Episode 69: Asian Women Founded Coffee & Tea Movements
In a beverage themed episode of Women in Asian Food, we sat down with two badass founders: Sahra Nguyen of Nguyen Coffee Supply and Ranmu Xue of Us Two Tea. Not only have they built their own brands, run their own businesses, they’ve also personally sourced their products from farms in Asia, and are growing their respective movements to change the perception of Vietnamese coffee and Chinese tea drinking culture here in the States.
These culture-savvy ladies knew the time was ripe to add Chinese tea and Vietnamese coffee into the New York beverage dictionary given the growing buzz around the contemporary Asian restaurant scene. Having both come from creative careers, the import export industry was new for them. But, they had a clear vision for their brands, and were on a mission to change the dialogue around coffee and tea from Asia. Not having built a supply chain before didn’t affect their decision to go for it.
Despite tea being the most consumed beverage in the world (not counting water), Ranmu noticed that her American peers didn’t know what to do with loose leaf tea or even where to begin with finding quality Chinese teas. She wants her tea brand to speak to people in a way that coffee connects people here. People always invite their friends and coworkers to conversations over coffee, why not tea? Us Two Tea targets millennials on the go who value accessibility and quality. Often described as "The Champagne of Tea," Ranmu sources Taiwanese teas that are carefully cultivated by hand using centuries-old traditions. She calls out people for having a bias that “made in China” means cheap.
With Nguyen Coffee Supply, Sahra is not only introducing drinkers to the many ways to consume Vietnamese coffee beyond ca phe sua (dark roast + condensed milk), but is also elevating communities in Vietnam through awareness of creating better systems of coffee production. A little known fact is that Vietnam is the number 2 producer of coffee beans in the world. Perhaps, that knowledge gets buried by the cycle of poverty that corporations have set up to shortchange Vietnamese farmers, leading them to cut or dilute their product with additives. Sahra’s trying to bring to the forefront the long tradition of high-quality coffee-growing in the highland regions of Da Lat and Buon Ma Thuot.
As sustainability and cause-marketing become more dominating influences for the millennial consumer, it matters that these founders have gone to the source of their products to learn from and partner with local farmers in Vietnam and Taiwan. Both Ranmu and Sahra express how they fell in love with the passion their farmers have for growing the best product, using organic farming practices, and awe struck by their unwavering dedication to farming 24/7 in the mountains. Ranmu and Sahra are now entrusted to carry that passion to the rest of the world via their brands.
It certainly hasn’t been easy and both brands are still fresh to the market. Sahra and Ranmu chat about scenarios like what happens when your shipment is delayed and caught in customs. How to deal with your feelings as an independent founder when your business request gets rejected. How to plan out channels of distribution for the first time. Hear how the business-minded ladies approached each challenge like a puzzle. And don’t miss the empowering message these Asian women founders share with their sense of duty reppin’ Asian products that are turning into cultural movements.