By Calvin Godfrey, Thanh Nien News
Tran Nhat Quang drives his black 4×4 slowly past small farms and derelict French villas on the outskirts of Da Lat — Vietnam’s “Petit Paris.”
He breaks, suddenly, and points out a rangy Bourbon-Arabica shrub in someone’s front yard.
“The best coffee in Vietnam is here,” he cries with a wag of his long index finger. “Just go out there and find it.”
Quang started his day at the crack of dawn, dodging backhoes and mud-spattered motorcycles on the sluice-like drive to his farm in a remote rural district of Lam Dong Province called Me Linh.
The creative destruction of the once passable road has dragged so long, Quang has been forced to rent a warehouse space in Da Lat to house his massive roaster and other coffee processing equipment.
“The transportation costs are killing me,” he cries, as though he’s happy to die.
Before making it to the farm, we stopped in Da Lat briefly, for a cappuccino at the Bicycle Cafe.
A local architect and his wife filled the colorful, rambling space with pretty old things: Edison bulbs, a bathtub full of plants and an old metal hospital bed loaded with pillows.
Perhaps the most intriguing antique in the cafe are Quang’s beans, which have been individually salvaged from colonial-era Arabica shrubs.
When Quang hears about someone who has yet to cut down a Bourbon, Typica, or Moka (all arabica varietals brought to Indochina by French colonists more than 100 years ago), he tries to track down the grower, mark off the tree and offer free organic pesticides for use until harvest.
If all goes according to plan, Quang offers way above market price for the best of the crop.
“Last year, the market price for one kilo of ripe cherries was VND6,000 (28 US cents),” he says. “To farmers growing Bourbon-arabica, I offered VND12,0000 per kilo.”