SEATTLE — Not all coffee is created equal, or with equal enthusiasm.
At Hello Em Việt Coffee & Roastery in Seattle’s Little Saigon neighborhood, customers regularly hear the sounds of music, beans roasting, espresso grinding, and the laughter of co-owner Yenvy Pham.
"I feel like I'm always really wired," she said, laughing.
Pham created the business alongside lifelong friend Nghia Bui, in what felt like a fateful match.
Pham’s family opened Phở Bắc Sup Shop, Seattle’s original pho restaurant. Bui’s extended family works in Vietnam’s coffee industry. Together, Pham describes them as “yin and yang.”
"It's a whirlwind,” Bui said. “It's something every day. It's a lot of fun, actually.”
“He's so patient because I'm like a tornado," Pham added.
The entire staff seems to perform a coordinated dance behind the bar, serving a steady stream of customers. And each egg-cream latte they create helps share their collective story.
"The history of Little Saigon, where we came from, how long we've been here, where we go from here,” Pham said.
Coffee is a clear connection between cultures, and Hello Em’s décor helps customers understand why. A wall of historical information greets people as they walk through the door, with factoids like: “Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world.”
Pham and Bui traveled to Vietnam to meet the farmer whose beans they source — predominantly robusta, the traditional bean of choice in Vietnamese households.
The small business also roasts in-house to make sure the flavor is just right.
"You really, really taste the notes of it. It's like wine,” Pham said. “Once you drink more and more you really get the sweet notes of it and the complexities of a robusta bean, which is very distinctive from any other arabica bean."
The robusta beans also give Vietnamese coffee a bigger punch — they have twice the caffeine as arabica beans.
The classic drink on the menu is simple but delicious: coffee and condensed milk. For a sweeter option, try a latte flavored with things like coconut, pandan, or creme brulee.
Food choices include a twist on the Seattle Dog made with Laughing Cow cheese, and a morning banh mi which includes egg, pate, and pickled Vietnamese carrots.
But the experience doesn’t end with food and drinks. Customers are also welcome to check out the adjoining space run by non-profit Friends of Little Sài Gòn. There's a community library, art gallery, and event/meeting rental space.
"This entire space is called the Little Saigon Creative,” said Operations Director Valerie Tran. "We have everything from our arts and cultural programming… we have our marketplace featuring work by AAPI artists. We offer a Vietnamese language course for people of Vietnamese descent."
It’s all a unique window into Vietnamese culture and this vital neighborhood in Seattle.
"And the coffee makes people happy. It's just such a happy little legal drug,” Pham said, before bursting into laughter.
Hello Em is located at 1227 S. Weller Street and is open daily from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Little Saigon Creative space is open weekdays.
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