Spring 2018 was a season of harvest for Zjevaun Janga and Loes Beljaars. April 1 marked the official opening of their first business, a central Rotterdam cafe called Harvest Coffee Brewers. And April 3 marked the birth of their first child, a good-humored girl called Mia. The bounty was particularly spectacular considering it was only nine months before that the couple had returned to the Netherlands after living and working in Melbourne.
Harvest is located in the Glashaven, a neighborhood named for its former glassworks but newly apropos considering all the high-rise apartment buildings being developed in the area. Walking into the venue, the eye immediately drifts to a placid harbor seen through the back wall of windows. If it weren’t for the three-group La Marzocco Linea PB, two Victoria Arduino Mythos One grinders, and Mahlkönig EK 43 grinder, it would seem you could run along the long black bar and dock-dive right into the water. Instead, a slender door controls traffic outside, to a pier set with bistro tables.
The place is a 20-minute walk from where Janga and Beljaars first met, in 2001. It was early in their careers, while both working at Michelin-starred FG Restaurant (formerly known as Ivy), run by chef François Geurds. The self-proclaimed “coffee freak” has been known to coach competitive baristas and was doing precisely that with 2008 and 2009 Dutch champ Sander Schat when Janga came around. Janga served as Schat’s signature drink guinea pig, and later became part of his team.
“They asked me to go with them to the Worlds, in London 2010, just as a polish guy—to help polish their jugs and stuff,” he recalls. “And that’s where it all started.”
Not long after Janga returned to the Netherlands, however, the Sirens of Antipodean cafe/restaurant culture called not only him, but Blejaars too. Seeking new employment, the duo sallied southward. Janga was most drawn to popular Melbourne espresso bar Patricia Coffee. Unable to find an opening there, he became a barista at The Kettle Black, where Beljaars eventually joined him, working the front of the house. That position followed her floor manager stint at cafe Manchester Press and preceded a supervisory role at Kettle Black sibling Higher Ground. Then, two and a half years later, ready to be their own bosses—along with missing family (Beljaars) and Dutch dairy (Janga)—the pair boomeranged back to Rotterdam.
Open from 7:00am to 4:00pm most weekdays and 9:00am to 5:00pm weekends, Harvest is dedicated to dayfare. Beans come from a rotation of roasters—for example, citymates Man Met Bril, Amsterdam’s Friedhats, Aarhus’ La Cabra, Seoul’s Fritz Coffee Company, and Hunt Brothers in Norderstedt, Germany. Pour-overs are handled with a V60 and, as witnessed on recent visits, studious TLC from staff barista Michael Chow. A FETCO CBS-2131XTS produces the batch brew, orders of which are bottomless—a totally far-out but welcome notion in the Netherlands.
Janga and Beljaars take turns cheffing in their well-appointed kitchenette. Sourdough, brioche, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, and maple syrup repeat on the menu in classic breakfast and brunch combos. Some flairs are also delightfully non-indigenous to these parts: chia pudding with kumquats, a half-avocado as a side, “Big Brekkie In A Pan.”
Janga, now 27, and Beljaars, now 28, both moved to Rotterdam about a decade ago. He had left his native Aruba to attend maritime school, hoping to become a ship captain, though quit that plan on realizing he wanted a job with more human interaction. She had come from the Dutch village of Stramproy. At FG, she worked the front of the house while studying hotel management and, in between, interned at Librije’s Zusje, another Michelin-starred restaurant (then in the city of Zwolle and since reincarnated at the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam).
Comparing their experiences in upscale Dutch dining rooms to Australia’s elevated cafes, Janga notes how during a typical shift at FG, “We used to do 70 persons a whole night and give all the energy to those 70 persons.”
“You have your own section and you’ve got five tables of two and you take care of them for the whole night,” says Beljaars, completing Janga’s thought. “In Melbourne, you’ve got 10 tables, but every half an hour, [new customers at each] table. It goes faster.”
So does being home in less hurried Holland bring some relief, I asked?
“No,” she replies. “We kinda want the busyness.”
The local industry is appreciating how busy the couple has been. This past fall, Harvest was nominated for HORECA trade publication Entree Magazine’s 2018 Best Coffee Concept award. And in terms of more personalized awards, like barista competitions?
Janga foresees a reentry into the ring.
“I’ll definitely be competing in the future again. I just wanna set this up first, have a stable life,” he laughs, acknowledging the inevitable totters that come with having a new cafe and a newborn. “Then I can go and be unstable again.”
Meanwhile, with Janga and Beljaars as its co-captains, Harvest seems set for smooth sailing.
Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge.