Having lived in Vietnam for 15 years and set up companies in the country, Timen Swijtink decided to launch a premium and high-quality coffee brand – Lacàph—which is all about Vietnam. In an interview with The Saigon Times, the Dutchman said he established Lacàph to create more value for the country and improve Vietnamese farmers’ lives.
The Saigon Times: Why did you decide to stay in Vietnam for 15 years?
Timen Swijtink: It has been such an honor to live here for so long and see the city and the country develop over 15 years. When I first arrived in 2007, the GDP of Vietnam was only one-third of what it is today. So, imagine the amazing growth.
It makes me happy to work toward that and improve my life and the lives of all my colleagues here at Lacàph every day.
When I arrived in 2007, the country was already full of possibilities. You can come here and grow something new out of nothing. That excitement has not faded. Vietnam today is still a country that is ripe for development and growth.
Tell us about Lacàph.
I have been working at Lacàph for approximately three years now. We opened right before the pandemic and are happy to still be here and make wonderful Vietnamese coffee for the world and everybody in Vietnam.
I have been here for 15 years. I founded and co-founded different companies over the years. What I realized was that although those companies were good, they were not about Vietnam. I live in Vietnam because of the beautiful geography, culture, and people. That is what attracts me to live here even today.
I realized that although the companies were doing well, whatever I did next would have to be about Vietnam. I wanted to create a product and a company that was about Vietnam so that I could share my love for Vietnam with people around the world.
That is why after looking at different options, I decided coffee was an interesting type of business because Vietnam is one of the very few countries in the world that not only grows its own coffee but also has a really unique coffee culture.
My company is about marrying the product of coffee with the culture of Vietnam so that we can share that with people worldwide to excite them and make them want to visit Vietnam in the future.
Why did you put the Vietnam tone mark in your company name?
Some people, especially Europeans, think that Lacàph is a French name. But it is not. It actually comes from Vietnamese. We are a Vietnamese coffee company and our name should be connected with the Vietnamese language.
It comes from “la cà”: freedom, fun with friends, hanging out and exploring with no boundaries. “Cà phê” is the Vietnamese word for coffee. So we made a compound word. No boundaries and no limitations; just enjoy with your friends and enjoy coffee.
You must have profound knowledge of Vietnamese coffee to share it with foreigners.
In all honesty, when I started this company three years ago, I did not know much about coffee or Vietnamese coffee. I learned a lot over the last couple of years. We have people working at Lacàph that are extremely knowledgeable about coffee. So I am very happy to be working with them.
But what I find interesting about Vietnam and Vietnamese coffee is that we have a very unique way of brewing coffee here that is unlike in any other country.
At Lacàph, we have a really interesting phin brewer. It looks a lot like a traditional phin brewer, but is made from stainless steel. It looks original, but it actually has a microfilter inside, which helps filter out all the small particles of coffee. It produces a really nice, clean coffee.
We use the traditional brew method with modern technology to make a new style of phin brewing that people really love not only in Vietnam but also around the world.
Do you agree that coffee is the spirit of Vietnam?
When you look at coffee and the history of Vietnam, or at least the modern history of Vietnam, coffee arrived in Vietnam in about the early 1840s or 1850s. It has been part of Vietnamese history ever since. In fact, here at Lacàph, we use coffee to tell a story about Vietnam, its history, culture, current situation and the future.
What draws you to Vietnam?
I arrived here 15 years ago, and the energy that Vietnam had 15 years ago has still not faded. Vietnam is still a country that has a lot of energy and potential. Working here, working with Vietnamese people, has been a wonderful experience. They are really trying to create something new from zero that has been fun and rewarding. That energy keeps me here. The idea is that we can do something exciting and new.
We are trying to create a coffee brand that uses only Vietnamese coffee beans at the highest level so that we can serve these beans to the top five-star hotels in Vietnam and outside.
How did you make a name for your company in this competitive market?
Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world. But unfortunately, most of what Vietnam produces is exported to other countries in green bean form, meaning coffee still needs to be roasted.
One of the things that we want to focus on is producing a brand that is premium and high quality, and trusted around the world. When we produce coffee here—grow the coffee, roast the coffee, package the coffee in Vietnam—we can produce and generate more value for the country and keep that premium value here in Vietnam.
When we actually make a finished product rather than export the green beans, we can capture more value for Vietnam. From that value, we can pay our employees better, pay farmers better and we can improve the economy further. One of the fundamental goals of our company is to export branded coffee products rather than tons of green beans.
How can customers contact you?
One of the ways that people can get in touch with us is through our website: lacaph.com. People can also enjoy and experience our coffee guides. They can sign up for activities at the coffee shop and also visit us on Instagram at “lacaph.coffee”.
What are your future plans?
The idea is really ambitious. We hope to become the number one premium Vietnamese coffee brand globally by the year 2029 or the end of the year 2029, before the year 2030. Our goal is to become a coffee brand that is exported worldwide and enjoyed in premium grocery stores in the U.S., Europe, and, of course, all of Asia Pacific.
We want to make a coffee that Vietnamese people can be extremely proud of. It should be enjoyed by people in Vietnam and worldwide and bring more knowledge about Vietnamese products and culture to people worldwide.
Reported by The Ky