North Americans are not drinking wines the way the Europeans are drinking wine. In Europe you drink it with your meal, while over in North America you just drink the wine by itself. It was quite new.

I arrived in Vietnam nine years ago. I had to study another style, another culture, another approach once again. I have to say I’ve been quite lucky these past 10 years because I managed to learn about wine. I’ve been guided by great mentors, discovered different content, different cultures, different ways of drinking wine. I still feel like I’m at the beginning of my apprenticeship.

Photo by: ayustety

Do you regret the way you used to think about wine, now that you know much more?

My principle philosophy is never to regret. Whatever you do it’s helping you in some way. It may have been wrong, but it pushed you to do something you weren’t “meant” to do. However, I regret probably my French vision of wines. I’ve been conservative for a long time and I had to go outside France in order to rediscover a product I thought I was familiar with, since it was part of our French culture. I am learning and relearning at the same time.

For example in France, we stored and aged wines for specific occasions, there was a ceremony around it. In North America, they don’t necessarily want that, they want to have something fun, easy drinking, something to support their party. Drinking a glass on its own - which in France was looked at as a bad thing. Now it’s changing, obviously, but back then drinking wine alone gave the image of an alcoholic. You could drink a beer, that was fine. But as soon as you drink a beverage outside of its context, which is wine during a meal, that meant you were becoming an alcoholic.

That’s the only thing I’d say I regret: spending too long in France and having a strong conservative vision about it. But, in the end, it ended up alright.

Many people might consider wine as not tasting good if it doesn’t taste “French” enough. How can people judge wines if they are outside of what they had come to expect, how would you tell if a wine that tastes “different” is actually good?

In my position, the hardest part is to appreciate wines and trying to avoid my personal taste. Which is obviously difficult. Here we’re talking about drinking or eating, it’s not just watching a movie or listening to something. So it’s purely relative to feeling, taste and palate. The best way to overcome this is to work on techniques, even though I don’t like to say techniques for wine, they will help you stay focused on the basic components of what a wine should have, and judge it the way it is, knowing at least if it’s correctly made. And then tasting the taste. This is what all the wine critics are doing: they’re trying to be as neutral as possible and judging the wine based on the wine itself and not their personal taste.

It happens that I taste wines that are really not my cup of tea, but I find them interesting, because it’s a style that’s not available where I come from. It brings another story, another opportunity for me to help someone else discover something new, and not necessarily French. Yeah, French are doing good wines, but not only. They’re doing bad wines too.

Photo by: Anna & Michal

How do you teach someone to judge a wine without bias, maybe some basic requirements, a technique?

It helps to have a bit of knowledge of the product. How do you compare a Mercedes to a Nissan? Basically it looks the same, it does the same thing, but there is a way to tell if either product is made correctly. So we have to have a bit of information. But I believe the technique itself - we’re transforming a fruit, using the juice, and making a beverage out of it. Knowing the origin and the characteristic of the grape is important.

What is more important is using our tools to help us. And those tools are our nose, our eyes and our palate. I would recommend spending some time getting to know your palate. Basically knowing something acidic is acidic, something dry is dry, something heavy is heavy, something aromatic is aromatic. Slowly you will get to know more about it. The wrong approach would be to say that you’re learning everything by heart. It’s simply impossible, there are too many things. You have to do your own discovery, you learn much more than just by reading books. You don’t learn to cook just by reading cookbooks after all.

 

Photo by Pixabay

Would you recommend looking at wine reviews or tasting notes online?

You could but not too much, because we have a risk of reading an interpretation of someone’s taste and that would be going in the wrong direction. It’s nice to see what people may say about the components of the wine - its citrus aromas and complexity, but even better would be then to research what they mean by citrus aroma and complexity, so we can reuse it in our own way.

First thing’s first - you taste the wine, and you like or you don’t. It’s only after comes the idea of trying to describe it. I have seen people who have an amazing palate, they’re able to taste wines, but they are fine where they are, they are not passionate, just taste well. Wine has to stay a pleasure and has to stay something fun. If you want to be a bit more technical, there is a lot of room for that.

Photo by: CCFoodTravel.com

What’s your favourite way to enjoy wine?

