Not every quarantine hobby turns into a full-fledged brand, business, and coffee-obsessed community. But that’s exactly what happened for 23-year-old Vivian Nguyen, the mind behind @CoffeeBae97.

Last year, Nguyen, a self-proclaimed coffee addict, quickly realized that she didn’t “know what to do in quarantine” since she didn't know how to make coffee at home. Nguyen, who was finishing up her undergraduate degree from Bay State College in Boston, was desperate to learn. “I had to find a way to drink coffee,” she said.

After about a month, Nguyen saw her cup of coffee — which finally tasted good — in the sunlight, so she posted a picture to her Instagram account. Then she kept posting her morning coffee every day. Eventually, Nguyen transitioned a different Instagram account into the @CoffeeBae97 account we know and love, and “hopped on TikTok before it was cool, and that was when things started to roll for Coffee Bae.” 

Rolling in Nguyen’s “Coffee Bae Coffee World” means engaging with more than 300k followers on Instagram and almost 1 million TikTok followers; running a website that features recipes developed by Nguyen; and launching her own line of coffee beans.

“Coffee is delicious,” Nguyen said. “It's so fun and universal that I want to share that with the world.”

Spoon University caught up with Nguyen to talk about her rise to TikTok fame, the launch of her website and products, and what’s next in the Coffee Bae World universe.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Describe the *exact* moment you knew you were “TikTok famous.”

OK, this is so funny. I remember my video going viral and people hated it. The first video that blew up was my whipped cream coffee: I put whipped cream first, then ice, and then coffee. That made people so angry, and I think that’s why I went viral — just because people were commenting. They were like, “This is disgusting, this is not coffee.” And I was like, “Oh my God, people hate me.” And I do have a decent following on TikTok, but I didn't think I was “famous” then, and I still don't.

Can you walk me through the steps from an idea or inspiration for a drink to a finished product?

90 percent of the time, it's spontaneous. I'll see something on the internet or in my house or a grocery store. For example, I see a papaya in my kitchen, and think “maybe I could do something with that.” I'll do a little research on social media, like what drinks are cool, or something similar to a papaya [in] coffee.

It’s something weird and fun. That's usually how I roll, and it’s usually a huge hit for me. Sometimes what I do, it’s like, do you want to copy stuff, or do you want to create? If it's too boring, I don't want to do it. I love fun, silly things.

I remember last summer, when Coffee Bae was a baby, I made a cereal milk latte when we were all quarantined. At the time, we didn’t go to the grocery store, so I was rummaging around my kitchen and I saw cereal milk was a huge thing on the internet, so I made a latte.

What is your favorite Coffee Bae drink to date?

Definitely the Coffee Bae latte or the Easter coffee!

When did you decide to launch a product? How did the idea for Coffee World become the website and product we know and love?

It started at first with merch. In December of 2020, I launched my first “Be Nice, Drink Coffee” sweatshirt, and that was a huge hit, and I was like, “OK, let's roll with this.” Then I realized: people are buying my sweatshirts. Why wouldn't they buy my coffee?

At the time, I didn't have a favorite coffee bean. I would use [a big company’s] coffee beans, but I really didn’t want to promote them because they weren't helping me grow as a creator. They're not doing anything for me, and I don't want to promote a huge corporation that doesn't know who I am. Career-wise, I was giving a brand so much money from promoting a product, and thought that maybe I should promote someone else. Maybe I should promote myself.

That’s when I came up with Coffee Bae. Three months later, I met my friend, Brian, who owns a coffee shop [and roastery] in Cohasset, Massachusetts, and he helped me launch Coffee Bae. It's very authentic and wholesome, and I want to stay very connected to my consumers. [Roasting locally] creates a transparency that I don't see in the coffee industry. It’s my coffee. The Coffee Bae side of things is very intimate because at the moment, it’s still super, super tiny —my consumers are my viewers. 

How does your social media presence translate to sales for Coffee Bae Coffee World?

It definitely goes hand-in-hand. I feel like Coffee Bae really started on TikTok, and then I [thought], “Hey, let me post those videos on Instagram and see how that rolls.” And then I started to gain traction on Instagram. For example, if I have a viral video, people are more likely to click on my website and see I have coffee beans. At the moment, I feel like I need to have Coffee Bae the Influencer to make money for Coffee Bae the Business Owner

Our audience is primarily Gen Z, many of whom are major foodies interested in combining their love for food with their hobbies. After this experience, do you have any advice for them?

My advice is just post your video or content. I really like that quote, "You missed a hundred percent of the shots you don't take.” If you don't post, no one's going to view it, there's not really a chance for you to go viral, and you won't have the possibility to grow.

Kennedy Dierks

Who is your biggest foodie inspiration?

My gosh, I have so many, but I want to say The Korean Vegan. She tells stories within her videos, in her food, and I love that so much. I definitely take inspiration from that and want to share other people's stories: [for example,] the farmers of the coffee beans, stories of friendships over coffee, and all that stuff. The Korean Vegan is just lovely.

How about social media inspiration?

My friend, Tinx. She is really transparent and really authentic with her viewers and her content, and I really look up to her for that. I actually go to her for creator advice, too!

What can we look forward to from Coffee Bae Coffee World?

Oh my gosh, I have so many things coming out! We have Scorpio Roast coming out [Nov. 6]. We have merch coming out next week [on Nov. 9]. We have a bunch of small artistic collabs coming up soon. We have a rebrand coming in 2022. I really want to focus on the coffee beans and the brand itself and bring transparency in the coffee industry.

One little thing: [Coffee Bae Coffee World] is coming out with a glassware line. I'm so excited. The glassware line is super cool because I'm working with a local Boston glass artist, so he makes [the glassware] all in-house. It's really transparent, really sustainable, and it's made in the United States. So, oh my gosh, I'm really excited about that. I'm so stoked.

Before we go, I have to ask — What is your go-to coffee order?

I think it depends on the coffee shop, but I don't think you can go wrong with an iced caramel latte. Or if they have pistachio milk, a Pistachio Milk Latte is so good, too.

You can follow Vivian on TikTok and Instagram, and check out Coffee Bae Coffee World for her recipes, merch, coffee, and more.

This story was part of Brainfood: Careers in the Food World. Check out the rest of the collection here, and see you at Brainfood on Friday, Nov. 12 at 3 p.m. ET!