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Enthusiastic expert meets a team that is keen to learn

Female entrepreneurship

Paula Koelemij is chief buyer at coffee and tea producer Simon Lévelt. In 2018, she flew to Dalat in Vietnam to advise the young entrepreneur Ms Dung on blending, roasting and cupping (tasting and testing) coffee at the family business Ho Phuong. If Paula’s enthusiasm were to fall on fertile ground anywhere, then it was there. Dung is the daughter of the company’s founders. Together with a young team, she is working to expand the family business. “Just two years ago we started roasting coffee, which means we still lack the necessary skills and experience. On top of that, the way the Vietnamese drink coffee is itself very different.

‘Cupping is extremely difficult, because coffee contains around 800 flavours’


The advice needed from Paula was how to improve the skills of my staff and how I can supply even better coffee to my customers.” Paula Koelemij confirmed that coffee represents quite a challenge in Vietnam. “Coffee growing in Vietnam itself is fairly limited. Other coffee-producing countries have a huge variety of coffees, and that is missing here. As a result, we looked into the possibilities of still arriving at a very appealing blend using the Vietnamese coffees available, as well as studying how Ho Phuong could adjust the roasting profile, accordingly.”

The most important element in determining and improving the quality of coffee is the cupping process; the actual tasting of the coffee. Dung commented, “Cupping is extremely difficult, because coffee contains around 800 flavours.” To introduce the flavours to the team, Paula took coffees from all over the world with her. She then organised competitions among the staff as a playful way of teaching them to taste. As Paula explained, “Then you see how enthusiastic people become; and how keen they are to learn.”

‘The greatest effect of all the improvements will be felt outside the factory grounds’

Organic coffee plantation

Paula Koelemij is certainly optimistic about the future: “Ho Phuong offers huge potential, thanks to the motivation and dedication of the staff. Dung is a young woman who is eager to see her business develop. She wants to take the next step in the coffee market, and that was clear in everything she did.” With regards to her plans, Dung explained, “In the future I hope to run an organic coffee plantation with speciality coffees, that we will expand as soon as we have achieved the desired quality. Only then will we be able to increase the volume of organic and specialty coffees produced in Vietnam.”

And who knows, the number of people who can profit from Dung’s enthusiasm may well grow too. Ho Phuong currently employs around 100 people during the four months of the harvest season. For the rest of the year, the factory and showroom are run with a staff of 30. The greatest effect of all the improvements will be felt outside the factory grounds. Ho Phuong purchases its coffee from 3,000 small-scale coffee growers. Both the company staff and the coffee growers will undoubtedly profit from the rising demand and higher prices for organic specialty coffee.

Paula Koelemij: “Why did I become a PUM expert? Well, during my coffee and tea career at Simon Levelt, I have acquired years of fascinating experience. Around 20-22 years in fact, and next year it looks like I am set to retire. But my heart and soul lie in the coffee and tea industry. I cannot bear the thought of not sharing all that knowledge and experience with businesses that need it. I can think of a hundred reasons why I enjoy volunteering for PUM. The most obvious of them are the opportunity to pass on knowledge, to share experience, and to assist businesses that need just that one extra push to help them take the next step in their development.”

Text and photography/film: Opmeer Reports