Coffee culture

April 16, 2007

Palm Beach Post-Cox News Service

Thursday, April 05, 2007

“Do you want a coffee?” asked Alessandro, cocking his head in the direction of a stand-up coffee counter facing the street, where two baristas in black bow ties stood by watching a World Cup match on a wall-mounted TV.

We were in Venice, Italy, having just spent the past half-hour standing on cobblestones and screaming into cellphones as I canceled our overnight train to France and my friend Alessandro booked us a flight.


I was feeling overwhelmed by the frustration, the heat, the pigeon droppings, the beelining tourists, the remnants of black cuttlefish risotto in my stomach.

“Let’s get a coffee,” he persisted, leading me to the counter and ordering “due ristretti” — two short pulls of espresso so concentrated that the foamy crema on top of the cup overwhelmed the puddle of pitch below. We stirred in a little sugar and tipped the shots back.

Ah, those next few seconds. It was a moment I had grown fanatical about. Addicted to. Not just the shot of drug to the head, but also the temperature (never hot enough to burn), the viscosity (it sits on the tongue like cough syrup), the bitterness (you flinch at first, then as you relax new flavors rush forth). This moment in time, this alone, is the essence of coffee.

In my 20s, I returned from trips to Europe smoking a pack a day. In my 30s, I wanted a flask of wine with every lunch. Now, in my 40s, it’s a four-demitasse-a-day habit.

Great. The problem is that all the espresso on this side of the Atlantic rhymes with “ducks.”

Have you tried looking for good espresso here? In a fancy restaurant? You’ll get a lovely porcelain demitasse cup holding a brew so watery it can’t support a decent head of crema. At Starbucks? The espresso is so punishingly bitter I’d rather have cough syrup. At another coffee shop? Great, tell me where, because I’ve tried them all.

Coffee culture has changed markedly in this country over the past 20 years, mostly for the better. The Specialty Coffee Association of America estimates that we drank more than $11 billion worth of high-end, “gourmet” coffee in 2005 from cafes, boutique roasters, kiosks and carts. That is more than half of the estimated $19 billion U.S. coffee market.

In the process, we’ve developed quite the attitude. For starters, we’ve learned to look for 100 percent arabica coffee. Arabica coffee is the kind with the nuance, the character, the length on the palate. Coffee shops use it. Dunkin’ Donuts uses it. Even McDonald’s rolled out its Premium blend “made only with 100 percent arabica beans roasted to perfection.”

We vaguely know that the dark, easy, flat-tasting coffee that we can drink by the bucket in a diner is made with a blend of arabica and cheaper robusta beans. The 2-pound tins of pre-ground Folgers that our parents still buy is a blend of arabica and robusta, its flavor commensurate with its lower price. Robusta coffee has a soft, broad flavor that some people find muddy or musty. (Vietnamese iced coffee has a strong robusta flavor.)

So we prefer arabica to robusta. What else?

Well, thanks to coffee shops like Starbucks, we’ve also learned to love the charming ritual of the espresso machine. The hiss. The smell. The customization of each beverage, beans to cup, just for you.

We love the coffee drink as an indulgence. Three dollars. Sixteen ounces. Thirty minutes of peace. Foam on our lips. Yum.

This coffee interlude bears no resemblance to knocking back a quick ristretto at an Italian coffee bar. That’s the problem.

The espresso brewed in America gets away with being so sharp because its sole function is to give backbone to a leisurely cup of sweetened, super-hot foamed milk.

Still, we use Italian machines. We use Italian coffee. Why does the espresso invariably come out so bitter?

There are at least two reasons. Many machines aren’t set to a high enough pressure as they force steam through the coffee grounds. Steam is inversely proportionate to temperature, so the water gets too hot and overextracts the grounds.

The other reason lies in our aversion to using robusta coffee. The typical Italian coffee shop may not make a big deal about sourcing Kenya AA or Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee. No, they use a blend, which always includes a small amount of robusta.

This unsophisticated bean not only provides a sturdy platform for the more complex flavors of arabica coffee, it helps build the luscious head of crema that in itself tames the bitter edge.

I once brought up this issue with food writer Corby Kummer, who has written extensively about coffee. He agreed that educating Americans about the value of robusta coffee was the most important step toward getting better espresso here. I asked him if it was like the way bordeaux producers blend grapes.

“I hate it when people use a wine analogy for coffee,” Kummer snorted, thereby ending the conversation.