Of course with good company. Drinking wine alone is absolutely not fun. You do not have to enjoy any specific wine, and it doesn’t have to be with a connoisseur. I like the endless discussions that can last hours about a single aroma none of us are able to spot, trying to surprise each other with a certain wine, trying to impress each other with the latest discovery. On the other hand, when having an easy, good glass of wine with great friends or company, the wine tends to support the conversation. It helps bring people together, it relaxes people. Beverages in general have this ability. Beer, whiskey.

What would be basic don’t-do’s when drinking wine?

That’s a hard question - we all have our personal preferences. Personally, I would say do not drink wine by yourself - you have nothing to share, and you need to share. Do not drink wine too fast; after opening the bottle the wine mixes with oxygen more and more and releases new aromas, so it’s worth it to take your time with the glass. Do not overchill white wines - most of the white wines I’ve been served have been overchilled and this completely misses the taste. Do not judge a wine by reviews - that’s first and foremost. Taste it first.

Find the right glass - this is extremely important. I was organising a dinner last night for some corporate customer of mine. The red wine glasses looked great, but they were the completely wrong direction for the wine, bringing out too much alcohol and making the taste unpleasant. I asked to switch to smaller white wine glasses - which didn’t look pretty but it brought the wines to the correct taste. Everybody was quite surprised. Yes, you have the nice, big red wine glasses and it looks great on the table, however the wine in these glasses was not enjoyable and we were talking about an expensive bottle.

In the end, you will need to sip the wine to confirm what glass is best.

Never put your hands on the wine glass, hold it by the stem. The exception is if you want to warm it faster - however, if you’ve noticed, now we have stemless wine glasses, which is going the completely opposite way. Even the biggest glassware producers such as Riedel have a line of stemless glasses. It doesn’t really affect the temperature much and these glasses are mainly used for tasting. Etiquette is always changing - there are things now we say we shouldn’t do that in 10 years won’t really matter anymore.

Photo by: Anna & Michal

What is your favourite wine, and what’s your most hated wine?

My favourite wine would be a balanced wine - so I’m not going to put a name on it. My most hated is a boring wine - that doesn’t necessarily mean a bad wine. When wines turn bad, I don’t consider it the wine’s fault - it would be a storage problem, a winemaking problem, and so on. Bad tasting wines don’t annoy me - it could happen. However a boring wine - a wine that doesn’t bring emotion, that doesn’t bring the excitement of a specific taste or aromatic combination, this is something I don’t like.

Currently I’m into red wines - specifically a pinot noir from New Zealand from the Martinborough region. It’s powerful, but at the same time elegant like a pinot, a bit musky but fruity. This region makes their pinot not too heavy, not too juicy, not too round - more musky, masculine, more animal. I like the structure of these wines. I like wines that have tannin but that are not overly dry. And at the moment I’m a little bit more into pinot noir more than anything else.

What would you tell someone who avoids New World wines?

You should not be reluctant - there are great wines everywhere. The principle of categorizing Old World and New World - that’s already a problem, and it’s too restrictive. Nowadays we are able to taste wines from the New World that taste like Old World wines. There is no limitations. This was maybe the case 25 years ago but not anymore. We are now able to taste amazing wines from the other side of the planet, and they are bringing a taste that Old World wines are unable to provide.

Photo by: filtran

What are your favourite pairings?

Red wine and cheese - I like the combination because you have so much possibility on both sides. There are plenty of cheeses and the same for the wines. It works well with white wines too.

When you’re able to match something basic - french fries, for example - and you’re able to combine it with an interesting red wine and enhance the food’s flavour, it’s a great moment of course. As is getting a perfect matching with oysters or caviar.

The pairing should be creating a specific new flavour, mixing the wine taste and the food taste. And the quality of the matching is not dependant on the price of the bottle. It can be the cheapest wine possible, but you match it properly and end up with something great. Playing with regular wines and regular snacks - that’s a great game.

Is it correct to judge a wine’s value by its price?

You cannot judge a bottle by its price - it depends what you use it for. Of course a wine that is cheaper will be less deeper, less complex, less complete than a $300 bottle. You pay something more so you expect something more. Now that doesn’t mean the cheaper bottle is bad, it just depends what you drink the wine for.

