Being a jack-of-all-trades kept life dynamic for Jack Vintage, who is talented at cooking, photography, writing fiction and poetry, and graphic design. But it also left the now almost-40-year-old owner of Filtro Koffie Bar in the Hague feeling ungrounded.
“I always had my foot half here and half out,” Vintage says. “And then about two years ago, something clicked. Something changed inside.”
That sense of straddling two worlds stemmed in part from being an English expat in The Hague, where he and his girlfriend have lived for more than a decade. It arose, too, after 20 years of freelancing as a chef. “Cooking was how I made my money, how I earned a salary, but I’ve always been into photography,” he says, acknowledging pulls outside the kitchen. After his livelihood started clashing with his lifestyle—by then free of meat, alcohol, and sugar, which he found negatively affected his mental and physical health—he took three years off full-time work. The aim was “to see if I could evolve any of my sort of other creative pursuits into something,” he says. “I spent a lot of time in coffee bars.”
He opened Filtro in September 2016. The idea came when a building-owning friend asked for advice on filling his ground-floor storefront. Around that time, Vintage had traveled to Portugal and hung out at Copenhagen Coffee Lab’s Lisbon outpost. He returned feeling inspired and still tired of the letdown following trips abroad. “Go to Berlin, you have all these nice places to sit. You go to London, you have all these nice coffee bars. And I’d come home to the Hague, and I’d be like, ‘All right…’” he explains.
Exceptional European roasters such as The Barn, Drop, April, Square Mile, and Workshop have all made their way to Filtro. This makes the venue unique, as specialty cafes in the Netherlands tend to use Dutch-roasted beans. Filtro standardly offers three single-origin coffees for filter and two for espresso, the selection rotated according to Vintage’s taste. Kalita is his preferred filter method, though AeroPress is also available. He pulls shots on a two-group La Marzocco Linea PB, and grinds on a Mahlkönig EK 43 and a Victoria Arduino Mythos One.
The tea selection comes from Mujo, Vintage’s own specialty tea company. The homemade baked goods—a number of them raw, vegan, and complementary to the SCA flavor wheel—reveal his ingrained cheffyness.
Long ago Vintage worked at a small espresso bar in England, he says, though his coffee skills are blossoming on the job now. Professional barista friends have stopped in to share pointers or cover shifts, and Vintage expects to eventually hire regular help.
Despite being a minute’s walk from Embassy Row, right off the city center’s Hoogstraat (literally and concretely translating to “high street”—a 7 For All Mankind shop glimmers on the corner), Filtro is placid. The design fixtures are unmistakably Danish and everything is impeccable, though the space’s whitewashed minimalism feels far more invigorated by Mediterranean sands than North Sea breezes.
Expats, diplomats, and coffee industry folks across North and South Holland were Filtro’s earliest fans. Vintage says that locals have been later adopters: He understands that he operates in what is traditionally “a lunchroom city.”
The Hague, he hopes, will develop a good healthy cafe culture, where people go out to spend time in cafes. “They go there to spend two, three, four hours, to work, to write, to do whatever, to meet people,” he says. “You go to the same cafe all the time, you get to know people, and a sort of community grows from the coffee bar—and then many things can happen from there.”
One such thing Vintage plans to make happen is a Filtro publication, a magazine about food in society. Potential contributors are the writers who often warm the cafe’s wooden bench (generously outfitted with electrical outlets) and photographers with whom Vintage has formed a collective and whose images are already exhibited on the walls.
Vintage named the business Filtro because he was having a personal renaissance with pour-overs and wanted to give a “tip of the hat to Italians.” Maybe he could have anticipated, too, that the new vocation would help him filter his interests to share them with a thirsty community. In that regard, it seems the once jack-of-all-trades has become a master.
Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge.
Photos by Indre Urbonaite unless otherwise noted