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Celebrating AAPI heritage through authentic ingredients and flavors

May 24, 2022 | Published by Faire

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Image courtesy of Omsom

In continuation of our recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the US, we’re highlighting three Faire customers from the AAPI community—Omsom, Copper Cow Coffee, and Diaspora Co.—who bring delicious and sustainable authentic flavors to the masses through their food and beverage products. 

Omsom creates flavor-packed rip-and-pour starter packets—complete with recipes by iconic Asian chefs—with all the sauces, aromatics, and seasonings needed to make restaurant-quality dishes at home. Copper Cow Coffee offers authentic Vietnamese coffee with their pour-over coffee filters and creamers, and Diaspora Co. brings single-origin spices from family farms across India and Sri Lanka to kitchens around the world. 

We spoke with Veronica and Kim Pham, Co-Founders of Omsom, Debbie Wei Mullin, Founder of Copper Cow Coffee, and Sana Javeri Kadir, Founder of Diaspora Co., about sharing flavors from their communities with the world, practicing sustainability, and celebrating AAPI Heritage Month.

Building the business

Faire: Where did the inspiration for your business come from?

Veronica and Kim Pham, Omsom: Omsom was born from our desire to build “the company of our dreams,” one that reclaims and celebrates the multitudes within Asian Americana—so often diluted, dumbed down, and compromised on the mainstream. As first-gen Vietnamese Americans and daughters of refugees, Omsom is a reflection of our lived experiences of wanting to reclaim and celebrate Asian flavors and stories.

Debbie Wei Mullin, Copper Cow Coffee: I’m Vietnamese-American, so I grew up very connected to our Vietnamese heritage, culture, and cuisine—including sweet, creamy Vietnamese coffee. Before starting Copper Cow Coffee, I worked at the World Bank, where I was in finance and supply chain management. I had a passion for making a positive impact through economic empowerment, but I wanted to be able to move quickly and take a creative approach. Copper Cow Coffee brought all of those aspects together in a way that felt really exciting and natural.

Sana Javeri Kadir, Diaspora Co: The original intent of colonial conquest of the Indian subcontinent was a desire for domination of the spice trade. 400ish years later, as a young woman born and raised in postcolonial Mumbai, working at the intersection of food and culture, I was slowly discovering that not much about that system had changed. Farmers made no money, spices changed hands upwards of 10 times before reaching the consumer, and the final spice on your shelf was usually an old, dusty shadow of what it once was. 

So in 2016, I booked a one-way ticket home to Mumbai and signed myself up for 7 months of highly unpaid market research, 40+ farm visits, and endless un-answered phone calls. A lot of processing of doubts and fears later, I founded Diaspora Co. in the fall of 2017 with just one spice—Pragati Turmeric—sourced from an equally young and idealistic farm partner, our now dear friend Mr. Prabhu Kasaraneni. From our very first day, the big and audacious dream was to grow a radically new, decidedly delicious, and truly equitable spice trade, to push a broken system into an equal exchange, and to have a lot of fun doing it.

Sourcing ingredients and gathering inspiration

Debbie of Copper Cow Coffee at a roaster in Vietnam

Faire: How do you source ingredients and gather inspiration for flavors?

Veronica & Kim: Omsom partners with iconic Asian chefs—we call them Tastemakers—for all of our products. These chefs are both celebrated in the industry and working to redefine it. Each one has connections to these particular flavors that run deep. At the same time, they are all collectively pushing the future of these cuisines in America. They, like us, understand that modern Asian food doesn’t have to look one way anymore.

Debbie: Sustainability was one of the biggest driving forces behind starting Copper Cow. Vietnam is the second-largest coffee exporter in the world, and over 90% of the coffee they grow is climate-resilient robusta coffee beans. However, Vietnam’s coffee farms were really left behind in the global sustainability push. Finding coffee farms that were open to innovation and looking to grow more sustainably was a challenge, but we’re excited about the progress we’ve made with reducing chemical inputs.

We pay our farmers twice the market rate, which not only gives them a better quality of life but allows them to invest more in the quality of their coffee. Because Vietnam is such a big player in the coffee industry worldwide, even small improvements in sustainability have big ripple effects.

Image courtesy of Diaspora Co.

Sana: Our supply chain is one of our biggest sources of pride; we are the only spice brand in the business dedicated to ensuring you’re getting the freshest spices possible, and we’re committed to doing so in a way that prioritizes equity. Today, we source 30 single-origin spices from 150 farms across India and Sri Lanka. We’re proud to pay our farm partners an average of 6x above the commodity price. We pay what we believe to be a living wage—our investment in the kind of leadership and land stewardship that will build climate resilience and more delicious food systems.

Life as an independent business owner

Pour-over mocha latte from Copper Cow Coffee

Faire: What’s been the most rewarding and most difficult part of running this business? 

Veronica & Kim: The most difficult part has been unlearning internalized scarcity and choosing abundance as business owners and leaders. The most rewarding part is when Asian American folks write us to tell us they feel seen and heard by our work. It’s the most humbling feeling.

Debbie: The business is constantly changing, which means I have to too. In the beginning, it was about trying to create a brand and product out of thin air, and today it’s about leading an amazing group of people to all walk (or sometimes run) to the same rhythm. The most rewarding? Getting to work with incredible people to create a company culture that celebrates diversity, hard work, creativity, and balance.  

Sana: Working for and supporting our farm partners is very rewarding—making sure we’re consistently doing what’s best for them is what Diaspora’s all about. Our India Based Ops Manager works tirelessly to make sure that all of our farm partners are paid, heard, and get what they need. Since 2018, we’ve paid $1.06 million to small, family-owned regenerative farms across South Asia.

Advising fellow AAPI entrepreneurs

Southeast Asian Sampler from Omsom

Faire: What’s one piece of advice you would give to fellow AAPI entrepreneurs?

Veronica & Kim: Tough times are brutal, but also force a distillation of what’s real. They show who you are as a leader, who your core audience is, and what’s most important about your product. While the pandemic forced Omsom to return to a bootstrapped, scrappy mentality, it also reminded us what we’re good at—building from the heart for a community that has long been underserved. Take the opportunity to remove all the distractions and bells and whistles to focus on your north star as a brand.

Debbie: It’s really simple: just go for it! Make a prototype, stand up a website, get a booth at a craft fair and see what people buy. It’s not as much of an investment as you think to get started, and you don’t have to be successful to learn a ton.

Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month

Debbie (left) of Copper Cow Coffee with her mother

Faire: What does celebrating AAPI Heritage Month mean to you? 

Veronica & Kim: Celebrating the beautiful and delicious resilience Asian Americans have carried for generations.

Debbie: Before I started Copper Cow, I rarely witnessed people in leadership positions that looked like me, and I was often overlooked for leadership opportunities. Aside from that, growing up I never understood why I never saw anything in the mainstream that resembled my Asian-American experience. Representation and celebration of heritage are incredibly empowering as a minority, and it truly means so much to now see the overwhelming support from our community and partners every year at this time.

Sana: Being in this community is about connecting deeply with the culture and heritage of the regions that we source from, and learning as we go. It’s about complicating and deepening what “Made in South Asia” means, and how we tell our stories of freedom, struggle, and diaspora through food.

Support Omsom, Copper Cow Coffee, and Diaspora Co. on social media.

Read our recent spotlight on AAPI-Owned brand Twrl Milk Tea.

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