Once upon a time, in the canal-ribboned village of Amsterdam, in an era when Starbucks was opening its first fully owned store in the city and Adele was crooning “Someone Like You” across airwaves, the stars were starting to align for the co-owners of cafe and micro-roaster Sweet Cup.
She was a 27-year-old Amsterdammer who had just ended a relationship with an Australian she shared a home and a restaurant with, and she needed a job. He was a 27-year-old from Breda who had just returned from travels in the US and, having worked in every aspect of a kitchen since his early teens, was ready to begin fresh. He also needed a job.
Audience, envision those split-screen frames merging into one, with the caption: “The Netherlands, 2011.” The scene cuts to Lisa Rooimans and Paul van Duuren stationed behind an espresso machine, which is set up on the bed of a red three-wheeled Piaggio commercial scooter. It is here that the couple met, working as baristas for MobiCcino, a Dutch company whose mobile espresso bars appear at events around the country.
Fast-forward to a spring day in 2013. Rooimans and Van Duuren welcome their brick-and-mortar baby into the world. And in the three years since, Sweet Cup has become a mainstay in Amsterdam’s specialty coffee scene. Its beans are carried by a number of Dutch cafes—Back to Black, just one canal away, has long been a customer—with occasional cameos elsewhere in Europe. Its loyal clients are neighborhood residents, people who work in the area, and, as Rooimans puts it, “the coffee lovers who come on their day off.”
Having like-minded patrons means a lot to her and van Duuren. In fact, it was a lack thereof that had pushed him to leave MobiCcino.
“I didn’t feel the people I served were on the same page regarding coffee as I was,” says van Duuren, referring to the corporate booth-keepers between which the mobile bar was often parked. “Most of them just wanted a break, [to get] away from their stand.”
Rooimans points out, too, that the gigs were not always assigned to multiple baristas, so it could become lonely.
“I got a lot of experience working with different espresso machines and grinders at very diverse locations, which most of the time was a good thing, [but] sometimes not so much—like working outside when it was freezing,” she recalls.
Nowadays, their careers seem far from cold. Rooimans and van Duuren do their own thing, and tend to stay low-key about it. One reason they may have gotten less of the limelight than some of their Amsterdam coffee colleagues might have to do with their own modesty, combined with the couple’s cozy sense of self-sustenance.
This past February, when Sweet Cup relaunched in a bigger and brighter space, the official announcement was a mere 16-word post on Facebook (the core line read simply: “We are open again!!”). Fortunately, the new venue isn't hard to find, being just a few doors west of the original shop.
In this setup, van Duuren needs only to pivot a heel to toggle between working the bar and roasting. Maintaining Sweet Cup’s standard eight-roast offering (four for filter, four for espresso), he roasts two to three times a week, manually on a Giesen W6. Rooimans, a baker, now has a separate kitchen in which to concoct her Anglo-inspired confections as well as all that will be entailed when plans to serve breakfast and lunch materialize.
The duo’s DIY dynamism is visible all over the new space. Most striking is their tile work—wooden planks in shades of grown-up flavors of ice cream (e.g., pistachio and hazelnut)—on an accent wall and Sweet Cup's L-shaped bar. Its surface provides a comfortable fit for the one-group Synesso Hydra, two Mazzer Kony grinders, a Mahlkönig Guatemala Lab grinder, and a filter station.
Sweet Cup's dedication to slow coffee is also evidenced by the Everpure reverse-osmosis water filter system, purchased along with the Synesso when transitioning from a two-group La Marzocco Linea Classic. “The RO system makes a big difference,” explains Rooimans. “What tipped us over [to make the purchase] were actually the filter/drip brews. We bought it for all our coffees and teas.”
There is one fixture that is not new, although its spot in the cafe's layout has improved. That would be Sjefke, the 4-year-old basset hound often found lying right in front of the roaster, where the aromas are optimal.
Audience, are you still wearing those rom-com spectacles?
Cue the crane shot. Then to a close-up of those droopy puppy eyes. Zoom out to the bustling coffee bar, expertly commanded by Rooimans and van Duuren. Then out again to the registered historical building that Sweet Cup occupies, sunlight hitting its white gable. Next, to the street, connecting the tourists of Leidseplein with the galleries and antique boutiques of the Spiegelkwartier. Then pan out to Amsterdam, then to Earth. Now zoom back in, to a cup topped with a microfoam heart. And…scene!
Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge.