Ever since he was a student at the University of Amsterdam, Jeff Flink had a thing for the coffee business. He recalls frequenting the Coffee Company branch on Kinkerstraat and thinking: “ ‘It could be cool to one day have something similar, with that vibe where you can chill.’ But I also thought: ‘Okay, just first do something else. Let’s see what the bad world has to offer.’ ”
So after completing a degree in marketing and then working in advertising for about eight years, Flink was ready to quit flirting with, and full-on consummate, what had become a grown-up passion: In late 2014, he left his job as an ad accounts manager. By late 2015, there was Toki.
The 90-square-meter property spreads over a storybook scene of a corner in Amsterdam’s Jordaan neighborhood. Espressos are pulled on a La Marzocco Linea PB. Filter is prepared with a Kalita Wave. Berlin’s Bonanza Coffee provides the two choices of roasts: a Seka Forest and an Espresso Blend, which combines the former’s Ethiopian beans with some from Brazil’s Irmas Pereira farm. At the ready are twin Anfim Super Caimano On Demand grinders and, for smaller batches, a Mahlkönig Guatemala Lab.
Coffee is Toki’s core business, yet when asked about the place, Flink rarely, possibly never, utters the word “cafe.” It is more—as one side of its storefront sign reads—a “hangout.”
“I wanted to have the Sunday feeling that I like: you start with a coffee or a nice tea,” he explains. “You might have a bite. But at the end of the day you can grab a beer… that kind of vibe.”
Toki’s name, says Flink, is a Japanese word meaning “time” or “occasion,” which he selected after a day of perusing multilingual dictionaries at the library. Other words that the 33-year-old Dutchman likes to use are “vibe” and “chill.” They come through in a Southern California-esque drawl that might have something to do with the ’90s hip-hop he likes to play at Toki, though the breezy atmosphere belies his far more Manhattan-like work ethic.
And although he has been putting in 12-hour shifts to stock and run the place single-handedly—except on Fridays and weekends, when a fellow industry fledgling helps out—Flink makes no claims of being an expert.
“I will never be like that coffee nerd,” he says, using the epithet as a compliment. “For me, it’s more the complete lifestyle picture of doing good stuff with good coffee and learning a lot from it—trying to be on top of your game instead of being the top.”
Flink discovered Bonanza as a regular patron at the roaster’s Berlin cafe. He chose to serve their coffee at his own place because, as he puts it, the staff are “real specialists, but still very relaxed,” and, furthermore, “really chill.” This is also the reason he went to Bonanza for barista training. When or if time permits, Flink hopes to get more training, notably on presentation.
“The taste is good and the foam is good, but it’s not like the perfect heart or tulip,” he admits of his latte art. “I want somebody who can stand next to me and say, ‘Just do this, and you can do this,’ and then you practice, practice, practice.”
So the macchiato markings may be rough around the edges, but little else at Toki is. Brand savvy and aesthetic exactitude have swayed each décor decision, from the staple-shaped fluorescent-light fixtures by Dutch duo Os and Oos to the army canvas loveseat by LA’s Stephen Kenn. The pièce de résistance is a Max Lamb-designed slab of Italian marble—cream with autumnal flecks, evoking a nougat bar of Wonka proportions—that has been fashioned into a tabletop, a bleacher-like settee, and a couple of bar boards.
The beer comes from Crate Brewery in London. Tea from Brooklyn’s Bellocq is brewed via Hario drippers and served in vessels from P&T. Polish natural drinks company John Lemon supplies the rhubarb soda, one of several carbonated drinks available. The most exotic offering, however, travels the shortest distance: the labor- and butter-intensive kouign-amann, made, on Flink’s request, by Petit Gâteau, one of several Amsterdam bakers providing Toki’s pastries.
No matter what he is serving at the bar, Flink applies a quiet, monk-like concentration to his work. It is often punctuated, though, by a smile that causes the corners of his mouth to spread up to the corners of his eyes. His expression invokes Toki’s logo: an eyeless smiley accompanied by the tagline “go slow.” His ad-man days are over, but Flink seems happy being the face of his own brand.
Karina Hof is a Sprudge staff writer based in Amsterdam. Read more Karina Hof on Sprudge.