Maybe the better analogy is music. When I stream a song from my laptop to my family room speakers, it sounds good. When I stream the song and also activate the speakers on the laptop, then the music resonates with a fullness I hadn’t heard before.

It is that quadraphonic fullness that makes the few seconds you spend with a cup of espresso such a welcome moment in time. It is a drink that flirts with every possible unpleasantness and yet manages to fill your palate with a cascading harmony of flavors. Let me repeat, this is coffee.

Sunday, May. 01, 2005

Vietnam’s relentless modernization means there are increasingly fewer opportunities to step back into the country’s past. But the splendid Café Tung is an exception. With its retro skai-covered sofas and Jacques Brel posters, it looks more like a 1960s Parisian cellar than a coffee shop in the present-day Central Highlands town of Dalat. Not that there are any complaints from the clientele, who comprise a fair slice of Dalat’s artists and intellectuals (the town is Vietnam’s pre-eminent bohemian enclave).

From early morning, they gather to read the papers and suck down potent glasses of ca phe sua da — espresso served over ice and sweetened with condensed milk — while listening to music coming out of antiquated speakers (it might be by the Ronettes, the Rolling Stones or Khan Ly, Vietnam’s most celebrated diva and a Café Tung regular in the 1960s). “I’m keeping it this way because it has worked for nearly 50 years,” says proprietor Tung Dinh Tran, who opened the café in 1959 but has now handed over the management of it to his son. With a bit of luck, it will work for the next 50, too. tel: (84-63) 821 390

Associated Press
Jan. 29, 2007 01:05 PM

TUKWILA, Wash. – Coffee-stand owner John Cambroto couldn’t compete against the beautiful bikini-clad women selling espresso up the road.

“We had a much better atmosphere, good coffee. Unfortunately, they ran around half-naked and we didn’t,” said Cambroto, who finally threw in the towel last spring and sold his business to his rival, the operator of six Cowgirls Espresso stands in the Seattle suburbs.

The naughty baristas of Cowgirls Espresso represent a new trend in and around Seattle – perhaps the most caffeinated city in America – and illustrate how cutthroat the competition can be in the hometown of Starbucks, which has multiple coffee shops competing on the same block.


Among the other coffee stands that are showing some skin: Moka Girls in Auburn, The Sweet Spot Cafe in Shoreline, Bikini Espresso in Renton and Natte Latte in Port Orchard.

One recent afternoon, there was a long line of cars at the tiny, black-and-white, cow-painted Cowgirls stand in front of a Tukwila casino.

Candice Law, leaning provocatively out the drive-through window in a black bra that didn’t quite cover her shiny purple pasties, and Toni Morgan, wearing a skimpy halter top, see-through red lace panties and chaps, seemed to know every customer.

Most of the customers declined to give their names or be interviewed – “Nobody wants to admit to their wives that they’re here,” Law said. One who did, a 25-year-old diesel mechanic named Mike West, said he comes every day for the coffee.

“I could care less what they wear,” he said.

Lori Bowden, the owner of Cowgirls Espresso, opened her first stand, by the entrance to the Silver Dollar Casino, four years ago. Law and other employees suggested doing “Bikini Wednesdays.” Bowden approved, and her stand immediately doubled the amount of money it was taking in – from $200 to $400 – on Wednesdays.

“Fantasy Fridays,” “School Girl Thursdays,” “Cowgirl Tuesdays” and “Military Mondays” soon followed. The stand now rakes in about $800 a day, Bowden said. The girls make minimum wage, plus $80 to $150 a day in tips.

Steve McDaniel, chief operating officer at the casino, saw the line of vehicles and knew there was money to be made. He opened Moka Girls last summer. Like Cowgirls, it features theme days and racy lingerie.

“Most guys like to see pretty girls when they get their mochas,” said Sarah Araujo, who opened The Sweet Spot two years ago. “We just figured we’d be honest about it.”

As long as the employees’ breasts and buttocks are covered, they aren’t breaking the law. And the owners of the stands say they get few complaints.

Bowden said the baristas at one Cowgirls stand stopped signing the paper coffee cups “XOXO” after the wife of one customer complained, but that’s been about it.

