Sean Edwards from Café Culture Magazine and local roastery Peak Coffee recently had the opportunity to visit Hanoi in Vietnam to train street kids in the art of coffee making – and to look for the next Vietnam Barista Champion.
Eleven years ago, Jimmy Pham, while visiting his home country of Vietnam on a new job assignment as a Tour Guide, was overwhelmed by the amount of children who were homeless on the streets of Hanoi. Many children as young as ten were selling wares like postcards and chewing gum to support their large family units.
Many of these children he talked to had come from poor rural areas by themselves to seek work in the busy city of Hanoi. Jimmy straight away had a vision on how he could turn his knowledge of tourism/hospitality into training these disadvantaged youth, giving them a helping hand into a worthy career and some stability in their lives.
His vision was KOTO, now a world recognised hospitality training organisation with affiliations to world class hospitality leaders. This is how we had the chance invitation to visit KOTO in Hanoi, via a Barista training module arrangement with Box Hill Institute in Melbourne with an ongoing partnership with KOTO.
Fellow travelling companion Justin Metcalf and I jumped at the opportunity to come to Hanoi to help hand pick and train baristas to compete in the Vietnam Barista Championship, which is held in November. Barista courses are part of the 24-month traineeships through KOTO, and the students get to learn lot of theory about coffee, but do not gain much practical knowledge. Espresso coffee is slowly starting to emerge into the lifestyle of the wealthier sector of the Vietnam social scene, and it is hard for students to benchmark quality of service.
This is where Justin’s skill as a World Barista Judge came into the mix. We had four days to take over 100 student trainees into the practical side of coffee making. The passion and work ethics of these young kids made the task surprisingly simple, and the entire group of teenagers came away with a good understanding of basic espresso presentation.
While we were in Vietnam, we took the opportunity to explore the colourful café culture of Hanoi. Like most people who visit Vietnam, we found out the importance of freshness in this food culture. Food is very important in the daily ritual of Vietnamese people and every street corner has a gastronomic delight, from deep fried tofu, stewing Pho to hand made rice paper rolls filled with fresh herbs and crab meat.
I had no problem eating from street stalls because of the freshness of the products and the eye for detail in presentation; my stomach lasted the week undisturbed, which is a first for me in my origin adventures. Vietnam has a Colonialist attachment to France, and the art of baking is one of the few good overflows from this questionable relationship. Good bread can be found all over Vietnam.
Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer of Robusta coffee and provides the world instant coffee market annually with 1.2 million tonnes, which equates to 2.6 billion dollars in export revenue. The local café scene uses mostly local coffee, which is dark roasted Robusta brewed through a metal cup drip filter.
The beverage is then put into a cocktail shaker with ice, shaken well and poured over a good serve of sweet, condensed milk. It is a refreshing, sticky brew, with a massive caffeine hit that has more than enough spark to start your day with a bang.
I grabbed some high altitude grown Arabica beans and will look forward to cupping them back at the Peak Coffee Lab in Port Macquarie, to make our own Vietnamese style brew. It was a very short visit to Vietnam, and it has sparked my appetite to see more of this wonderful country and hopefully get the chance to visit the coffee growing areas in the southern parts of the nation.
We had the hard choice in narrowing down the trained KOTO baristas to a small group who will be put forward to compete in the Vietnam Barista Championships on 28 September in Ho Chi Minh City.
This was one of the most worthwhile industry experiences I have been lucky enough to be involved in during my hospitality career.
I would like to urge Australian hospitality suppliers who would like to donate products, services or finances to this great project to please get involved; it does not take a lot to make a real change to a child’s welfare.