If you’re on the side of a swimming pool and you want a nice, dry rose wine, you don’t necessarily need an expensive bottle of wine. Now for the $300 bottle, you will - I hope - spend time bringing the situation for it. I’m not saying you have to do an official ceremony for opening of the bottle - you can do it as casual as possible, just opening it for a group of friends. But it will mean something different. Both wines can be great, though.

Photo by: detroitstylz

If you had to recommend three wines - low-end, midrange and high-end, what would they be?

For affordable bottles, if I go for Old World, I’d go for Vin de Pays, which are great, simple, fruity, and pure expressions of the grape. For New World, I like the Chilean, which are inexpensive.

Middle range, I would probably say New World more than Old World since you get a bit more value for your money.

For high-end I would go back to Old World. I would rather spend $200 on an Old World wine from France or Italy than something from California or Australia.

Header photo by: Greg Pye


Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

By: Uyen Vu

Whether it is sunny or rainy, hot or cold, or you’re busy or laid-back, young or old, it is always a good idea to refresh yourself with a cup of pearl milk tea, also known as bubble tea. Pearl milk tea is a tea-based drink invented in Taiwan – a delicious mixture of tea, milk, chewy tapioca balls (the ‘pearls’) and/or fruit jelly.
Below are our hand-picked bubble tea shops among those that are currently popular in Saigon.

1. Phuc Long

The Phuc Long brand has become very popular over the last few years. It was founded in the 1960s in Bao Loc, Lam Dong province, which is famous for its tea. The official name is Phuc Long Tea & Coffee but it is mainly known for its milk tea. You won’t find the common pearl toppings of the Taiwanese milk-tea style that is so popular in Vietnam. Don’t be disappointed because you will get addicted to it with just a little sip.

Phuc Long Tea & Coffee - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Phuc Long has a reputation for high quality coffee and milk tea. Its patrons are mostly young professionals or middle-aged people because it generally charges a higher price for premium ingredients. The three busiest shops are on Mac Thi Buoi, Nguyen Huy and in Crescent Mall. The one in Crescent Mall is spacious and well-decorated, while the other two have quite limited space and may get cramped and noisy on the weekend.
Address 1: 63 Mac Thi Buoi Str., D1
Address 2: 39 Nguyen Hue Str., D1
Price range: 35.000–40.000VND/cup
Address 3: Ground Floor, Crescent Mall, Ton Dat Tien Str., D7
Price range: 45.000–60.000VND/cup

2. Chatime

A famous bubble tea brand in Taiwan, the country that gave birth to pearl milk tea back in 1980s, Chatime im/mediately attracted lots of fans when it was introduced to Vietnam. With over 70 choices, anyone can find a mixture they like.

Chatime Vietnam - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Chatime’s bubble tea flavours range from strongly aromatic bubble tea to refreshing fruit, from “oriental pop tea” to modern smoothies, or as exotic as QQ Jelly (a combination of traditional ‘pearls’ and coconut jelly). The most popular topping is, of course, its home-made pearl. Chatime’s bubble tea is generally sweet but you can ask the staff to customize the sweetness to your taste.
Unfortunately Chatime is a bit expensive for student market it is trying to attract.
Address 1: Floor B2-17, Vincom B, D1
Address 2: 98 Le Thanh Ton Str., D1
Price range: 38.000–48.000VND/cup

3. Tien Huong

Tien Huong emerged on the market only two years ago but already has a number of shops across Saigon. It has quickly become a favourite among Saigon youth.

Tien Huong - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

The flagship drink on Tien Huong’s menu is fresh milk tea with tapioca. The pronounced flavour of the tea with the sweetness of milk makes this drink really delicious. Unlike other places, Tien Huong only makes the tea when you order. Your order takes a bit longer to be processed but it’s worth the wait.
The drawback is that Tien Huong shops are often small and you may have a hard time finding a seat.
Address 1: 175B Cach Mang Thang 8 Str., Ward 5, D3
Address 2: 789 Tran Hung Dao, Ward 1, D5
Price range: 22.000–32.000VND/cup

4. Hot & Cold

Hot & Cold is probably the pioneer milk tea shop when it comes to letting customers customize their drink. The process is easy, quick and intuitive. After choosing your favourite milk tea, you proceed to pick the toppings, flavour and pudding. The two most popular combos here are Combo Hawaii Cocktail and Combo Milk Smoothie.

