Blue Bottle Trying to Develop Artisanal Version of Vietnamese Drip Coffee
Requests from S.F. pho restaurant My Father's Kitchen and other customers got Blue Bottle wholesale trainer Vien Dobui thinking. Why couldn't the Oakland-based micro-roaster develop its own artisanal version of Vietnamese drip coffee? Dobui is now playing around with methods local restaurants could use to adapt Blue Bottle to the tabletop drip-filter method. In Vietnam, screw-down aluminum compression filters pack the coffee into a dense layer through which hot water drips slowly ― the process can take up to 15 minutes. It's then drunk either straight up or diluted with condensed milk, hot or dripped over ice.
Genevieve Y./Yelp Vietnamese screw-down drip filters at My Father's Kitchen.
At the moment, Dobui, who trains Blue Bottle's wholesale customers in proper coffee-making methods, is focusing on technique. "My expertise is in brewing methods," he says. "If I find something that's worthwhile, maybe I'll go back to the roasters and ask for something special, or blend something that works well for Vietnamese coffee. I'm just trying to get the taste right," he says. Dobui, who's Vietnamese American, has been to Vietnam only once, before he had much interest in coffee. He's focusing his current research on Vietnamese coffees in the Bay Area. "So far I haven't found something in the city that's what we're shooting for," Dobui admits. "There's no definite standard yet."
One snag is the ubiquity of condensed milk, an industrial product Blue Bottle hasn't exactly made peace with. "Part of the research is doing tastings with condensed milk," Dobui says. "There's no artisanal condensed milk, at least that we know of. We've been experimenting with making our own, but that's early in the process."
And there's no guarantee Blue Bottle will find a Vietnamese coffee it finds satisfactory. "It's not conclusive it's going to work," Dobui acknowledges. And even if he does find a method, and perhaps even a specialty roast that makes convincing Vietnamese coffee, its application probably won't stray beyond restaurants like My Father's Kitchen. The length of time it take the coffee to finish dripping is an obstacle. "I think in terms of where I'm going, it's going to take 10 to 15 minutes to make, and it has to be made at the table," Dobui says. "Vietnamese culture is one of the few with a long history of drinking coffee, so it just can't taste pretty good," he says.
But since My Father's Kitchen is Blue Bottle's test ground, if it happens anywhere, it'll be there.