Coffee. It's the way a lot of folks start their day. And Vietnamese coffee, well, it packs a flavorful punch.
"In Vietnam, we like our coffee strong and bold and sweet," explained Chen Dien, co-owner of Coffeeholic House.
At Coffeeholic House, Dien and his wife, Trang, are bringing a taste of Vietnamese coffee culture to Columbia City. It's something they missed after moving from Vietnam to Seattle back in 2013.
"We felt like we were struggling to find the right cup of coffee. After a long time looking for the right coffee place we decided there was nothing in Seattle like what we had in Vietnam before. So, we decided to put our passion for coffee into the journey of opening our first business," said Dien.
One of the things that sets Vietnamese coffee apart is the beans themselves, Robusta, as opposed to the Arabica beans typically used for more coffee and espresso drinks in the States.
"People think [Robusta] is just cheap coffee. It's something you use for instant coffee, $2-$3 collars a cup," said Dien. "But for us we want to take that to a specialty level, showcase the coffee culture we grew up with and redefine that 'oh, it's not cheap. It's something we value. It's a big part of our heart, our family and also the whole country."
Coffeeholic House sources it's beans directly from Vietnam (the country is the world's second largest coffee exporter) and roasts them in-house in small batches. Those beans provide the base for all manner of creative, and Instagram-worthy, coffee creations.
"I think it just blows people's minds because when they walk in, they don't see a lot of americanos, lattes or cappuccinos. They see four menu boards with a lot of options they've never seen before. And all the add-ons like ube drizzle and cheese foam. They're like 'cheese foam on coffee?' Then they try it and it just blows their mind," said Dien.
One of the staples at Coffeeholic House is traditional Vietnamese coffee made with Phin drip coffee and condensed milk for a serious caffeine kick. The best seller is the aptly named Coffeeholic Dream, a mix of Vietnamese coffee, condensed milk and hazelnut syrup topped with, yes, a layer of cheese foam.
"[The cheese foam] is kind of salted, so it's a little bit weird, but when they take the first sip and the coffee goes through the foam it's just perfectly blended together. It's like a dessert in a cup, but it's strong and bold," explained Dien with a smile.
While the colorful drinks may draw people in, Dien hopes they'll also inspire guests to enjoy coffee as they do in Vietnam.
"Coffee shops in Vietnam don't close at 3 pm or 5 pm. They're open until 10 pm," said Dien. "It's not just a place for you to get caffeine or check-in and out. It's a place for you to sit around and slow down for a moment. Talk to your friends, talk to your loved ones or just meet up with somebody. It brings the community together through a cup of coffee."
At Coffeeholic House, each of those cups is another chance to share Vietnamese coffee culture with Seattle.
"It really tells the story of our background. How we're immigrants, bringing all the good stuff in Vietnamese food culture to the world and putting it in a cup of coffee."