One Hanoi café has taken the art of making coffee to another level
Tet Decor has been my favourite coffee spot for a while now. I’m no coffee expert (more of an addict, really), but I knew the coffee was good, worlds above your usual ca phe den da. It turns out that Tet has teamed up with KOK Coffee, and has begun to roast its own beans, sourced directly from farmers in the northern provinces of Son La and Dien Bien Phu.
Pete Wilkes of the TET Lifestyle Collection and Ashley Yang of KOK Coffee invited us to inspect their roasting headquarters, a few doors down from Tet Decor on West Lake. It’s a small studio on the first floor of a villa, filled to the brim with burlap sacks of beans and coffee paraphernalia. When we arrived, Ashley and her husband Andrew were bustling around, preparing for a five-day coffee convention in Seoul.
The couple hail from Taiwan and initially moved to Hanoi so Andrew could work on the Metro project. When the financial crisis hit, he decided to switch gears. He went to the US to earn a certification with the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), and is now the only SCAA-certified roaster in Vietnam. The pair teamed up with Tet in 2012, and decided it was important for them to source organic, fair-trade beans straight from local farmers, in contrast to most Vietnamese coffee’s artificially enhanced brews (which often feature additives like soy beans and duck fat).
The purity of their roast is evident from the start. My first taste was the Heaven blend, Tet’s signature roast. A mix of Vietnam Robusta and Columbian, Sumatran, and Vietnamese Arabica, this blend embodies the team’s passion for coffee. I savoured the nutty, bittersweet chocolate flavours as Ashley delved into their origins.
Andrew has made a habit of visiting their local farmers, staying on their land and teaching them how to improve their methods. This direct partnership has greatly improved the quality of life in these villages.
“My husband came back this Sunday, and he saw that it’s different now,” says Ashley. “Before, they didn’t even have a fan, but now they have air-con, and a TV. Three years ago, he said they served him only rice and vegetables, but this year, he said, they gave him so much meat!”
“For us, it was always about education, hygiene, and warmth for the kids,” adds Pete. “It makes a huge difference, just getting the kids to school. We built a bridge over the river, because that was the biggest reason why the kids didn’t want to go to school; they had to walk through the water. You can see subtle changes, year in, year out, and that’s special.”
With their clients made up mainly of expats who live in the area or businesses that feed expats, says Pete, “the longer you’re here, the more you feel that you want to make a difference. Knowing that you’re drinking coffee that comes directly from farmers and ethnic minorities, affects people in a very positive way.”
The team plans to hold regular workshops to educate coffee enthusiasts about the roasting process and the flavour palette. Coffee beans are heavily influenced by where they are grown, and the atmospheric conditions in which they are dried and processed. This has inspired the brand’s line of international, elemental roasts. Among the varieties, there’s Earth, featuring beans dried naturally in the Ethiopian sun; Thunder, blending Arabica from rainy Son La and Robusta from Buon Me Thuot; and Fire, using beans from volcanic Terrazu in Costa Rica.
We closed the day with a special brew — a limited edition Yemeni roast. Watching Andrew carefully pour hot water from an iron kettle over the grinds, dripping into a glass decanter in front of us, I couldn’t resist another cup. He did this with the care and precision evident in all of his work, never speaking a word: a silent coffee artist at work. — Jesse Meadows
For more info on KOK Coffee, click on facebook.com/kokcoffee.vietnam. Maison de Tet Décor, which sells the various blends, is at 36 Tu Hoa, Nghi Tam Village, Tay Ho, Hanoi