VNBC 2019: Mai

Top 3 of Vietnam Barista Championship 2019 is Pham Ngoc Mai – the only finalist works and lives in Hanoi but travelled almost 1,800km to Saigon for competing. When I first met Mai at VNBC Orientation Session, I was impressed immediately by her soft pleasant voice – which I believe a great advantage for good customer service. She was a bit shy but no-doubt friendly, humble and graceful. And I like her name.

Here are a few more things you might be amazed (as I was) about Mai:

  • Mai is a Coffee Instructor for a certified SCA Premier Training Campus in Hanoi (capital of Vietnam)
  • Mai graduated from Vietnam National University of Agriculture but didn’t think of working in coffee industry.
  • With biochemistry background and by curiosity, she joined a project working in coffee farm hosted by a coffee roastery. That’s when she decided to change her career path to coffee forever.

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Since we couldn’t meet each other for an official interview due to geographical distance, please enjoy our Q&A session below to find out how Mai made her way in the competition this year.

  1. Is this year the first time you competed? How do you feel?

This is actually the second year I participated in VNBC, but it’s the first time I made into Semi-final and Final round. I felt more nervous, indeed, but learnt a lot more than before.


  1. Can you tell me more about the coffee that you presented?

The coffee I presented at VNBC this year is from Kochere of Ethiopia, process method is natural Carbonic Maceration by Project Origin. You can find more details about this CM Selections here:

The concept for my presentation is about Fermentation because our team realized that well-controlled process helps reveal more interesting flavors in particular kinds of coffee. We used the Indigo (mean “Purple”) range of CM Selections as its flavor notes are in dark tones such as blueberry, lavender, black cherry, dark plum and grape. It’s uncommon and different in a positive way. We always joke that, Ethiopian coffee is “boring” because most of it is always good with consistent notes of peach, apricot, tropical fruit and coffee blossom. Indigo is more interesting.


  1. Can you tell me more about your team?

Along with other “non-standing” members, there are 3 main supporters in our team 😆

One of them is also the most important one is Jason Loo, my Malaysian handsome coach. He directly coached, mentored and supported me during the competition. He’s very thoughtful and made the best effort to solve all the problems we had, especially the communication between us. To be honest, I was quite shy at first and a bit stubborn, also. Jason is no-doubt talented and I learnt a lot from him.

My colleagues, including Accountant, Designer or even Director always made time to be the pretended judge during my practice time.

Last but not least, my boss – Caden. Despite not being an official member of the team, he gave me a huge support so that I could travel to Saigon for the competition. He even shared and handle some of my job responsibilities.


  1. How long did you prepare for the competition?

The idea of attending this competition came up in my mind a very long time ago but the actual concept was built and preparation started only 2 months before VNBC.


  1. Was there any difficult that you had to overcome during the preparation and competition?

The first difficulty that I faced was searching for ingredients for my signature drink. All of them are my homemade fermentation products so it took a long time and much effort to find quality ingredients, try different recipe, find a way to control the fermentation and proper preservation method.

The second challenge is carrying stuff to Saigon for the competition. Jason and I had to carry 70kg of luggage full of coffee, instruments, accessories and equipment. But thinking of people bringing their stuff to outside of the country for WBC, this does not matter at all.


  1. What are you proud of the most in your presentation?

I think the ingredients for my signature drink is creative and practical, which can be easily made and used in real life.

Everybody said that I looked confident serving drinks to Judges. It was comfortable. I guess it’s because I was taught much about customer service from the very first day working in F&B industry. Even when I had butterflies in my stomach then, my customer service skill went smoothly, though.


  1. What did you think you need to improve more?

I’ll be more confident and improve my English skills next time. I believe that my message will be delivered more effectively with better English and confidence.


  1. Do you have any advice for our barista fellows if they want to compete at VNBC next year?

Before taking part in this competition, I always ask myself what I want to convey throughout my presentation, so that I can build my own concept clearly and make sure I did it from A to Z. And of course, read the regulations carefully and believe in Judges.


Thank you, Mai, for your very candid sharing.

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