Posted in Kafevend Blog
“For me, coffee is a treasure, coffee is the heritage of mankind; it's the solution for the future and I don't think that's an exaggeration,” so says Dang Le Nguyên Vu, more commonly known as Chairman Vu, Vietnam's coffee king...
Vu started adult life as a medical student, but by his third year his thoughts had turned to coffee. This abrupt change of direction has made him a rich man. Vu's fleet of cars includes 5 Bentleys and 10 Ferraris, though he declared himself fonder of flying on the BBC's recent 'Coffee Trail' documentary, and is intent on purchasing a helicopter!
Vu was still at school in 1986, when Vietnam's communist government came to the conclusion that central economic planning and huge collective coffee farms weren't producing the results they had hoped for. The economy moved towards 'market-oriented socialism' and Vu embraced the inherent opportunities when he made his move into the coffee business.
Vu points out that only a small part of the profit made by Vietnam's coffee industry actually benefits the country itself, with the bulk of it lining the coffers of the multinationals who have huge processing plants situated there. He therefore emphasizes the economic advantage of taking responsibility for roasting, processing and exporting coffee, rather than merely growing it.
Buon Ma Thuot, the major city of the nation's Central Highlands, is where Vu set up his first small coffee processing business. On its site there now stands his shrine to coffee, a multi-million pound coffee village that includes statues of the individuals that he considers to have most changed the world. Changing the world is very much part of his own game plan. His fifth processing factory is now up and running in order to cater for his rapidly expanding exports of instant coffee to the likes of Korea and China. His company, Trung Nguyên, has also built up a chain of cafés.
The second part of Vu's vision is to focus on producing gourmet coffee with a pedigree firmly attached to Vietnam, rather than just the anonymous instant coffee that has become its mainstay. This is actually a return to coffee's roots in Vietnam. When first introduced by French colonists, the aim was indeed to produce high quality coffee in the optimum growing conditions of the Central Highlands. Vu however is at pains to work in partnership with local farmers to improve their lives and aspirations as much as his own. With Trung Nguyên coffee products currently available in some sixty countries, his goal to bring Vietnamese coffee to the whole world is certainly well under way.