Since they came to Seattle eight years ago from Vietnam, Chen Dien and his wife Trang Cao have searched for a cup of coffee that could, for a sip, transport them home. When they couldn't find it, they decided to make it themselves.
“A lot of people [here] enjoy Vietnamese coffee, like in a pho restaurant or in a Vietnamese restaurant,” Dien said. But from what he’s seen, many places don’t make it the traditional way. “It just doesn't taste right."
It's a matter of beans.
“Vietnam is most famous for its Robusta beans. Yet in the United States, almost every major roaster works exclusively with Arabica beans,” says Sahra Nguyen, founder of Nguyen Coffee Supply, the first U.S.-based importer and roaster of Robusta coffee beans.
Robustas have more caffeine than Arabicas, which can lead to a more bitter taste (balanced by the sweetness of a traditional Vietnamese coffee). The husband-and-wife duo has partnered with Nguyen Coffee Supply to bring specialty beans from Da lat, Vietnam, to Coffeeholic House, which they plan to open in Columbia City at the end of February. Dien believes that it will be the only coffee shop in Seattle to strictly use Robusta beans.
The couple will offer a classic espresso menu along with house specialty coffee drinks, including their “Coffeeholic Dream”: traditionally brewed Vietnamese coffee with milk and sweetener, topped with a cream cheese layer to “balance everything out,” according to Dien. Their limited food menu will feature a banh mi bagel stacked with pate, meat, Vietnamese pickles, and Sriracha.
Dien figures Columbia City is an ideal location: The diverse community around Rainier Ave S (including the area’s large Vietnamese population) reflects the sort of experience he hopes to add to the coffee shop scene—a multicultural one rooted in the couple's own story. "After moving to the States, we adapted to new cultures and became unique individuals,” said Dien. “Life is too short for bad coffee, and we can’t wait to share our creations with you.”