“Jaaaaa,” says Aziz Boutaga, when asked if he likes how picture postcard–Dutch the setting of his new espresso bar is. His low-octave, drawn-out reply implies a response more along the lines of: Who wouldn’t want a spacious, canal-side corner shop facing a century-old windmill!? But Boutaga, much like his partners Mustapha Kanaa and Brahim Taoufik, is very cordial and so focuses on the utility of landmarks.
“It’s also easy for people. [If you’re] not a big name, you have to be in the neighborhood of something,” Boutaga says. He explains to out-of-towners that their flagship Utrecht cafe is across from the Pathé Rembrandt movie theater, and this location is a seven-minute walk away, across from the Rijn en Zon windmill.
’t Koffieboontje means “the little coffee bean,” though the brand is no longer little. The first branch’s popularity—it reached the point of having to turn away Saturday lunch aspirants, says Boutaga—encouraged the launching of the second two years later. The route between the locales is so enchanting it could be lifted from the pages of a child’s storybook: Follow the herringbone-brick roads along the Oudegracht (“old canal”), cross the small white bridge over the quay, and once on Adelaarstraat, take in the windmill’s long shadow. Then admire the homage to current events that a local professor graffitis on his home’s exterior wall: Miffy mourning the loss of her maker, lyrics by folk singer Daniël Lohues for “hope in dark days,” and the face of the late legendary footballer Johan Cruijff.
Boutaga, Kanaa, and Taoufik all have Moroccan parents, whereas they themselves grew up in the Netherlands. “We are Dutch, of course, but our roots are in Morocco,” says Boutaga. “And we love the country, we love the food, but we want this concept to be Dutch.”
As diverse as its cities are, in the Netherlands specialty coffee business owners are rarely of a minority background. But it was not their ethnicity that compelled the friends to veer from their career paths and unite in another enterprise. They sought to fill a hole in their hometown, having often patronized venues with either decent coffee yet poor service or great hospitality yet unappealing coffee.
So before even knowing how to operate the machinery, they seized the opportunity to buy a used Kees van der Westen Mirage. Next, they shopped around for barista training, selecting Dutch roasters Bocca because its staff proved to be “coffee freaks [who] want to serve the best coffee in Holland.” They spent the next six months learning the foundations of what it would take “to be the best espresso bar in Utrecht.”
On a visit shortly after their March 2017 opening, Boutaga and Kanaa were still refining the menu to make the second ’t Koffieboontje a destination for fresh, organic breakfast and lunch fare. They were also awaiting their customized black matte three-group La Marzocco Linea PB with scales (meanwhile pulling shots on a loaner) and preparing filter coffee via Moccamaster, AeroPress, or Hario V60. Bocca continues to supply their beans.
Both ’t Koffieboontje branches are sleekly furnished and finished in a soothing slate, teal, and blue palette. The newer location has far more space, accommodating a kitchen, a water glass-refill sink (rare around here), a laptop-friendly communal table, and a kids’ nook. What is immediately noticeable is an absence of music. Yet this, like every other choice, was thoughtfully considered.
“We believe that if you choose a [specific genre of] music, you will get only the people who love that music. If you do classical music, you will get the people who like classical music. If you have hard house, you will get the people who like hard house,” Boutaga explains. “We wanted to make a place where everybody—different people—will feel at home.”
Their plan seems to be working: “So we’ve got people who wear the hijab, Moroccans, Muslims,” he adds. “We’ve got Dutch people. We’ve got the people who love Wilders. We’ve got everything, and that’s cool. We like that!”
Boutaga may sound lighthearted, but the statement is heavy since he is referring to Geert Wilders, a far-right politician who is anti-Islam and has openly derided Moroccans. He would indeed serve the same perfectly pulled Sidamo double cortado recommended for a reporter to guests with such politics.
“I will serve them, with a croissant or with a cake on me,” says Boutaga, laughing and smiling. In a more serious tone, he adds: “We serve coffee—the best coffee—to everybody, to everyone. That’s our strategy. That’s our style. And if someone wants to have a chat with us, it’s welcome.”
The sense of inclusiveness at ’t Koffieboontje and the willingness to sit down and share a beverage with all others is, in fact, characteristically Dutch. It resonates with the Cruijff quote painted on the wall down the block: “Alleen kan je niks, je moet het samen doen.” That is: “Going it alone gets you nowhere; together is the way to go.”
Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge.