Roasting is no new business to the Netherlands. Corporate narratives of the country’s coffee behemoths—Douwe Egberts, Simon Lévelt, to name a couple—take pride in their centuries-long practice of the process. As a child in the 1920s, Alfred Peet, founder of Peet’s Coffee, learned about the trade when his father would cup at the kitchen table using samples from his roasting shop in Alkmaar. Heck, the first Starbucks roasting plant to open outside the United States in 2002 was in Amsterdam’s harbor.
What is new in the Netherlands, however, is a flourishing of specialty coffee micro-roasters. Many are run by veteran industry professionals who double as baristas and business owners. Sprudge has already reported on Sweet Cup, Back to Black, and White Label Coffee, all independent cafes and roasters in Amsterdam. Now, the time is ripe to check out three more such concerns—it’s 2017 and a golden age of micro-roasters is dawning on the Dutch capital.
The world has many a nice package, but on a shelf, Friedhats really stands out. It is a 250-gram brown PET plastic bottle that you could easily mistake for a jar of Vitamin C tablets, if it weren’t for that unmissable company mascot. Created by illustrator Ivo Janss, the psychedelic cartoon simultaneously channels Goofy and Henry Rollins, making what first appears to be a sign of the horns but, on second glance, could well be “I love you” in sign language.
Opened in November 2016, Friedhats is the city’s newest notable micro-roaster. Its co-owners, however, are old hands at coffee. Lex Wenneker is most widely known as the 2015 and 2016 Dutch Barista Champion, who last year placed sixth at the World Barista Championship, though he is most locally endeared for Headfirst Coffee Roasters, the Amsterdam cafe and roaster he co-founded in 2013 and co-ran until its 2015 closure. Dylan Sedgwick, a New Zealander with coffee industry jobs in Australia and London on his resume, got to know Wenneker while a barista and occasional roaster at Headfirst.
At Friedhats’ HQ, a garage in Amsterdam West, Wenneker can be found standing intensely over their Giesen W6, removing unpleasing bits from the batch with the kind of hand-eye coordination needed to win at whack-a-mole. Next to him, under the glitz of a mirror ball, Sedgwick adheres labels to bottles with the efficiency and precision Fordist dreams are made of.
Yet, the duo readily acknowledge having to rebuild a clientele. “We lost all of our customers when Headfirst closed down, so we’re still starting up again,” Wenneker says.
Their sourcing has been intentionally limited in geography—the current focus is on Brazil, Colombia, and Kenya—but unrestricted when it comes to coffee varieties. “It’s just interesting to see what the different varieties do to the flavor,” explains Wenneker. “There was not that much variety in the variety section, but now you see more and more farmers that offer single varieties as well as importers that do that.” A recent exercise has been comparing as many Pacamaras from as many countries as possible.
A boom seems inevitable for Friedhats. Yet, it will force the pair to keep walking a tightrope between, as Sedgwick puts it, “communicating your own vision and being accessible at the same time.” In that sense, the dual reading of their mascot’s hand gesture—rawk on! vs. unspoken love—seems fitting.
For all of Friedhats’ reference to headwear, Rum Baba actually has its own brand of beanies. Business and life partners Jeroen Keizer and Lusan Drost run the company, which includes a three-year-old trusty neighborhood cafe and, as of spring 2016, a second location devoted to roasting and baking. The couple has long been holding down the specialty coffee fort in Oost—that’s Dutch for “east” and what locals call this largely residential part of town, which is additionally home to Coffee Bru, a five-year-old cafe they co-own with two other partners.
But roasting is not entirely new for Rum Baba. Keizer explains that a whole year before their Probatone 12 had its own spot, he had to roast on “a big Loring” at CoffeeXperts, a private label roaster in Enkhuizen. Now, though, with a venue mere steps from their flagship cafe, regulars can come in for a quick pick-me-up—the few seats are barstools—or a quick pickup of provisions. Besides packaged coffees, this is where Rum Baba sells its famous baked goods in quantity, eponymous pastry included. “It’s a classic, it’s almost like sort of a cult cake,” says Keizer, of the rum baba, a rare syrup-soaked find in the Netherlands. And as for any recommended pairing, “I wouldn’t say a fruity coffee but more chocolatey,” he offers.
Asked how Rum Baba differs from other roasters, Keizer replies: “I think we all would say that we roast towards the origin, that we want to get the origin characteristics, but for me it’s that full flavor—we call it ‘body.’ I think that’s an important component. It’s not just bright acidity, but it must be good balance.”
Since two of his staff have also started roasting, Keizer has more time to work on new projects. So far, Rum Baba’s output has been exclusively single-origin coffees, but they are now ready to explore blends. Another future goal is to expand their resale channels. One remarkable client so far is the upscale Dutch department store De Bijenkorf, seven branches of which have begun selling the coffee.
That Rum Baba shares retail space with Nespresso, Illy, et al. might be unexpected, the sleek bags patterned with Scandinavian geometry in a Miami Vice palette appeal to a very now aesthetic. They are the vision of Dorst, whose background is graphic design. “I think we are handmade-[looking] enough,” notes Keizer, referring to the raw wood and burlap decor that surrounds him. So when it comes to packaging, “we like to express ourselves in a bright way.”
Stooker Roasting Company
If Rum Baba expresses itself in pastel-toned fancy, Stooker Roasting Company communicates with bi-chrome boldness. Its signature color, a Vermeer-esque ultramarine, lends gravitas to the brand—not that it ever lacked any. From the day in March 2015 that Stooker opened, co-founders Florian Hessel and Onno van Zanten set themselves apart. They are unique among Amsterdam specialty coffee professionals, having left posts at a highly respected cafe and roaster (both were at Lot Sixty One) not to start their own espresso bar, but rather to concentrate on roasting and training.
The Stooker Coffee Academy is one of the few Amsterdam locales to offer Specialty Coffee Association certification courses, and its associated studiousness has a halo effect on Stooker’s look and feel. Sans serif type identifies each coffee bag, whereon details, such as elevation and producer, are specified. The collection is numbered one through seven, each category encompassing a general roast profile.
Last year’s arrival of Yoeri Joosten, moreover, gave Stooker’s Giesen W15 a trinity of talent to take care of it. Joosten was the Dutch Cup Tasters Champion in 2013, 2014, and 2015—then ranking third in the World Cup Tasters Championship. Though not born with cupping spoon in hand, he grew up in Baarn, where Boot Koffie began in 1973 (decades before Willem Boot left for the US) and where at age 18, Joosten started as a dishwasher and eventually became a quality manager and a green buyer.
The Boot tenure seems to have made him precociously wise and pragmatic. Of Stooker’s sourcing, Joosten explains: “We work with importers that we trust, that we know pay good prices and are very involved in countries of origin. And I think because of our scale—our operation is very small—we have to look for partners in that way as opposed to bigger companies, they have more access to direct trade programs.” He continues: “It’s kind of hard to create value for the farmer really if you’re only going to say ‘I want these five bags,’ and the farmer has 500 bags, and maybe you even take all the best bags.” So a direct-line trade is something to try pursuing in the future, “but when we can afford to buy some more” and “really be of certain meaning to those people.”
Nowadays, 95% of Stooker’s sales are business-to-business. The label seems popular among spots that appeal to international visitors, such as design mecca Droog, Generator hostel, and music-themed hotel Jaz in the City. Like Stooker, they are all slightly off the beaten path but have their finger on the discerning consumer’s pulse.
Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge