My Vietnam journey started in the summer of 2016. I can hardly call myself a traveller or adventurer of any kind. I can count the number of flights I’ve been on with the fingers of one hand. But for some reason, I felt the urge to move to a new country. After a long research and convincing myself I could do it, I booked flight to the beautiful beach city Nha Trang with couple of friends. My plan was to stay for one month before returning home. And I never did.
First two weeks were pretty tough. I arrived in the middle of July and the weather was extremely hot and humid. However, the weather wasn’t the only problem. Even simple tasks like ordering food, or getting things repaired in my apartment were very challenging due to the language barrier.
Not everything was tough. I started to notice that the Vietnamese people were different than I was used to. They were always very friendly, smiling and willing to help anyone. I was in the middle of a trip to a nearby waterfall when I got a flat tire. One of the local guys noticed me and called his friend to come and help fix the tire. They charged me very little and had me on my way in a very short time. This “temporary fix” ended up lasting me a few months.
Another moment that sticks in my memory is this little family run street food place. The older lady cooked me a delicious lunch for about two dollars. I gave her a small tip, which made her very happy. She must have kept waving at me for at least 100m as I drove away.
I have many more stories I could tell. But the point is, the Vietnamese people were making me think about the western lifestyle. At home, most people don’t know their neighbours. Everyone seemed to be in their own little world. Always rushing from point A to point B. If you saw someone having a stroke on the street you would likely just step over them and make a comment like “another junkie” or “hobo”. I felt much more relaxed in Vietnam.
Farmer girl Lim
Few days before i was supposed to fly back home I got this strange message, I don´t remember it exactly, but it was something like this:
“Hi, me Lim. Dalat lost Nha Trang 3 hours, me want speak english“. After few minutes of looking at the message and googling, I came to conclusion that person named Lim wanted to say that she lives in some city called Dalat, which is located 140km from Nha Trang. So we started talking daily. I wouldn´t really call it communication, mostly I kept asking some questions and she responded by yes/no.
A couple times a day she would ask me “did you eat yet?“. At the time it was very confusing. Why is she so interested in my eating habits? But now I understand it as a very common and polite question. For some reason, despite the language barrier I immediately felt strong connection with her. I just knew she was a very special and very genuine person.
I was already little bit unsure about flying back home. Then I received some photos from this stranger girl who didn´t even look Vietnamese. Hopefully these pictures will help you understand why I was on my way to Dalat instead of the airport.
Date on the other side of the world
In retrospect I could probably googled this mysterious Dalat city little bit more, maybe at least that it is in elevation 1500m above sea level. After living in tropical Nha Trang for a month and dressing like the typical tourist (short pants, t-shirt and flip-flops), I wasn’t ready for the temperature shock of a mountain city.
I was sitting at restaurant near Dalat market where we agreed to meet. Lim was already more than half hour late and didn´t pick up the phone nor answering the messages. My mind was already having regrets about this hasty decision. What was I thinking? Of course this shy farm girl will not come to meet with some foreign guy. I was getting pretty tired, cold and mad at myself for being naive.
I was just about ready to give up and find a hotel when I saw this small girl walking towards me. She was even more beautiful than her pictures. The first moments were very awkward, but the rest of the evening went surprising well despite the broken English. After spending a few days in Dalat, I took her to visit Nha Trang. We had a great time and everything felt very natural for us.
The conversation was slow, but I was able to figure out that she lived under the mountain known as Langbiang and her family belongs to one of the many Vietnamese ethnic minorities. Her family lives in a wooden house with a small coffee plantation and they work as coffee farmers/pickers. It took half a year of visiting each other during the weekends until her parents finally let her move to Nha Trang with me.
In the meantime I already considered Vietnam as my home. Whenever my family would ask me to visit, I would convince them to come to Vietnam for a vacation instead. Coffee slowly became part of my daily routine. The relaxing atmosphere of the coffee shops with the ocean views here in Nha Trang made it impossible to say no.
But every time we came to Dalat visit Lim family, I saw the reality and hard life of coffee farmers. This is something you don’t consider when you are enjoying your morning cup of coffee. I became more interested in the whole process, how is actually coffee made from farm to cup.
We started visiting coffee plantations in the mountains around Dalat, doing workshops and tasting coffees every chance we could get. Focusing mostly on highest quality arabica grown by very passionate people who are dedicated to sustainable farming without using chemicals. For both of us, coffee became such a big passion, that Lim ended up working as a barista and I started studying in depth roasting process, which resulted into buying small custom made roasting machine connected to data logging software.
Unfortunately, Vietnamese coffee have poor reputation and for a good reason. Finding out about the common practices, “fake coffee” produced out of corn, soybeans and chemicals with frequent adding butter, salt, spirits, brown sugar or fish sauce after roasting process, really opened our eyes. But actually people in Vietnam got so used to this artificial flavoring that they consider it as “standard/normal” coffee without realizing how dangerous it might be for their health. There was a recent article published to make people realize many of these alarming statistics:
I probably can´t count how many times I offered somebody arabica, right from the roasting machine and the response was “oh it is sour and not bitter, that is an old coffee“. But I understand it´s part of the culture and it will take some time and effort, so people can truly appreciate specialty coffee in Vietnam.
Fast forward to today, coffee became our life and passion. We created Zanya together as a symbol of what we want to achieve. Vietnam have tremendous future potential in specialty coffee. We would like to build a community of people dedicated to exploring and learning about the wonderful world of coffee. As we know personally, there is very thin line between a person who don´t know anything about it, and someone who spends lifetime with a goal to master it.