Meeting Enma the first time in Vietnam Aeropress Championship (VNAC) 2016, I never thought that, some day in the future, this barista would be one of the bravest soldiers in our coffee industry. As a competitor in VNAC 2016, she stood out of the crowd with a lovely face, soft and clear voice and adorable smile, more like a princess than a barista, honestly. 2 years from that moment, Enma showed her mature version on stage of a more professional playground, Vietnam Barista Championship, and made her way to Top 5. What an encouraging result to a soldier who dared to compete with only single origin beans from Vietnam for all drinks!
If you’re surprised by my statement, you get the point. Our community is still struggling to improve everything in order to upgrade not only green beans quality but also processing methods and roasting quality. Somehow, our single origin beans still lack of competitive advantages compared with African and South American coffee. This is the reason why many competitors in VNBC tend to blend Vietnamese coffee with Ethiopian or Colombia beans to ensure decent cups for the Judges. Some others use only foreign beans to increase possibility to win. Once again, Enma stood out of the crowd, this time by her decision, not her appearance. This little soldier rode 1.5 hours to roasting room after work at 10pm everyday to practice and return home for a short rest before starting another hard-working day, during 3 weeks preparing for the competition. To be honest, I’m not sure that I can stand this intense schedule for even 3 days.
Winning the 5th place of VNBC 2018 is an undeniable evidence for her team’s restless effort in persuading all coffee fellows to believe and invest more in our local beans. If you find her story interesting, please have a look at the full interview below, or click here to watch our video. Please kindly accept my apology for weak sounds and lighting. We’ll surely improve next VNBC.
Nestincity (Trang): Hi Enma! Congratulations on your success at Vietnam Barista Championship! I know that you’ve gone too far in this competition and I’m glad that your hard work paid off by this prize!
Enma: Thank you, Trang.
Nestincity (Trang): Can we have a short interview about your performance in VNBC 2018?
Enma: Sure. I would love to do it.
- How do you feel about the result?
I am very happy now. I actually didn’t expect to win this prize. I know there are lots of baristas who are better than me and use better coffee beans than mine for the competition. The result kinda surprised me, to be honest.
- How many times have you competed in VNBC?
Two. This year is my second time.
- What are you proud of the most in your performance?
It’s my presentation skill. When preparing the script, I focused on feelings I wanted to bring to the Judges. I wanted to make a comfortable presentation without too much information but in perfect timing, so that the Judges can enjoy my coffee while I was delivering my message on time they took a sip.
- Did you learn anything from VNBC? Or did you find yourself any weakness to improve?
The most important lesson I learnt from this competition is to take care of every little things. I made a lot of mistakes while practicing. Every time it happened, I easily lost my control and fell into bad mood. My coach told me that “Whatever happens on the stage, keep calm and solve it, with the most professional manner”. For example, if water drops on the table, I need to calmly wipe it and say sorry with a smile. Everybody will feel more comfortable with my attitude then. One more thing I need to improve is patience. There will be a bunch of ideas and conflicts coming up on my mind while practicing. Sometimes I don’t believe in myself anymore. However, I’m glad that my team and friends still encouraged me, which helped to lift me up through the rough time!
- Can you share with me more about the coffee you used in the competition?
For the competition, I used Vietnamese Caturra from Ms. Nham’s farm. This varietal has a huge potential. With proper processing method, it can provide us with higher yield and better flavors. Ms. Nham has a further vision on upgrading green beans quality to a higher level, which inspired me to bring it on stage.
- What is such special about this Caturra that convinced you to introduce at VNBC?
Coffee from Ms. Nham’s farm has typical sweeteness of sugar cane or brown sugar with mellow citrus acidity, apricot and even dark cherry. But the question is whether I can pull those flavors out of the beans into the cup. And after several trials, I did it. I realized that our Vietnamese beans are well-matched with milk, creating a balance cup with creamy body and white chocolate flavor. With my signature drink, I was kinda lack of creativity. It was raspberry juice with brown sugar, cooked with orange peel and a bit of cinnamon. My first experiment was a different style. I let my coach try it and she asked me: “Why do you let me drink this? Do you have any reason for it? If this cup cannot glorify the coffee, at least it must reflect who you are. Do you want to drink this every day?” I kept thinking about her questions and realize that I should create something I like and I can drink. That’s why I decided to use those ingredients.
Honestly, after hearing about those ingredients, I had a feeling that the intense aroma of cinnamon and raspberry possibly overwhelm the coffee flavors.
When I cooked the raspberry juice with orange peel and brown sugar, I just dipped the cinnamon stick into the mix for a few seconds and take it out, just to get only a hint of cinnamon. One more thing is rosemary. I crushed and burnt some rosemary leaves before putting it on mouth of the glass, so that it will have fragrance of rosemary, which perfectly matched with acidity of raspberry.
- Will you compete next year?
- Will you continue with Vietnamese beans or challenge yourself with foreign coffee?
I’ll stick with Vietnamese coffee. I’m not excellent in techniques. neither more knowledgeable than anyone. The only thing that makes my confident to take part in this competition is my gifted voice. I remembered watching a female barista competing in US Barista Championship, and this lady said: “Barista is the voice of producers”. I want to be that voice, but for our local producers here in Vietnam. That’s why I will continue to fight for local coffee.
Thanks for your sharing, Enma.
The interview with Enma left me not only hopes and faith in the coffee community but also a power to change any existing conventional wisdom or stigma towards Vietnamese coffee. This journey is going to be long, but promising and full of potential, I believe.