On the Net:

Coffee shops wikipedia

April 14, 2007

Little Saigon has seen a surge in coffee shops “Quan Ca-Fe” which are the equivalent to American bars where Vietnamese men go to spend time with male friends and drink coffee. In order to attract customers, shops employ scantily clad women who in true LA-style surgically enhance their appearance to appeal to the male customers. With such a proliferation in coffee shops, the City of Westminster has limited the number of new coffee shop business licenses.

t. There are approximately 200 hundred restaurants in the area of Little Saigon and spilling over to Garden Grove, Fountain Valley, Santa Ana and Huntington Beach. In addition, there are quite a number of Vietnamese supermarkets, small Vietnamese delis and bakeries in Little Saigon specializing in French-style coffee and baguette sandwiches – indeed, a legacy of Vietnam’s turbulent colonial past

Coffe Shops Bolsa

April 14, 2007

These days when you drive down on Bolsa in Orange county you see men and women walking out of coffee shops. SMoking, gambling, Karoke, and probably has intentions of cheating on their spouse.  You see the coffee shops in Orange county is like a bar. More like a coffee bar   Asian teenagers after high school break into partys and going clubbing, having babies at a year age.  What troubles me is to see at seventeen year old girl working at  a coffee shop wearing a tube top and trying to still fit in with a group, while she has a baby at home.  My family doesn’t really how wealthy they are.  Always talk of winning the lottery and buying a million dollar house.  They just refinciance the house and added new lawn to the front yard.  Paint the house fix the windows and backyard.  They now can afford satelite vietnames channel.  My mom has a car, my older sisters have their own car and linda shares a car with my dad.  Yet my mother is miserable. I pray for their souls because their needy.  Not only for family but salvation.  They’re not hungry for truth beecause they rather fill their emptiness with food, fights, grand kids, gambling, chinese/korean series in dubbed, and the vietnamese channel on satellite.

Seats fill for films

April 12, 2007

A celebration of Vietnamese moviemaking is turning three, and organizers expect its biggest audiences yet.

Seats fill for films

Seats fill for films
ALL IN THE DELIVERY: Johnny Nguyen delivers a punishing kick to a villain in “The Rebel,” which makes its world premiere Thursday in Irvine at the third Vietnamese International Film Festival.

“THE REBEL”: Johnny Nguyen, left, and Ngo Thanh Van star in the movie, the third feature film from Buena Park resident Charlie Nguyen. The movie was a special accomplishment for Nguyen because of the troubles the cast and crew endured in Vietnam, he said.

Seats fill for films
READY FOR THE CROWDS: Actors Johnny Tri Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Van, movie director Charlie Nguyen and film festival co-director Ysa Le, from left. ANDY TEMPLETON, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

The Orange County Register

One of Charlie Nguyen’s big dreams is coming true this week.

The Buena Park resident’s feature film “The Rebel” is making its world premiere Thursday at the Vietnamese International Film Festival. It’s Nguyen’s third movie, and it’s also the third incarnation of the biennial film fest. By all accounts, the festival is getting larger and more influential each year.

The third Vietnamese International Film Festival, called “ViFF” by organizers and participants, runs Thursday through Sunday and April 19-22. Most films screen at UC Irvine’s Film and Video Center, with the opening movie at Edwards University in Irvine.

What started as a joint project between two area Vietnamese-American nonprofit organizations has become one of the nation’s largest gatherings for Vietnamese cinema and a launching pad for aspiring filmmakers.

“ViFF has always been our supporter from the very beginning,” said Nguyen, 39, who grew up in Orange County and graduated from Garden Grove High School.

“To make ‘The Rebel,’ we needed a lot of support from peers and friends, and ViFF was the portal through which all of our support came from. It’s sort of like a cradle for Vietnamese filmmakers in the community.”

The Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association and the VietNamese Language and Culture organization at UCLA started the film festival in October 2003 by showing previously released films. It has grown into a popular gathering for the local Vietnamese community, with 51 films, social events and new movies making world and national premieres. About 5,000 attendees are anticipated this year.

“This is the biggest ever,” said Ysa Le, festival co-director. “There definitely has been growth. We see a younger generation of filmmakers with energy and new work. It’s a very diverse group.”

Opening picture “The Rebel” is a rare Vietnamese action and martial arts drama set in the 1920s. The film, in Vietnamese with English subtitles, was shot in Vietnam last year and stars Johnny Nguyen (Charlie’s younger brother), Ngo Thanh Van and Dustin Nguyen (no relation), whose first breakout role was in television’s “21 Jump Street.”

“I have been wanting to work in Vietnam,” said Dustin Nguyen, who plays the villain Sy – his first turn as an antagonist and his first acting job in Vietnamese. “It’s extremely important there are festivals to promote and encourage Vietnamese-American artists to make films. Otherwise, there’s really not an outlet to learn or see films.”