Hot & Cold Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Besides milk tea, you could try a variety of skewers, such as prawn tempura, four-color shrimp-ball stuffed with taro, surimi, crab ball stuffed with green sticky rice, and swirl fries. Most Hot & Cold shops are decorated colorfully and have big, air-conditioned spaces. They are also among the cheapest in town and have become popular among teens.
The only downside is that waiters/waitresses are really slow and sometimes quite rude to customers.
Address: 100 Tran Hung Dao Str., D1
Price range: 14.000–30.000VND/cup


Can Vietnam Produce Quality Coffee?

By: City Pass Guide

Meet The Expert: Interview With a Coffee Master

On a sunny Thursday in August, we went to The Workshop, an artisan coffee shop on Ngo Duc Ke street in Saigon’s District 1, to meet with Dung, a true expert on coffee in Vietnam. The Workshop is located in the same part of the street as Tandoor, but well hidden. Only a blue sign by the entrance indicates that a pearl of worldwide artisan coffee culture can be found upstairs.

The Workshop is nicely decorated with wooden elements. It appears like a mix of modern designer café and coffee science museum, the tools of trade exhibited in shelves along the walls. In the center there is the bar, where the trained staff performs the brewing process in front of your eyes. There is original artwork on the walls and we instantly felt at home. We met Dung in the conference room adjacent to the spacious guest area. We introduced ourselves and he immediately started talking about coffee.

Dung Tuan Nguyen’s first experience with coffee was when he was two years old. His mother gave him coffee and the rest of the night he spend walking around the bed - to the very displeasure of his father who had to get up early. He really started drinking coffee when he was 12 or 13 years old. By the time he was in high school, he used the delicious brew to survive his tests.

As a trained architect it was hard to find good work in Vietnam, so he switched between project management and hotel consultancy, until he found his passion in coffee.

Working in the coffee business makes Dung feel good, and doing something that changes the fundamental thoughts people have about coffee is fun. His passion for the bean and the confident conversation that comes right to the point shows he knows as much about coffee as the second man.

[Answers are paraphrased for purposes of brevity and readability.]

City Pass: What makes coffee so attractive to people?

Dung: There are several things that make us love coffee. First the reaction of our body and mind to the caffeine. It makes us alert, excites us and makes the brain work better. Second, the cafés became an intellectual and social place for doing business or politics. And third, it tastes good and smells even better. Alone the smell of coffee makes people happy, even those who don’t drink coffee.

City Pass: Tell us about the significance of coffee in Vietnam.

Dung: Since the French introduced the coffee plant around 150 years ago, Vietnam became the second biggest producer in the world, right after Brazil. The country is number one in growing robusta. Since 1993, the government focuses on mass production, so many arabica plantations got destroyed and replaced. Today, 99.9% of the coffee grown in Vietnam is robusta and catimor, but the quality is rather poor.

Unroasted Coffee Beans

City Pass: What is the difference between robusta and arabica?

Dung: Apart from the great difference in taste and the shape of the beans, the trees are very distinct. The arabica tree has 22 pairs of chromosomes, while the robusta tree has only 11 pairs. Robusta is, as the name already indicates, very robust and grows in lower altitudes. Arabica trees need much more attention and care. One hectare of arabica trees yields about seven tons of coffee, while the same area planted with robusta gives three times as much, but of low quality.

City Pass: What is the main constraint associated with the production of more arabica coffee in Vietnam?

Dung: People don’t care about the quality of the coffee. There is not much commitment from the buyer’s side, since they want a high production and a cheaper price. You have to go directly to the farmer and work with him. Just staying in the city and ordering the beans you want remotely is a bourgeois attitude. There are a lot of wealthy farmers in Cau Dat, but many coffee farmers of other regions of Da Lat, like Lang Biang for example, are poor and have to borrow from loan sharks to survive. At harvest time they collect every cherry to pay the interest. Farmers in debt are very common. If you really help them and be transparent about what you do, they trust you and are willing to enter a long-term relationship.

City Pass: How is coffee, especially more sophisticated specialities, perceived in Vietnam?

Dung: In Vietnam, coffee has to be thick, black and bitter. That pretty much sums it up. But I am not trying to convert hardcore traditional coffee drinkers. I rather target people who love to drink good coffee, people overseas, people who usually don’t drink coffee and expats.

