The Story Behind Copper Cow, a Vietnamese Coffee Brand

Shop Small is a monthly tip series small business owners from diverse backgrounds. This series aims to go deeper than your average product roundup, diving into the inspiring stories behind our favorite brands. By taking a behind-the-scenes look at how their stores came to be and highlighting the products they (and their shoppers!) love, we hope to give them the spotlight they deserve. marginalized entrepreneurs.

The child of a Vietnamese mother, Debbie Wei Mullin grew up drinking the rich flavors of Vietnamese coffee. As an adult, he couldn’t find a brand that resembled the taste of home, so he decided to create one.

Mullin launched Copper Cow Coffee, a direct-to-consumer Vietnamese organic coffee brand in 2017. There’s everything from a Vietnamese-inspired latte (flavors include lavender, salted caramel and vanilla) to a dark roast coffee grounds with mixed herbs and spices (even one: it tastes like a churro).

“I’m obsessed with Vietnamese cuisine and I thought it would be an incredible business idea to bring people in,” says Mullin. He believes that Copper Cow’s uniqueness is what makes it marketable;

Mullin introduced the brand to the world on “Shark Tank” in 2021, and the experience brought in many customers, though he decided not to pursue the deal after it aired. The road to starting a business is never straightforward, especially for women of color. Here, Mullin explains the trajectory of Copper Cow, how he developed his product, and the cultural significance of Vietnamese coffee.

From corporate to creative

At first, Mullin’s business was a culinary line; side gig for Mullin, who worked at the World Bank. He spent nights and weekends working on his business plan, and some days he even stood outside farmers markets encouraging potential customers to buy his products.

A coffee lover himself, Mullin eventually saw more potential in the coffee business, so he put his all into Copper Cow Coffee. He secured the funding by asking anyone, literally anyone, who would like to invest. In the first year, he raised $100,000 thanks to donations from friends and family. But when his business took off indeed to leave, he needed more funds from venture capitalists.

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And that’s where he hit a snag. “It took me two years before I was able to get VC funding, and that was after raising over 100 investors,” he says. “Those no’s were often helpful because they shared what I needed to fix in my business.”

But most of the backlash and criticism came from the fact that his brand was too niche. Although coffee was a $70 million business in 2016, investors believed that the Vietnamese coffee brand was not marketable to US consumers.

Mullin’s opinion. He didn’t buy it. “If I only had a dollar for every time someone told me my product was niche when it wasn’t,” he says. “Innovative coffee ideas are marketed to people under 40. My brand is full of color and flavor, and we incorporate herbs and spices into our coffee that really speak to women.”

It wasn’t until Copper Cow became available at Walmart (thanks to the retailer reaching out to Mullin for a partnership) that investors began to take the brand seriously.

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Story behind the product

What is now Copper Cow Coffee, a Vietnamese pour-over coffee brand, is not the business Mullin originally envisioned. “When I first started out, about seven years ago, bottled cold brew was starting to become popular,” he says. “I really wanted to make bottled cold brew Vietnamese coffee, and I wanted the sweetened condensed milk mixed and ready to drink.”

Logistically, producing such a product was nearly impossible, especially since Mullin wanted to source the coffee beans from Vietnam. Mullin spent months traveling to Vietnam, visiting coffee farms and deciding who would supply the coffee. Then finding the right factory in the US and finalizing the product. Despite his best efforts, he was not succeeding.

On a trip to Asia, he had an “aha” moment when he rediscovered the pour-over method, a type of brew that involves pouring hot water over coffee beans in a filter. The method allows Mullin to separate the coffee beans from the condensed milk, making it easier to ship.

Although Mullin’s original idea to sell instant coffee never came to fruition, his serendipitous reinvention of pour over coffee became Copper Cow’s selling point.

Mullin received a trademark, began marketing, and began experimenting with flavors; first ever flavored pour was a lavender latte. “Since then, we’ve had a lot of fun with innovative flavors, both in coffee and crema,” says Mullin, who now sells churro, vanilla and salted caramel coffee, in addition to mocha crema. Additionally, the brand uses 100 percent whole herbs with no artificial flavors.

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What makes Vietnamese coffee unique?

Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee producer, according to Mullin, who believes the country has been left out of the specialty coffee scene.

Vietnam produces mostly robusta coffee, rich, dark and nutty roasted, a flavor most Americans weren’t accustomed to until 10 to 15 years ago, when robusta re-entered the market as a premium coffee. But many premium coffee brands are not locally sourced in Vietnam, nor are the prices competitive with most coffee grounds.

That’s where Copper Cow comes in. The brand brings back the origins of robusta coffee and brings it to the everyday coffee drinker. Mullin’s goal is to recognize Vietnam for its culture and history in the coffee market, sourcing from Vietnamese farmers.

“I want to become a brand that provides an authentic Vietnamese coffee experience and erases the miseducation about premium coffee,” says Mullin. “We are excited to be the first to bring premium Vietnamese coffee. And it’s a step forward to become the first certified organic Vietnamese coffee brand.”

Melanie Curry's head

Mel Curry (he) is the current assistant editor Cosmopolitan, where he covers everything from lifestyle to politics. You can often find him watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta or discovering local coffee roasters. Before joining Cosmo, she was an assistant editor at Hearst Magazines, writing for Women’s Health, Elle, and more. Follow her on Instagram and the bird app aka Twitter:.