“The Rebel’s” cast and crew shot for 80 days in Vietnam, whose film industry is still playing catch-up with Hollywood’s and Hong Kong’s. They had to deal with a number of obstacles, including crew members who got sick, actors who got hurt and cultural police officers who monitored every move.

“We overcame a lot of difficulties,” Charlie Nguyen said. “There were tons of disasters and obstacles. It was a labor of love for a lot of people. So it’s something that we all feel very proud of.”

Other new films that have been attracting buzz include “Dust of Life,” “The White Silk Dress” and “Journey From the Fall,” a saga about re-education camps and refugees that had a national release last month.

“We’ve seen the success of ‘Journey from the Fall’ in the theaters,” Le said. “Vietnamese cinema is getting attention. Other films will follow and get the spotlight as well.”

And the filmmakers attending this festival are ready for their chance to shine.

Contact the writer: 714-796-6026 or

16:56′ 09/04/2007 (GMT+7)
VietNamNet Bridge – The US$1.5 million sale of Vietnamese movie The Rebels to a foreign distributor suggests to some the possibility that many more high-quality, made-in-Vietnam films can be sold abroad.

Screened for free

Soạn: HA 1079054 gi đến 996 để nhn ảnh này
One piece of good news is the sale of Chanh Phuong Film’s million-dollar movie Heroic Blood to the American distributor, Weisteins Co.

For years, many Vietnamese films such as Chi Tu Hau (Ms. Tu Hau), Canh dong hoang (Wild Field), Bao gio cho den thang 10 (When Will October Come), and Thung lung hoang vang (Deserted Valley) have been screened at international film festivals, film fairs, and during Vietnamese film weeks and cultural days abroad, receiving international attention and support. Yet, they have only been screened for free.

In recent years, several films with foreign investment like Me Thao thoi vang bong (Glorious Time in Me Thao Hamlet) have improved technically. For instance, thanks to director Viet Linh’s efforts, Glorious Time in Me Thao Hamlet was screened in several small private theatres in France. But ticket sales were insignificant.

For the past 5 years, due to import relationships with foreign film distributors, Vietnam Media Corporation has regularly sent Vietnamese films to international film festivals and fairs. The company has sold several products of TFS, VTV, and Giai Phong Film such as Vu khuc con co (Stork’s Dance), 39 do yeu (39 Degrees of Love) and Gai nhay (Dancing Girls). But as a representative of Vietnam Media Corp said, “loss has been bigger than profit.”

Technical problems

Though the themes of Vietnamese films are interesting to foreign audiences, it’s difficult to sell them abroad for many reasons, one of which is low technical quality.

It costs at least $25,000 to make a film metre that meets international technical standards. Yet, the highest production cost of a Vietnamese film produced by a state-owned company has only been VND2 billion ($125,000) so far. With low investment in technical quality, Vietnamese films abound in light, sound and image errors.

Most of the few movies successfully sold to foreign distributors had to be re-produced. Last year, Thien Ngan Film sold Dancing Girls to Sony, which had to re-do the movie’s sound and other technical parts.

A good omen

One piece of good news is the sale of Chanh Phuong Film’s million-dollar movie The Rebels to the American distributor, Weisteins Co.

To open the door to Hollywood, The Rebels’ makers including directors, producers and scriptwriters, who are all Vietnamese Americans, had to research how to make a Hollywood-style product. And they reached a final decision: an interesting script about Vietnamese martial arts, known actors such as Dustin Nguyen who starred in award-winning movie Con ca nho (Small Fish) and minimising avoidable errors like inappropriate costumes.

Thanks to a good marketing campaign, The Rebels is one of the 2 Vietnamese movies ever to have a trailer and poster on the American website And on April 14, 2007, the film will be screened on the opening day of the International Vietnam Film Festival in California, the US, before being widely introduced in Vietnam and throughout the world.

With only 50 major theatre complexes concentrated in urban areas to serve a population of over 80 million, the domestic market for Vietnamese films isn’t big. Thus, many producers don’t expect to cover production costs by distributing their products in Vietnam.

A representative of Vietnam Media Corp said, “The goal of exporting films is an incentive for Vietnamese producers to invest more in their films.” Most of the films which have been produced in 2007 received unusually high investment. For instance, Phuoc Sang Film has spent more than US $1 million on modern production equipment, and new studios like Anh Viet Green Post that meet world technical standards are being built.

(Source: SGGP)