Karmic Circle Coffee offers a taste of Vietnam in every cup. Cofounders Rae Tran and Daniel Woodman have spent the last two years bringing this unique sipping experience to the United States market, waging the battle to deliver a superior cup of joe.
“It started with a spontaneous visit to a coffee shop in town that was carrying a single origin Vietnamese coffee,” said Tran of her eye-opening visit to a Starbucks, of all places. “This single cup of coffee was enough to change the trajectory of our lives.”
Before moving to America, Tran worked in a coffee shop in her hometown of Saigon but only drank trendy, sugar-filled drinks that catered to millennials. She moved to the East Coast to finish college at a small liberal-arts college in Pennsylvania, came west to Orange County in 2013, and moved to Santa Barbara after meeting Woodman here.
Then came their coffee epiphany, which prompted the couple, who are now engaged, to travel to Vietnam to see the farms for themselves. In 2017, they met farmers on the rural outskirts of Dalat City who produce small amounts of coffee beans on their own lots. They learned about the Southeast Asian country’s long history of coffee — it’s actually the second-largest producer of beans in the world, yet it remains lesser known in the United States than many Central and South American countries. Tran and Woodman vowed to change that by connecting American consumers directly to their Vietnamese farmers.
With the coffee sources set up, Tran put her career as a documentarian on hold, and Woodman put his product design background to work to develop Karmic Circle. They started importing coffee two years ago and are now bringing in hundreds of pounds each year. The couple travels to Vietnam at least twice a year to visit their farmers during the processing season and ensure the production quality of their coffee from bean to cup.
Karmic Circle uses both of the major species of beans, Arabica and Robusta, to cultivate a spectrum of flavor. The elongated Arabica bean makes up 75 percent of the world’s coffee and requires extra care during cultivation to create its high sugar and fat content and sweet taste. The Robusta bean is less popular but is high in antioxidants, has almost twice as much caffeine, maintains a lower fat content, and offers more earthy flavors.
As a staple beverage in American culture, everybody is looking for that perfect roast to complement their morning. Karmic Circle thinks they’ve got it. “Karmic Circle Coffee is less acidic and oily than typical specialty coffees,” said Tran. “This really allows the deep, dark chocolate, caramel, and nutty flavors to stand distinctly on their own.” And for us coffee drinkers who just need to get it down the hatch before we’re able to function, Tran promised, “It’s got a lot more caffeine!”
The couple is hoping Santa Barbarans will appreciate Vietnamese coffee the same way they do. “There is something wonderful and unique about Vietnamese coffee,” said Tran. “The more I learned about the industry the more I thought, ‘I’d like to offer America a metaphorical cup of coffee, on behalf of Vietnam.’”
Karmic Circle Coffee is currently not offered at any Santa Barbara coffee shops, but it will soon be unveiling small, intimate coffee shops to serve as “lived-in art” and neighborhood hubs, inspired by the naturalistic sanctuary of tea houses in Saigon. It can currently be purchased on Amazon and will be making a return to the Santa Barbara Night Market this November.