Syphon Coffee Maker

City Pass: What is the greatest weakness of Vietnamese coffee?

Dung: One of the greatest weaknesses of the country is that Vietnam doesn’t have an international brand, not even international recognition when it comes to coffee despite being the second largest exporter in the world. The big brands in Vietnam just screw the people. They just want to get the cheap coffee and are obsessed with tons, even if they say they care. It is the same as with rice.

City Pass: How is the opportunity to create a brand around Vietnam?

Dung: We are at an age where quality and moral production becomes more important. In order to do that you have to be an authentic person, passionate and have a love for what you do. We have to do things properly.

City Pass: What is the most important aspect in your work with farmers and customers?

Dung: Transparency. Everything has to be done transparent. If you offer a single-source product, it is pointless if you can’t name the farm where the coffee comes from. Several companies claim to source locally and sustainably, but they don’t disclose the origin. It really is all a matter of transparency and trust.

City Pass: Tell us something about the taste of coffee.

Dung: Dark roasted coffee usually tastes bitter and burned. When you roast light, you bring out the specific types, which we divide into seven general categories: Floral, fruity, herbal, honey/molasses, acidic/wine-ish. There is a lot of fruitiness in Kenyan and Colombian beans, while coffee from Laos, Panama and Ethiopia is more floral. Vietnamese coffee is more fruity than floral. Check out the taste wheel at scaa.org to get a better idea of the flavors.

Chemex Coffee Maker

City Pass: How to create a perfect cup?

Dung: Nothing is perfect. Working with artisan coffee is a world of trying and experimenting. In the past, people thought dark roasted beans make the best coffee. The community of speciality coffee lovers discovered that roasting light brings out the best flavors. We always try new things.

But to make a good cup of coffee, you need great beans, filtered water and the right temperature.

However, the most important piece of equipment is the grinder. Invest in your grinder. You can buy a decent machine for around VND 700,000 up to VND 2,500,000. Electric grinders may be even pricier. The coffee should be ground evenly and not like dust or sand.

Conclusion:

If you crave to taste Dung’s expertise firsthand, I recommend visiting The Workshop in 27 Ngo Duc Ke, Ben Nghe, District 1 ( on the 2nd floor) yourself. Pick one of the three beans they have on the menu, combine it with your favorite brewing method and you’re ready to go.

The Workshop - Speciality Coffee in Saigon


A Chat with Cafe RuNam

By: Aleksandr Smechov


Citypassguide.com sat down with Chris Ngo, Cafe RuNam’s Chief Operating Officer, to discuss how Cafe RuNam is slowly changing locals’ minds about the concept of “pure” Vietnamese coffee. Through a meticulous selection process where only a minor percentage of beans make it through inspections, Cafe RuNam is all about consistent quality and traditional taste. It even took their Italian roastmaster months to achieve the perfect blends of Arabica and Robusta beans for the brand.


Citpassguide.com: What does “RuNam” mean?

Chris: Ru is understood as a lullaby song for a child, Nam stands for Vietnam, of course, since this is a Vietnamese brand. RuNam is “the lullaby of Vietnam”, the spiritual baby to be flourished with love, care and affection, bringing the best Vietnamese coffee to the world.

CPG: Who is behind Cafe RuNam?

Chris: Mr. Nguyen Quoc Khanh and his wife Mrs. Ly Q. K. Trinh. Mr. Khanh, Chairman of AA Corporation, an established construction company specializing in premium interior design, is taking care of the basic construction and designs of RuNam restaurants while Mrs. Trinh is the soul of the brand, a perfectionist. Her personal touch and exaggerated expectations are shown in the little details of our cafes.

CPG: How do you roast your beans?

Chris: We have our own roasting facility and coffee testing lab located in Binh Duong province. Our Italian Roastmaster has been researching for suitable roasting methods for Vietnamese coffee blends. There are several blends of Cafe RuNam differentiated by the percentage of arabica and robusta in the mix and roasting timing according to specific temperature adjustment. There are also many different types of each bean, so the entire process of finding the right method of roasting this mix was much more complex than simply roasting one type of bean. The difference of a perfectly roasted coffee and a burned coffee is the matter of seconds.

