This past fall, a sweet little shop with accompanying sweet deals for home brewers opened in The Hague. Located in a residential neighborhood in this Dutch city on the North Sea, Sweet Jane sells espresso machines, grinders, knock boxes, milk pitchers, coffee, tea, and more—truly, everything but the kitchen sink. A visitor might drop as much as €4,446 (about $4,700) for a La Marzocco Linea Mini, or as little as €3.15 ($3.35) for a box of tea.
The moniker Sweet Jane was chosen so as “to have an international name, not typically Dutch or Italian,” says co-owner Henk Langkemper, who is also head of Espresso Service West. That company, now 27 years old, is as renowned for outfitting Dutch bars and restaurants with top-line equipment (by La Marzocco, Slayer, and Modbar, among many others) as it is for supporting the baristas who work in them. In fact, what Phil Jackson was for the Bulls in the 1990s, Langkemper—similarly super-driven yet also super Zen—has been, and continues to be for many of the country’s young coffee professionals. Besides helping fund and equip their preparations for national and world coffee championships, Espresso Service West has been known to later employ some as corporate trainers (e.g. Lex Wenneker, sixth place at the WBC 2016; Yakup Aydin, Dutch Barista Champion 2010; Keng Pereira, second-place Dutch barista champ 2015).
Yet, while Langkemper is the coffee man behind Sweet Jane, and co-owner Reinier Hamel (of Sin Design) the marketing power behind its image, the face of Sweet Jane is that of a woman, Lucinda Harbrink Numan. Establishing Sweet Jane was her idea.
“Lucinda had a knitting shop there for a few years, and she came to us, asking about a retail coffee place,” explains Langkemper. “I liked the idea, liked the area.”
Six days a week, Harbrink Numan can be found working as Sweet Jane’s salesperson and its barista because—surprise!—the store doubles as an espresso bar. She is an ideal shopkeeper: not only does she know the local market, having worked there for years, she also has lived around the corner for 22 years.
“[On] this street you can buy everything,” she says. “Your groceries, you’ve got two good butchers, flowers, vegetables, fish—everything [was] here except for coffee. And [now] there are places where you can drink coffee…but not as good as here.”
With months of training at Espresso Service West under her belt, Harbrink Numan confidently pulls shots on a two-group La Marzocco Linea Classic. For grinding, she relies on Mahlkönig’s Vario and Guatemala models and a Mazzer Mini Electronic A. A recent visit to Sweet Jane found beans from Rotterdam micro-roaster Hopper Coffee, the Netherlands’ popular specialty brand Bocca, and six-generation-old Italians Caffè Barbera. Other roasters and filter preparations are expected later in 2017.
At the register, Harbrink Numan brought a homey touch from her old yarn shop: a desktop business card file, a place for regulars to deposit their frequent-customer cards, which after 10 and 20 coffees earn freebies and, after the 25th, a 10-percent discount on any retail item.
Notable, too, is that this is a pilot project, meant to test the waters for future Sweet Jane. Asked where new branches could potentially open and how many, should this first year prove successful, Langkemper replies succinctly: anywhere and as many as possible.
It can’t be overlooked that a name like Sweet Jane has a nice ring in an expat-dense city and an Anglophone-friendly nation. But to name a business after the 1970 Velvet Underground hit and, with its earthy-psychedelic silkscreen aesthetic, to unsubtly invoke Warhol is apt for other reasons as well. In an era of big-box stores and one-click ordering, a brick-and-mortar boutique feels refreshingly retro. It is also fitting because an enterprise like this helps pop-ify quality coffee, spreading it from commercial settings to homes everywhere. A pour-over kettle might not be as commonplace in the Netherlands as a Campbell’s soup can once was in America, but thanks to Sweet Jane, specialty coffee and all its trappings are becoming more and more within mass reach.
Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge.