I was on my way to Amsterdam for the weekend, and I had a list in hand of all the cafes and roasters I wanted to go to. But here’s the thing about travel lists: no matter how many blogs you look at or how many people you talk to, you’ll never be able to identify the best places without actually going to them and feeling the energy. Which is why it was serendipitous that Headfirst Coffee Roasters was my very first stop in the city, within minutes of getting off my train.
Headfirst Coffee Roasters opened in 2013 but moved earlier this year to a new location on the busy Westerstraat in the heart of the Jordaan district. This is my favorite part of Amsterdam, always buzzing with activity and home to lots of young people, cool boutiques, and bars. You feel far removed from the madness that is the center of the city.
The cafe Headfirst has created feels very much a part of the neighborhood, just the kind of place you want to stop in for a great cup of coffee as you explore. But like the Jordaan district itself, Headfirst is quite different from other cafes around Amsterdam. For starters, this is a roaster / retailer in the true sense of the word, roasting onsite on a Giesen coffee roaster. You'll find none of the high design opulence and retail wonder that Amsterdam is known for at Headfirst, which is downright sparse compared to the other cafes around town. This place feels like it could have been picked up out of Seattle in 2006, or Chicago in 2010; Headfirst feels less like Amsterdam, and more like a part of the bigger global micro-roasting boom, with a shared set of values and a dogged, dare-I-say nerdy dedication to cup quality.
The sun was shining bright when we stopped by, so bright that we opted to sit indoors. You know you're in Northern Europe when…
Headfirst’s roasting operation is an open space in the back, and as if to remind me that I was in fact in Amsterdam, there was a beautiful Bianchi parked in the roasting area (which is even more fitting since the space is an old bike shop). I like when the roasting space is almost part of the cafe itself, something that’s all the more common; it makes you feel like you’re a part of the process.
The front of the space is an open and airy cafe, industrial yet warm and welcoming, where the coffee bar and all its accoutrements are front and center. There’s food, but the assortment is streamlined; you can tell that here it’s all about good coffee, everything else is just meant for accessorizing. I will say that the container of “Bliss Balls” made me smile; the kind of raw, vegan, gluten-free, organic treat you’d expect in a neighborhood as bohemian-chic as this one.
What I like about roasteries that double as cafes is that the focus, when done well, is truly on highlighting the skill and range of their roasting. This is not “I’ll have a coffee” and you get whatever is on hand and hope for the best. Here you’re invited to choose from different coffees and different roasts depending on what you’re planning to drink; if you’re not sure, the baristas are happy to lead you through the choices. Up on the wall was a list of the different coffee choices, which Headfirst divides into “roasted for espresso” and “roasted for filter.”
I went with the Ethiopian Aichesh, having a thing for the more floral coffees with bright acidity. It was a good choice. In fact, an amazing choice, being one of tastiest pour-overs I have had in a quite a moment. These guys know their stuff.
But Headfirst doesn’t stop at coffee. In the back, there’s a bookshelf with all kinds of coffee paraphernalia that you might want at home, as well as bottles of locally brewed beer from Oedipus Brewing. This is the place to come if you want to stock up on beans and beer. I just hope that next time I’m back they’re partnering with those guys for one of those oh-so-popular coffee-beer brews. That will get me from the train station to the coffee shop even faster.