CPG: How are you bringing “pure” coffee to Vietnam?

Chris: What locals often drink in streetside cafes is not necessarily coffee. So introducing a pure coffee, without additives or artificial flavors like caramel, soybeans, corns was a crazy idea at first. From the locals’ perception, this is not real coffee, but we patiently change that perception by introducing the highest quality blends from our homemade production, from highly selected fresh green beans to monitoring the roasting process to crafting each coffee cup under consistent training procedures, as well as regular system audits from RuNam barista artists. Therefore we believe the culinary marriage of Vietnamese coffee beans with Italian roasting techniques works well. As a result, we currently have a large number of loyal customers and fans who love our coffee and the soul behind it.

CPG: Do you have additives in your coffee?

Chris: No. We use 100% coffee beans. That is the most challenging factor we’ve faced in the first several months of preparations before introducing our blends to the market. In the beginning, most Vietnamese coffee drinkers didn’t like the taste. This is something really new for them. We started to explain to our customers the reasons behind the taste and how it’s different with what they usually have. If they still don’t like it we can change the beverage or give them their money back.

CPG: Do you have a secret ratio for your blends of arabica and robusta?

Chris: Actually, this depends on the roastmaster. Depending on the season and the beans and the taste, he decides what is best suitable according to our blend guidelines and standard SOPs.

CPG: Do you import any coffee beans?

Chris: No. We use 100% Vietnamese beans. Although it’s very difficult to find good arabica here in Vietnam. The coffee growing conditions in the highlands is challenging for producing good arabica. Our roasting master has to occasionally sample different sources of beans from different plantations in order to keep up the quality and consistency of the coffee blends.

CPG: What are your best sellers?

Chris: Our ca phe sua da, ca phe da and cappuccino. These three have been the favorite of our customers. We received numerous compliments for our coffee drink menu. I have been tasting different Vietnamese coffee or cappuccinos whenever I travel or during my free time, I couldn’t find anything like it. The ambassador of Italy came to Vietnam in early 2015, and she first came to Cafe RuNam to have a cup of cappuccino, which was recommended to her by the previous ambassador. She loves it.

CPG: How did you personally get into coffee?

Chris: I got to learn about coffee when I was with KFC Singapore when we started to launch KFC breakfast. Before joining Cafe RuNam I was the Training and Development Manager for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I was sent overseas for barista training. I was a barista judge for some competitions. I was trained again with the RuNam roastmaster. The company sponsored me, some key managers and key baristas for Espresso Italiano Experience Seminar by International Institute of Coffee Tasters (IICT – Italy branch) to get myself ready for Cafe RuNam.

CPG: Have you created a signature Cafe RuNam coffee drink?

Chris: We have Madam RuNam, an iced latte with condensed milk and some secret ingredients. Also Sand Dune: a very unique coffee alcohol drink with Kahlua, Bailey's and some in-house ingredients. Besides those, we have many delicious in-house creations coming soon.

CPG: Who are your customers?

Chris: Café RuNam’s customers are comprised of following target groups: affluent local residents, middle to upper class tourists, local business people, the young at heart.

This depends on our store locations. In the South, it’s mostly Vietnamese and Việt Kiều. In the Center, it’s mostly tourists. And in the North, it’s like in the South - mostly Vietnamese and Việt Kiều.

CPG: Have you started exporting your beans?

Chris: Yes, we already have partner restaurants in several countries. However, the production at the moment is pretty tight since getting quality beans is difficult right now. We have a list of potential domestic and international customers who proposed to be partners with Cafe RuNam, but we’re not ready for this at the moment.

CPG: What’s the future of RuNam?

Chris: We’re in the process of spreading our brands to all the big cities in Vietnam where our main target customers are located. We already have our focus on the premium coffee market. Therefore selecting distribution partners or cafes needs a proper process of brand evaluation. We send barista trainers to the partner facility to train them on brewing, crafting and displaying coffee products according to Cafe RuNam standards. For long term, we plan to bring the best of Vietnamese coffee to the world.

CPG: How many cups of coffee do you drink every day?

