When you hear that a Modbar has washed up on Dutch shores, at a two-Michelin-starred restaurant no less, you do a double take. First, because specialty coffee in the Netherlands is still young enough to be considered in its showoffy tween stage—espresso machines are often displayed prominently in cafes and among the lactose-laden lungo leanings of most, they serve as a sort of hobo sign: GOOD COFFEE HERE. Second, because fine Dutch restaurants, like many others in the world, are not known for extending their fine culinary taste to those cups of postprandial pick-me-up. “[I]f you’re lucky, you get a Nespresso capsule. If you are unlucky, you get some dark-roasted, robusta-blended drink,” Cerianne Bury, head of quality at Trabocca, recently wrote in a personal blog post about the few Amsterdam restaurants serving specialty coffee.
But it seems that Dutch businesses are ready to invest in this US-manufactured system of modular brewing that takes the technology off the counter, replaces it with 3.2-inch touchscreens embedded in unobtrusive black aluminum frames below and leaves only an outline of coffee machinery up top: elegant taps, levers, wand- and cone-holders, discreet drains. It helps, too, that as of 2016 the Modbar is being distributed in the Netherlands.
So what is a Modbar doing at FG Restaurant in Rotterdam?
“Actually, I’m a coffee freak,” answers François Geurds, the chef behind the initials FG and, on a recent afternoon between lunch and dinner services, behind the Modbar. The installation is built into a live-edge wood bar, where up to eight guests can sit on high chairs, peering into the open kitchen. And when the bar itself is not used for rows of pre-measured coffee mise en place, they will surely also have a good view of four polished protrusions: one for pour-overs, two for espresso, and one for steam.
While demonstrating the pour-over function, Geurds says that his goal is “to achieve the best coffee for the customer.” Of the Modbar, he notes, “You get really nice flavors from the coffee that comes out.” He praises its “15 different kinds of profiles” and how the “very intelligent machine” allows for easy adjustments of pressure, temperature, and taste.
Running since the morning, the system takes no time to pre-infuse a Hario V60 filter. From under a glass dome, Geurds liberates one of the plastic lab vials holding the beans and pours them into a Mahlkönig EK 43 grinder. After some whirring, the grounds are shaken into the filter, and again there is a release of seven symmetrical sprays of water (treated here with reverse osmosis). Seconds later, Geurds is sipping the coffee.
“Very clean,” he remarks of the red honey-processed Bourboncito from Guatemala supplied by Single Estate Coffee Roasters. The south Holland roaster has worked with Geurds for years, and this season is also providing a washed and soaked Bourbon from El Salvador and, exclusive to FG Restaurant, a washed SL28/SL34 from Kenya.
To most, Geurds is simply a top chef. One of his most notable prior positions was as sous chef at The Fat Duck in the UK, and his other international stints were for establishments whose heads also contribute to the Michelin galaxy. FG Restaurant, which opened this past summer in a new location under Rotterdam’s repurposed train viaduct known as the Hofbogen, has held a Michelin star since its first year of operation, starting in 2009, and by 2014 earned its second.
Before then, however, Geurds was already a familiar face—and flavor coach—at Dutch Barista Championships. He takes pride in having trained a number of competitors over the years, including Zjevaun Janga, who while an employee at Geurds’ restaurant (then known by the name Ivy) was crowned winner and placed 24th at the WBC 2013.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that visitors to FG Restaurant will likely spot other serious coffee equipment, such as a Nuova Simonelli Mythos One Clima-Pro grinder, a La Marzocco Linea Mini, Chemex carafes, and Hario Syphons. Next door at FG Food Labs, Geurds’s more casual, single-Michelin-starred restaurant, is another unique find: a customized two-group Synesso with a foot-pedal-operated steam wand. Synesso distributor Gerben Hettinga of Espressionado Coffee Tools reports being aware of only about 20 of the Seattle manufacturer's machines in the Netherlands, meaning Geurds possesses 10 percent of them—his second Synesso is at FG Bistro, which opened this fall in Rotterdam’s Lloydkwartier.
Still, the combination of Modbar and Michelin is rare. “This may be the first Michelin restaurant that has placed our equipment,” writes Aric Forbing, Modbar’s after-sales-support director, in reply to an e-mail from Sprudge inquiring about other spots around the world where the two names come together.
At the time of writing, Modbars have been sold to two other clients in the Netherlands, says their national distributor, Henk Langkemper of Espresso Service West. Although neither Café Jos in Nijmegen nor Roekoekoe in Zierikzee is a coffee mecca, like FG Restaurant, both are run by people with the professionalism and exuberance to meet Langkemper’s exacting expectations.
“I don’t sell the [Modbar] to any company. It must fit [with] my idea of launching a machine. Let’s say, I want high-end quality as a standard,” he explains. Langkemper adds that he is talking to two more prospective clients and anticipates that “Amsterdam will be the market for the Modbar.”
Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge.