Amsterdam Cafe Crawl
When one thinks of coffee shops in Amsterdam, one’s mind doesn’t always turn to coffee, and then there’s the window shopping … however the closest we got to curb crawling on our trip to Amsterdam in a freezing Spring, was shopping for shoes in the Kalverstraat and strolling along the lovely canals that circumnavigate the central city.
The old city may be on the UNESCO World Heritage List, but nowadays Amsterdam is now more renowned for its lovely lanes, beautiful canals, resplendent retail sccene and with a central city ruled by the bicycle rather than the car, an incredibly people-friendly environment. Along with the fragrant flower sellers, eclectic bookshops and fashionable boutiques & bars, quirky historic pubs are interspersed with cool cafes in this remarkably accessible city. One minute we were drinking an ‘Amstel’ beer with the locals and the next, having a coffee with some young americans in one of the newly emerging espresso bars, which are starting to pop up all over the central city area.
First stop, via a pretty park interspersed with practical bike lanes, was Espresso Fabriek [literally ‘Espresso Factory’] one of the pre-eminent coffee roasters in Amsterdam. It’s a beautifully laid out interior very similar to many of the specialist espresso bars we have in Sydney or Melbourne – different single origins on the menu, and a variety of serving methods – cold drip and filter as well as espresso.
We retired to the outdoor tables, where the first tulips of spring were just started to emerge, to enjoy great espressos along with the first glimses of spring. Great coffee and fantastic ambience.
Espressofabriek, Gosschalklaan 7, www.espressofabriek.nl
Then it was on the bikes again, this time across to the other side of the city, where we went to Cotton Cake, a small café using Two for Joy coffee, which had been recommended by several of our inside sources.
This was the first of what was to be a surprise element to our Amsterdam journey – because of strict licencing laws, it’s very hard to open a new ‘dedicated’ café in Amsterdam; however the way around this is that you are allowed to serve coffee as part of providing customer service in an existing retail context – something we were to come across again in the future.
With its genuine Faema E61 espresso machine, Cotton Cake provided surprisingly good coffee in a context that was completely foreign to us – a ‘boutiquey’ womens’ fashion store.
Cotton Cake, 1e van der Helststraat 76-hs www.cottoncake.nl
On past Frederiksplein park to the mother ship – Two for Joy café, where we were a little gobsmaked to be greeted by Andy, a bearded aussie barista in front of a beautiful Mirage espresso machine. Perhaps it was the familiarity of an australian accent, or maybe just the comfortable armchairs and quirky decoration, but we were made to feel completely at home and soon were ensconced with great espressos and revelling in the gezellig [‘cosy’] atmosphere of this espresso haven.
Two for Joy, Frederiksplein 29, http://twoforjoy.nl
Next day we rose early to continue our trek. Screaming Beans is a small chain which has managed to retain its authentic feel. We visited their original Hartenstraat premises and again were amazed at how similar this was to a typical antipodean café, adorned as it was by different coffee paraphernalia, with a young and attentive serving staff.
A couple of pleasantly well-rounded flat whites later and it was on to the bikes again, this time in search of a little place that had been recommended to us, in the slightly more gritty part of town, where most of the ‘other’ type of coffee shops are found.
Screaming Beans, Hartenstraat 12, http://screamingbeans.nl
Koko is a recent addition to Amsterdam’s burgeoning coffee scene, nestled in-between boutiques in funky Oudezijds Achterburgwal.
Once again, camouflaged as an eclectic boutique, it would have been easy to miss, and in fact we cycled past it several times before we found it. While the coffee itself wasn’t stunning [a darkish blend with a chocolate notes], it was pleasantly smooth.
But the bilingual hostess was gracious and the communal table surrounded by eclectic artworks, clothes and even a bicycle, an interesting way of disguising the fact that this was indeed a worthwhile coffee-stop.
Koko, Oudezijds Achterburgwal 145, http://ilovekoko.com
The final stretch of our day was a dedicated espresso spot opened only the in the last couple months by two young guys from the Hague, who had recently moved up to Amsterdam, but it was so new that no-one really knew where it was, so first we had to find it! After crossing Nassaukade and riding up and down FrederikHendrikstraat a couple of times we finally found it, identified as a café only by an unobstrusive stencilled wooden sign: Headfirst.
In the premises of Harvest & Co. a quirky and surely unique boutique, offering striking artworks, funky retro clothing and accessories created from second-world war Dutch and French Army blanket and duffle-bag materials, we enjoyed probably the best coffee in Amsterdam, in a veritable aladdin’s cave of industrial chic.
Headfirst, 2e Helmersstraat 96, www.headfirstcoffeeroasters.com
So ended our coffee crawl, partially on foot, but primarily on pushbike. It was a lightening visit and there were a couple of new offerings which we were disappointed we had to miss on this trip, notably Coffee Bru in Beukenplein and the peculiarly named Scandinavian Embassy in the equally peculiarly-named Sarphatipark.
But we had tasted enough to know that Amsterdam, while a little behind some of the other Anglo-Saxon cities on the world’s coffee map [Melbourne, Seattle, Portland and increasingly, London], is fast establishing itself on the world’s specialty coffee scene.
A couple of other great coffee options…
Coffee Bru, Beukenplein 14-H, www.coffeebru.nl
Scandinavian Embassy, Sarphatipark 34, www.scandinavianembassy.nl