Tour guide spills the beans on Vietnamese coffee making

By Ngan Duong   December 3, 2020 | 05:30 am PT
Amid the Covid-19 storm, a Hanoi tour guide has found a creative way to stay afloat by teaching online Vietnamese coffee making classes.

Le Hoang, 27, has three years' experience working as a tour guide to foreigners. Like many of his colleagues, he has been unemployed since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I was bored at home and I tried to find a new way to pursue my career passion. After doing some online research, I learned about Airbnb's new online experience platform, where tour guides can offer services that bring value to audiences," Hoang said.

"Since I love and often learn about coffee, I decided to create online coffee making classes for foreigners."

With the desire to bring the beauty of Vietnamese landscapes to international audiences and show people that they can make coffee anywhere, Hoang headed out to prepare for his online classes, bringing with him a phone, tripod, noise-canceling microphone, coffee beans, coffee filter (phin in Vietnamese), cup, condensed milk, a small folding chair and a table.

Le Hoang prepares for an online Vietnamese coffee making class. Photo courtersy of Hoang.

Le Hoang prepares for an online Vietnamese coffee making class. Photo courtersy of Hoang.

The tour is streamed in real time with Hoang directly interacting with online participants.

"It is like teaching online but I do it on the street, sharing knowledge about Vietnamese coffee, culture, history... depending on the customer's requirements," he said.

Each class costs about VND240,000 ($10) a head and lasts one hour. For special cases, he would incorporate an additional 30 minutes of sightseeing. Participants can choose the destination they want, or let Hoang pick the location.

In Hanoi, Hoang typically selects spots like the Hoan Kiem (Sword) Lake, the West Lake and the Old Quarter. Occasionally, participants can watch Hoang make coffee in tourism hotspots like Da Nang City and Hoi An ancient town in the central region or Mu Cang Chai District in northern Yen Bai Province.

"Because Vietnamese coffee making takes lots of time, my clients and I have a lot of time to chat. This is also what makes Vietnamese coffee culture special - friends talking while waiting for their coffee to drip down and fill the cup."

"I normally introduce them to local coffee culture, teach them how to brew their own coffee and answer any questions about ingredients, etc.," he added.

Hoang shows guests a corner of Hanois Sword Lake. Photo courtersy of Hoang.

Hoang shows guests a corner of Hanoi's iconic Hoan Kiem Lake. Photo courtersy of Hoang.

After booking a tour, participants need to prepare the necessary items including a filter, coffee, and condensed milk.

"Most guests can make a fairly standard cup of coffee if they use the correct amount of condensed milk and the right filter. Looking at the screen, based on the coffee color, I can see if they brew too little coffee and for the right amount of time, or add too much water," he said.

According to Hoang, 90 percent of his customers have tried Vietnamese coffee before and are curious to know why it is so concentrated.

"The filter is very strange to them, so is the specific type of coffee beans. I often get asked about when I drink coffee, who to drink with, and when to drink."

To date, Hoang has received more than 100 bookings. Initially, he only had individual participants. Gradually, he changed the ad content to attract groups, the larger, the more discounts. He said sometimes there are groups of up to 25 people booking a class.

"It could be that the company uses the class as a relaxation activity before an online meeting, at a birthday party, or an hour of studying for students in the travel industry," he said.

Hoang recalled the most fascinated customers included a couple from South Africa who had to live in two different cities due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

"It was their wedding anniversary so they wanted to learn how to make coffee together. I feel I was a bridge that helped them connect more on their special day."

"Sometimes sitting on the street, security guards thought I was selling water, so they asked me to move, especially at the Hoan Kiem Lake. Since, I asked a friend to tag along and help explain what's going on so I can continue hosting the class," Hoang said.

"Since I can't join tours like before, perhaps my favorite thing about doing online classes is getting praise for Vietnam. It feels great to hear those compliments."

Hoang walks around to show guests the landscape of northern Yen Bai Province. Photo courtesy of Hoang.

Hoang walks around to show guests the landscape of northern Yen Bai Province. Photo courtesy of Hoang.

Hoang's classes on Airbnb have received many positive reviews, currently hitting 4.98 out of 5 stars.

Michael, a tourist, wrote that Hoang spoke English very clearly and it was easy to understand, adding the tour guide not only shared a lot of information about Vietnamese coffee but also local culture and lifestyle. Michael also enjoyed the experience of chatting while making coffee.

Hoang said: "My core value is for participants to explore Vietnam while using coffee as a mean to do so. Instead of coming to Vietnam, they can spend a small fee for an hour to enjoy the scenery and choose a seat at will. I might further expand this concept in future and incorporate more food tours."

"Although hosting online tours is more leisurely and the income great, I do not think it creates as much connection as traditional equivalents. Direct interaction with travelers is still more lively than over the phone."

Hoang's dream is the Covid-19 pandemic will soon be contained so he can lead tours again.

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