Welcome to Sprudge Maps Spotlight, a brand new series here on your favorite coffee news and culture website whereby we take a deeper look at cafes and roasteries around the globe using Sprudge Maps as our guide!
Longtime Sprudge readers may have noticed the absence of our annual Build-Outs of Summer series this year. We really miss it, but sadly, thanks to COVID-19, the annual global rite of new cafe construction in the hotter months has slowed to a near standstill. Yes, there will still be new cafes that open this year, and you can be darn sure that Sprudge is going to write about them, but along the way we'll be highlighting some of our favorite shops around the world on Sprudge Maps.
And we're kicking things off with a familiar name, Sprudge Twenty alumnus Will Frith and building.coffee in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Frith, along with partner Kel Norman and The Workshop‘s Dūng Nguyen, Anh Do, and Truong Minh Luong opened building.coffee last July as a co-roasting space to serve the exploding specialty coffee scene in Ho Chi Minh City. Now, a little over a year later, building.coffee boasts a coworking space, community hub, training center, coffee consulting, and a roasting company of their very own. To learn more, we spoke with Frith electronically from Ho Chi Minh City.
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The building team from left to right: Will Frith, Kel Norman, Anh Do, Truong Luong
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity
Introduce yourself to our readers—tell us about your cafe!
Hi, I'm Will Frith. I've worked in coffee for 15ish years, doing all kinds of jobs and leaving each of them on very good terms (an important thing for me). My coffee career has taken me all over the place, and thanks to that I've lived in great places: Galveston, TX; Olympia, WA; Portland, OR; Singapore; Dalat and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.
building.coffee isn't a cafe, but we do make yummy coffee beverages all the time (mostly for ourselves). We're a coroasting/coworking space, consultancy, community hub, training center, and roasting company.
What equipment do you use in your lab?
Modbar EP, Steam (v1), Pour-Over.
La Marzocco Linea Mini
A could of Mahlkönig EK43s
Marco T30 Ecoboiler
All kinds of little stuff: refractometers, color meters, moisture meters, brewing toys, kettles, etc.
Which roaster or roasters do you serve?
We roast our own on a few different machines (Giesen a6W, Stronghold S7 Pro, VNT5, Otesla 1kg). Our coroasting clients and coffee community love to share their coffee with us, so we've usually got quite the variety.
What is the neighborhood like where you're located? What's some other cool stuff nearby?
Our very mellow neighborhood is mostly residential, with a mix of villas, small apartment buildings, a college dorm, and landed houses. Mostly middle class Saigonese, with a few expats sprinkled around. building's building is in a villa compound containing a lush tropical landscape, lotus pond, swimming pool, and a pyramid! There are tons of plants and trees everywhere that keep things from feeling too “built up.”
Did you close during a mandated Coronavirus shut-down, and if so, for how long?
We didn't ever close completely, as we never had a public-facing service component, and many of our clients continued to use our facilities to roast. We were in super-diligent, very limited mode for about two months and have since relaxed restrictions a bit, allowing more than a couple of people at a time in the roasting space and most lab activities have resumed.
How has Coronavirus impacted daily work at your cafe?
Cuppings, once a foundation of our lab work, have morphed into tastings. We've tried the SCA updated protocol, but it's too easy for one mistake to contaminate the entire thing, and many people are just too habit-based to change the way they cup. So, we've moved to using french presses without the filter screen/plunger, just as a big cupping “bowl” with pouring spout. We give cuppers their own cupping bowl and carefully pour samples into those. Folx can sip from the bowl or use a spoon if they like making slurpy sounds.
Is there a community organization or charity you'd like to shout-out as part of this feature?
Regionally, wildlife conservation organizations have been forming and growing a lot, with Save Vietnam's Wildlife being the one that has my attention lately.
All photos courtesy of building.coffee, used with permission