Photo credit: All images c/o Cafe Cà Phê
"Putting the culture back in coffee culture." Jackie Nguyen is doing just that and more. With the opening of her coffee shop, Cafe Cà Phê, Nguyen is introducing Kansas City to Vietnamese coffee culture— emulating the warmth, hospitality, and welcoming feeling that typically goes into a coffee experience in Vietnam. What caught our attention was Cafe Cà Phê's celebration of Nguyen's Asian American heritage, down to the beans they brew (Vietnamese grown robusta beans from Nguyen Coffee Supply).
We had the pleasure to connect with Nguyen in an engaging interview, learning how coffee played a serendipitous role in her journey through Hollywood, Broadway, and now Kansas City; some hard truths she learned about the coffee industry; and how she stays true to her culture in every possible way.
Brewista: In a single sentence, who are you as a human being?
Nguyen: An Asian American artist learning day by day how to make small changes within herself and the community.
Brewista: Tell us about what ignited your journey into the world of coffee.
Nguyen: When I was 16, I started my very first big girl job at Starbucks. I worked all through senior year of high school, all four years of college, and when I moved to LA to pursue acting, I worked in Hollywood at a different Starbucks. Then, I took a little break because I got to work professionally as an actor and then rejoined Starbucks for another 4 years in New York as I continued to pursue acting. Corporate coffee has been part of my life for most of my adult life, helping me pay for bills, my first car, my first New York apartment, etc. Not until the pandemic did I immerse myself in third wave coffee houses and learn about a more specific small business realm of coffee.
Brewista: When was the defining moment that inspired you to start your coffee business?
Nguyen: When I moved to Kansas City, it was to seek refuge from the pandemic. I did not have a place to stay because I had a job on tour with a Broadway show. But the pandemic shut down the arts, so Kansas City was where I had an opportunity to “wait out the pandemic.” When I got here, I saw that there was very little to no representation for the Asian culture. I noticed there were Asians around, but literally zero places for us to hang out or fun things to do together.
One moment that defined me was a mental breakdown that I had, haha. I was crying and crying, wondering what I was doing in the midwest where there weren’t many people that looked like me. My mom told me to stop whining and to create the space I was missing. That really shook me, in the best way possible. It lit a fire under my ass to create the dopest place for the AAPI community.
Everything we do helps amplify the AAPI community. From the beans, to our merch, to our employees, to the art we design and type of businesses we work with. 100% of my employees are all from marginalized communities, whether that be Queer, Asian, Black, Artists or women. My shop is a celebration of diversity.
Brewista: What are some of the biggest lessons you learned, personally or professionally, during your coffee journey so far?
- That there are not many women of color in this industry
- Lots of people have stuck to a comfort zone in coffee
- Your staff are the most important people and will only help you succeed.
- There’s actually lots of racism in coffee (sad face.)
- Owning a coffeeshop is HARD ASS WORK.
Brewista: What does your coffee ritual look like? Describe your favorite coffee drink!
Nguyen: My favorite coffee drink is a classic Vietnamese Iced Coffee. In Vietnamese, it is called Cà Phê Sua da, and in our shop we call it “The Saigon” named after the city my mom lived in. It is a slow dripped robusta coffee with condensed milk mixed with ice. It is my go-to coffee since I grew up with that. I use a Vietnamese triple filter system called a “phin”. If I’m not feeling as strong of a coffee, I’ll still walk to my shop (I live two blocks away) and make me a Vietnamese Robusta cold brew with oatmilk and some honey.
Brewista: Why do you think it is particularly important for the coffee community to take care of each other?
Nguyen: There are so many hardships in this world, I believe it is probably our only option at this point. Our world is full of unknown, crazy accidents and hardships, our community will be the one thing that keeps us sane. I always tell my staff “It’s JUST coffee.” We are not out here at a hospital, saving babies, any of that “real life stuff”. We are serving a delicious beverage. I think we should automatically be supporting and taking care of each other because we understand the importance of a cup of coffee and all of its nuances. Coffee can be incredibly healing and communal. It’s important to push this industry to be together because it is within the realm of possibility.
Brewista: There are always new things to learn about coffee! What’s holding your interest the most right now? What would you like to learn more about asap?
Nguyen: THE ROBUSTA MOVEMENT! I am so happy to see Robusta take up more space in the coffee world. I, of course, have been a fan since day 1 of even the idea of my shop. I believe Nguyen Coffee Supply is making a huge dent and difference in education and opportunities that lie in the Robusta bean. It is the blood that runs our shop, and we are really proud of serving it.
Brewista: Our readers are really serious about coffee. For aspiring coffee pros, what is one single advice you would like to give them as they navigate the coffee industry?
Nguyen: If you think you are open minded, open it up more. There are so many opportunities to grow and learn. Not just about coffee beans, farmers, cupping, etc. But about the people who consume coffee. Also, if you can, work on throwing your ego out the door. Coffee is starting to change big time, and it will make us all uncomfortable at some point or another. One day you will not know everything there is to know about coffee, and that can be humbling.