It’s easy to assume that the New York market is fully saturated in terms of coffee, but even in a city that’s reached peak cold brew, there’s still room to grow.
So was the thinking of Bushwick filmmaker and entrepreneur Sahra V. Nguyen when she founded Nguyen Coffee Supply (NCS) last November, importing green, single-origin coffee beans from a farm in Da Lat, Vietnam, straight to Red Hook for roasting. The resulting Vietnamese coffee, even without all the sweetened condensed milk that the name often conjures, showcases a nutty, robust and chocolatey profile.
“The edge of the nuttiness was complemented with sweetened condensed milk. But never too sugary, never too overwhelming. Overall very bold and strong. And I personally love that flavor profile in all coffees,” Nguyen says.
For now, she’s showcasing her roasts at her first pop-up location called Cafe Phin located inside Vietnamese cuisine stalwart An Choi at 85 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side.
Named after the Vietnamese café-style Phin filter that makes one cup at a time, she’s calling the site a “coffee speakeasy.” It’s small and charming with a large sun-drenched communal table where you can stir, sip, share and Instagram your purple-hued Ube iced latte, traditional coconut coffee, classic drip or even the elephant or weasel coffees (made with beans digested by their namesake animals before being cleaned and processed).
Cafe Phin also serves coffees with condensed, vegan, non-dairy milk options. Just be careful how many you drink as NCS’s coffee grounds are made with robusta beans, which have almost twice the caffeine content of the more popular arabica.
“Seeing the specialty coffee scene emerge, I noticed that the trend has been largely light roast and 100 percent arabica, which tends to be more of the fruity, citrus, flora profile,” Nguyen says. “[In this way] people were kind of treating coffee like a tea, and that’s totally cool, but it just wasn’t for me personally.”
One of the missions of the menu is to showcase Vietnamese coffees as high quality, versatile drinks. “I wanted to offer a wide variety of coffee options on the menu because up until now, the mainstream understanding of Vietnamese coffee was very limiting, just iced coffee with condensed milk—just the beverage,” Nguyen explains. “[Instead] I wanted to expand on it as a Vietnamese coffee bean that you could enjoy any way you choose, just as you would use an Ethiopian bean or a Colombian bean in anything from a drip to an espresso.”
Cafe Phin will be around at its current location for least for another couple of weeks, if not longer, but for Nguyen, this is just the beginning. A brick-and-mortar shop is also on the agenda, and you can buy beans and other merch on her site. NCS and Cafe Phin are also on the pioneering edge of what is becoming a growing Vietnamese specialty coffee scene, as a similar endeavor titled Cà Phê Roasters has made roots in Philadelphia as well.
“It’s been so insane” watching NCS take off and positive feedback roll in, admits Nguyen. Responses, she says, have ranged from pride in seeing Vietnam and its people represented in a positive way through coffee, to broad support over providing something new and interesting for coffee enthusiasts.
“Because it’s not just about selling coffee,” she says, “but about using the platform of coffee to talk about the stories of the Vietnamese experience.”
Photos courtesy of Nguyen Coffee Supply.