Chris: About four to nine cups [laughs]. On some days I can’t even open my eyes without going to work getting a coffee. And when I’m on holiday, well, those are hell. I try to drink other brands, but nothing comes close to what I want. I usually have cappuccinos, ca phe sua das, espressos. I must have two to three cups of cappuccino and/or cafe sua da a day, at least! That’s just my life. Do you want another cup of coffee?

CPG: How do you educate yourself about coffee?

Chris: I read about it. I research about it. I sign up for quality coffee courses. I practice crafting coffee whenever I can. Recently, I started writing about it. Besides coffee knowledge, my writing also includes how coffee became a part of my life, my search for answers about the coffee industry and culture, and how coffee got me where I am standing today. I share what I write with my team. I may publish it one day when I am ready for the fame it may get me. For now, I want to stay focus flourishing my spiritual RuNam baby.

CPG: Do you like to drink any other coffee in town?

Chris: I actually check around every day to try different coffee. If I know any new coffee shop that just opened I check out their coffees. Traveling to any new city, I try the coffee there. Coffee is mostly my life, having a good cup of coffee everywhere I go, for me, is a way of indulging in life.

CPG: Anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered?

Chris: We are promoting not just coffee but Vietnam’s traditional aspects to our customers. One of the distinguishing symbols of Cafe RuNam is the art of the coffee filter (phin). For the foreign friends, if you come in a small group, and you want to learn more about the coffee phin making process, we have well-trained barista artists (or you could simply ask for me, I am usually based in Ho Chi Minh City) to personally present the uniqueness of the Vietnamese coffee filter culture for you and your guests.


Meet the Expert: GM of Starbucks

By: City Pass Guide

We went to Starbucks on 76 Le Lai street, Ben Thanh, to meet and interview Patricia Marques, General Manager of Starbucks Vietnam about living in Vietnam, opening new markets and the strengths of Vietnamese coffee beans.

CityPassGuide.com: How long have you been in Vietnam and what holds you, personally, here?

I arrived five years ago, and just three days later I knew that I wanted to stay here. I lived in many countries before and for me it’s easy to adapt to other cultures. However, Vietnam instantly felt like Latin America. The traffic, the chaos and the reason behind this chaos, it really feels like home.

CityPassGuide.com: What is your greatest pet peeve in Vietnam?

At work? Punctuality is really an issue.

CityPassGuide.com: You brought Starbucks to Vietnam?

I have been here for five years, but yes, I started the Starbucks Vietnam adventure almost three years ago. Myself, I started my career around 11 years ago as a barista in San Mateo, California. At that time, Starbucks had “only” 400 stores worldwide.

CityPassGuide.com: What draws Starbucks to Vietnam?

The Maxims Group in Hong Kong and Macao had a license for Starbucks in Vietnam and we felt the market was ready. In most other Asian countries we had already opened branches; Vietnam, as the second largest exporter of coffee in the world, was the next logical step.

CityPassGuide.com: What were the main obstacles of expanding to Vietnam?

Believe it or not, establishing a big brand faces obstacles in every country around the world. In Vietnam the issues were just of a different nature, that’s what made it our unique Vietnamese experience. But in a way it was easier to establish the business in an existing coffee culture like Vietnam. In other Asian countries you need to convert the tea drinkers first, but here you are just another player.

CityPassGuide.com: Speaking of other players, Highlands Coffee, Phuc Long and others have Vietnamese coffee on the menu, why not Starbucks?

First, we have. There are in fact two Vietnamese-style items on the menu. Asian Dolce Latte and Dolce Misto are inspired by ca phe sua da, done the Starbucks way. But adapting completely to the Vietnamese taste would take away our uniqueness. Many of our customers are used to Starbucks from other countries. When they come to Vietnam, they want to visit a Starbucks.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the most popular beverage in Vietnam?

From the cold section it’s the Green Tea Frappuccino. Especially people who are not used to drinking coffee are drawn towards this beverage. Among the hot drinks, it’s definitely the Latte.

CityPassGuide.com: Are there differences in consumption between the South and the North?

Definitely. First, in the North we have seasons and the consumption changes between winter and summer. In Saigon, there is no winter, so most of the hot drinks and drip coffees are consumed by foreigners.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the ratio of foreign customers?

Low, actually less than 5 percent.

CityPassGuide.com: How is Starbucks contributing to a sustainable development in Vietnam?

