The Workshop – Speciality Coffee

Touting itself as Vietnam’s first speciality coffee bar, The Workshop takes Saigon’s favourite tipple to new heights, blending science, art and passion in pursuit of the ultimate brew. By Simon Stanley. Photos by Francis Xavier.

Entering this airy loft-space, with its industrial light fittings, exposed girders and contemporary artworks, one could easily imagine the skyline of Manhattan appearing through the panorama of windows. Chunky wooden tables, vintage stools, polished metal and stone, it’s an Instagrammer’s dream, and I’m not surprised to learn that designers and furniture experts rank among The Workshop’s team of owners — a team which also includes two coffee farmers. This is where this coffee joint stands above the rest.

From the Berry to the Cup

Single-origin Arabica varieties — sourced directly from the team’s farms in Dalat — are roasted and ground in-house. Don’t expect flavourings or syrups here. At The Workshop, the taste of the bean is the focus.

I’ll admit, I’m more of a tea person. I’m out of my depth and I’ve already worked out that my usual kerbside call of “ca phe sua da” just won’t fly here. Beyond the standard lineup of machine options, I’m looking down at words like ‘pour-over’, ‘immersion’, ‘Aeropress’ and ‘Kone’. It’s a whole new world, but I want in.

“Educate me,” is all I say to Huong — our own personal barista — as we’re shown to the ‘Brew Bar’ for our induction. This 360-degree centrepiece is a veritable altar to all things java.

“At The Workshop,” says Huong, “we want to help people appreciate the best of Vietnamese coffee. Many tourists leave Vietnam thinking that the coffee here is bad quality, too dark, too strong — but it’s not true.”

Huong describes the brewing methods on offer — five pour-overs (for a lighter taste) and three immersions — and explains the subtle flavour differences each one can reveal. She clearly knows what she’s talking about and we’re happy to let her make the decisions.

For the next five minutes I’m back in high-school science class. Conical flasks, digital thermometers, clamps, stands, weights and tubes are assembled before us. A gas burner is brought in and Huong and colleague Van Anh get to work.

Absolute Perfection

Their attention to detail is staggering. Van Anh works the syphon like a master chemist approaching alchemy, meticulously adjusting the gas to keep the process running at the optimal rate. Ask for it iced and they’ll actually take a scientific scale and weigh the cubes for a perfect ratio.
As my first taste of ‘real’ coffee, I’m instantly converted. Besides the syphoned Red Bourbon, we also have a Chemex pour of Typica Dalat.

Both are remarkably distinct — one packing fruity notes, the other slightly floral. Everything I normally dislike about coffee is absent; the overly bitter taste, the rasping at the back of the mouth and the mid-afternoon jitters.

“Our coffees are very high quality,” says Huong, “so they have less caffeine. I have to sample every cup I make so I know this is true!”

And with that endorsement, we order another. Eyeing up the list of food offerings, we contemplate staying all day. In the company of Huong and her team, it’s very tempting. — Simon Stanley

The Workshop is at 27 Ngo Duc Ke, D1, Ho Chi Minh City. For more info visit facebook.com/the.workshop.coffee

Published January 2015 – Word Vietnam

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