Coffee is one of the most popular drinks the world around but while westerners often tend to associate it with the Italian coffee tradition, here in Vietnam it has its own culture and it has been playing an important role in social activities and gatherings for almost a century; so much so that when I asked some local people if they could picture their lives without the dark beverage, they looked at me rather puzzled, as if they were trying to imagine a futuristic world out of their grasps; even the ones that admitted to not drinking it.
So what happens if you couple up the two coffee traditions - Italian and Vietnamese?
Càfê RuNam (the name loosely comes from a traditional Vietnamese lullaby song for young children) has been working on making this culinary marriage happen, that is applying Italian technology to Vietnamese coffee.
Coffee beans were introduced for the first time by the French but locals quickly adopted it as their own by using a drip filter, a method that we are now so familiar with, placed on top of a cup, to prepare the coffee and also by adding condensed milk (to stand in for the harder to come by, fresh variety). The French influence however is still evident in the way the beans are roasted and pressed, which makes the beverage quite bitter and strong.
The objective of RuNam is to create a high quality product that proudly consists of local coffee beans but, by using Italian toasting machines and grinders, the flavour of the coffee is smoother, less bitter and creamier.
RuNam’s team has recruited and works with various experts, highly specialised in their own fields, which not only shows an honest desire in delivering a high-standard product but also respect for an old culinary tradition.
For instance, they have hired an expert in coffee roasting from Italy, Lauro Pocaterra, who has over 30 years experience in the field, “my job has been mainly focused on developing 15 different blends. It consists of selecting green coffee beans; create mixtures suitable to be extracted with the typical local filter. The blends are made of 100% Vietnamese coffee without additives such as butter, corn or soybeans which are common in Vietnam because they help cover the bitter flavour,” he said. It is both a work of creativity and science.
The company has a close working partnership with one the biggest coffee distributors in Vietnam, Pacorini, which guarantees a high standard of processing, coffee bean selection as well as a close relationship with the farmers who grow them.
Following all the steps from the beginning of RuNam, the passion and attention to details that the team has put into it is astonishing, not only the creation of the coffee, but also how it is presented to the customers. Each different type of coffee is served in its unique cup to enhance the colour, aroma and texture to deliver a truly multisensory pleasure.
Their approach to creativity is also evident in the company’s interest and future commitment to art. To showcase their opening of Càfê RuNam, they picked Rob Whitworth who has become well known for his award-winning time lapse video of Saigon. While talking with manager Aileen Nguyen, she explained to me how the collaboration started, “I have personally always been interested in time-lapse videos and photography; I actually saw Whitworth’s videos before they went viral. I thought that his videos were different and unique compared to others. They have the ability to capture and transmit the energy and spirit of a city. That is why we decided to see if he were interested in making a time-lapse video to represent the coffee perception of RuNam.”
Whitworth was given total creative freedom over the video which takes us from harvesting at Da Lat farms, through the processing phase before the beans are roasted at RuNam.
Càfê RuNam officially opened its doors on Sunday, 15 December with a lavish and exquisite opening party, where they presented their wide range of coffees, homemade desserts (designer cupcakes, cheesecakes, tiramisu) and canapé food inspired by the a la carte menu.
Situated in the heart of Saigon, the coffee shop occupies a three storey building with the first two floors having been designed and decorated in detail to offer different atmospheres for customers. I particularly liked the second floor where there is an intimate coffee lounge with big sofas and armchairs, ideal for anyone that wants to escape the noise of the city, relax and talk while enjoying a good coffee. Next to the lounge is a beautiful terrace where white wood tables and armchairs are surrounded by plants. It truly makes you forget that you are right in the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world.