I believe we are an innovator. We have a very clear career path and already there are four or five stores in Ho Chi Minh City that are managed by Vietnamese former baristas. Also we build all our stores with respect to local material, with local construction partners and local artists.

CityPassGuide.com: How much coffee do you actually source in Vietnam?

Let me explain how our coffee works. There is the Starbucks Coffee Company who sources coffee all over the world, also in Vietnam. They roast, blend, package and distribute the product to all shops. Since we opened Starbucks Vietnam, they listened to us and pay closer attention to Vietnamese arabica beans.

CityPassGuide.com: What are the chances of Vietnamese coffee beans on the international market?

Vietnam sits in a golden chair, especially since it’s the largest producer of robusta beans worldwide. If we work with the farmers, we can especially push for arabica, the potential is enormous there.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the best coffee region for arabica in Vietnam?

Da Lat. The region has exactly what the arabica plants like and the cherries are especially beautiful, an important criteria for excellent coffee.

CityPassGuide.com: How much coffee do you drink per day?

One cup, drip coffee.


Top 5 Sports Bars in HCMC

By: Phuong Tran

 

Finding the 5 best sports bars in Ho Chi Minh City was not an easy task as the options are almost endless. We visited as much as we could on one liver and deliver you below our top 5 picks.

You can watch in those pubs almost all the typical international sporting events. They are usually packed on big soccer nights when Premier League, Champion's' League or World Cup matches are screened. Other popular events include the Olympic Games, UFC Fighting, Australian Football (AFL), Basketball (NBA), American Football (NFL) and Hockey (NFL).

You should note that each nationality usually favors its own sports bar. Phatty's for instance is usually most popular with Australians.

 

1) Pacharan

Pacharan is a restaurant first, but it is popular for watching sports in Saigon as well, especially with the Iberic fans. Located directly opposite the Park Hyatt Hotel in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, Pacharan Spanish restaurant is spread over four floors. Feast on dishes such as tender chorizo, marinated anchovies, chillied gambas, bean stew, parsley and garlic-sauteed baby mushrooms, white-wine clams and marinated pork skewers.

Or try authentic paella for a real taste of Spain while supporting La Roja. .

97 Hai Ba Trung, D1 HCMC

2) Papagayo Restaurant & Bar

This French Mediterranean restaurant serves pizza and onion soup, and a special discount on Tiger draught and Heineken just for the World Cup. Open for all matches until 3am.

18 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien, D2 HCMC


3) Red Bar

Red Bar is one of the most popular bar in the city and it is always a good choice when it comes to sport. Network or simply mix and mingle at Red Bar Saigon. The international menu is ever-changing, from fish and chips to chateaubriand.


The craziest thing about Red Bar? Its Happy Hour is the longest in HCMC and goes from 9am to 9pm every day! It’s also one of the only smoke-free bars in town. So, if you are Dutch or a non-smoker, Red bar is your home for watching sports in Saigon.

70-72 Ngo Duc Ke, D1 HCMC

4) Boomarang Bistro Saigon

If you are in District 7, don’t worry, you are not too far from the fun. In fact, there’s a fabulous bar in the Crescent named Boomarang where you can enjoy authentic Australian cuisine, and of course, shout your favourite football team’s name.

CR-2 3-4 107 Tôn Dật Tiên, PMH D7, HCMC

5) Phatty's

The premier hub for Aussie expats, Phatty's serves a selection of tempting Aussie burgers and BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwiches, gourmet chicken fillets and succulent steaks. When a big event is on, Phatty’s does not hesitate to pull all-nighters.

46 Ton That Thiep, D1, HCMC

Further Suggestions for the best sports bars in Saigon:


- Chill Sky Bar26th & 27th Floor Rooftop, AB Tower, 76A Le Lai, D1 HCMC

- The Alps (German), 54 Pasteur, Ward Ben Nghe, D1, HCMC

- The Cube Bar, 31B Ly Tu Trong, D1, HCMC

- Lotte Legend Saigon, 2A-4A Ton Duc Thang, Ben Nghe Ward, D1, HCMC

- The Orient Bar, 24 Ngo Van Nam, D1, HCMC

- Game On - Sports Pub Saigon - 115 Hồ Tùng Mậu, Bến Nghé, District 1, HCMC

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