London’s Workshop Coffee Co. first opened its doors in 2011 as the European cousin to Australia’s St.Ali—sharing the same name. But in April 2012 the company rebranded (full disclosure: I worked with them on their rebrand) and they’ve since become a household name in London’s specialty coffee scene. The first two Workshop locations were always high on my list of recommended places to visit in London and their wholesale accounts have grown considerably since my last time here.
Last week, Workshop’s third retail location opened at Holborn in the bottom of the new Amazon headquarter building and it’s quite an amazing coffee bar. When you arrive, large front doors open to a bright and spacious area with ample room to place an order or form a queue once Amazon is fully staffed with their employees.
When you enter to the left, there’s a large mirrored logo that casts a glow on several high standing tables and a wall mounted bench reminiscent of the trams in Sweden. This half of the space is designed to accommodate shorter stays and quick shots of espresso, while the back half of the shop offers a more lounging environment where several groups of people were having casual business meetings.
The bar is literally split in two, providing the ability to close off the back of the space with a sliding gate for private events, while keeping the front half open to the public. The back bar also provides the resources to speed up service during rush periods.
The front and back bars are both outfitted with La Marzocco Linea PBs, Mazzer grinders and Uber Boilers. If you’re interested in filter coffee, you can choose from a selection of single origins brewed on an AeroPress or a quick cup of batch brew from a dialed-in Fetco. To accommodate employees operating the well-equipped bar, the space behind it is almost equal to the space in front of it, giving baristas a luxurious amount of room to work with, which everyone seemed very happy about.
The new Workshop feels entirely different than the previous two locations, which are unique from each other in their own right, creating three very distinct experiences depending on where you go. This shop feels like it was designed for speed and efficiency, likely anticipating the rush from Amazon employees and the heavy foot traffic on the street outside. But it also has a very fresh and modern feel in stark contrast to the rustic, wood heavy aesthetic of the Clerkenwell café.
With the growing number of choices to drink delicious coffee in London, the new Workshop offers a refreshing take on the experience that provides a more energizing environment. It feels Scandinavian, without feeling too homey and cozy without putting you to sleep. There are elements that remind me of my favorite coffee bars around the world, like Koppi in Sweden and Saint Frank in San Francisco, all while making its own unique mark on the London coffee scene.
Workshop Holborn Coffeebar
60A Holborn Viaduct
Mon–Fri 7am – 7pm (closed weekends)
Just last month, Riga, the capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic states, was officially unveiled as the European Capital of Culture for 2014 (along with Umeå, Sweden). What that means exactly for the residents depends on who you ask, most seem unsure about the specifics, but they are excited nonetheless to have a spotlight on their city following all the cultural events planned throughout the year. After returning from a week long trip, I learned first hand that the designation is much deserved. From the city’s budding specialty coffee scene to the amazing architecture down every street, Riga is well worth a visit.
Riga has a history that dates back longer than my North American mind can wrap itself around, and the architecture alone reflects it. Just walking through the streets you’re treated to a diversity of buildings that I’ve yet to see in one place elsewhere in Europe. Riga has changed hands many times over the centuries, and it has absorbed heavy influences from Germany, the Soviet Union and at one point in the early 1700′s it was the largest city in the Swedish empire.
In the nearly 25 years since gaining its freedom from the USSR, Riga has grown into a city as cosmopolitan and unique as any other in central Europe. The incredibly preserved Art Nouvaeu district (the largest collection in the world) and the old wooden homes from the 19th century are now being joined by contemporary designs like the newly finished National Library and the Citadele and DnB Nord bank buildings. Along with this architectural and cultural modernization, specialty coffee has begun to take hold as well.
MIIT Coffee & Bikes
Lāčplēša iela 10, Rīga
Tel: +371 26775490
Miit Coffee & Bikes in the heart of the Central District is only a couple blocks from the large Esplenade park. The bright and spacious shop was just around the corner from my hotel and received daily visits during my stay in Riga. There’s a lot of love for bikes and the fixed gear culture, with historic images of track racing on the walls and a framed photo of Eddie Merckx behind the bar. Miit opened 3 years ago and uses coffee roasted by Andrito Coffee Roasting, founded in 2010 by the former Latvian Barista Champion Andris Petkēvičs.
The café serves a menu full of vegetarian and vegan food, including a delicious spread of pancakes for weekend brunch. The long bar made from stacks of wooden slats plays host to a La Cimbali espresso machine or you can order any coffee available as an Aeropress, V60, French Press or Chemex. During one of my visits, a barista mentioned that it’s not common for customers to order the manual brew methods on their own because they usually don’t know what they are, but after recommendations, some regulars will eventually try them and really enjoy it. Even if they don’t serve manual brew coffee very often, she said they’re proud to offer it.
When Miit isn’t making coffee or pancakes, they stay busy with other projects like Miit Works, which sells track bike frames and parts. Cycling seemed to be a reoccurring theme throughout my visit, with fixed gear bikes having a presence in some way at every shop I visited. If that wasn’t enough, when the sun goes down, the coffee bar turns into an evening bar with DJs and crowds that rival those found during the day. There’s also WiFi available for those who need to map out their next move and friendly staff who can help you find your way.
Tomsona iela 2, Rīga
Tel: +371 27002226
The newest coffee shop to visit in Riga is Žanna, which opened just three months ago and already feels like a neighborhood institution. This cozy shop sits on the corner of a quiet residential street off the much busier Valdemars iela. Žanna’s corner location lets light in from both sides, allowing you to enjoy the fresh baked goods alongside your coffee in a warm space that contrasts with the cold Soviet-era exterior.
Žanna is using coffee roasted in neighboring Estonia by Gourmet Coffee, and just like Miit, they offer brewing on a variety of methods. The centerpiece of the room is a bright red La Marzocco FB/80 that draws your attention from whichever corner you may be sitting in. I had a well made espresso before relaxing with a Chemex of Ethiopian Arichan and a sample of a Colombian brewed with a V60—both very well made by a barista who admitted to have only been making coffee for 3 months.
As with Miit, Žanna is open later and has a bar stocked with everything needed to transition from caffeine to a nightcap. This café fills up with locals in a place that’s much more removed from the central part of town, but it’s still easy to visit by a short walk along one of Riga’s main roads. If you want to leave the guide book behind and explore something other than the tourist districts, take a walk to Žanna.
Blaumaņa ielā 34-1a, Rīga
Tel: +371 29349507
A place like Innocent Café normally wouldn’t make it on my list of places to visit, but it was recommended by Ingemars who is now the head barista at Žanna Cafe. While he admitted that he managed Innocent for several years and that they were an Illy cafe, he said it was an important place because it inspired the current trend of specialty coffee shops and the baristas who work at them.
Innocent is the Latvian distributor of Illy coffee, and during my visit I lost count of how many Illy logos there were to remind me. The café was branded like none I’d ever seen before. There were shelves lined with Illy cups, Illy logos on the walls, paintings on the walls of the Illy logos on the walls and sofas upholstered in Illy red leather. It was a bit of an Illy overload.
On the front counter was a white La Marzocco GB5 adorned with subculture stickers that contrasted irreverently with the sheen of Illy’s corporate mark left on every available surface. The café was quite large, with the middle room being devoted to the sale of home machines and coffee products. The back section was dimly lit and reserved more for the laptop crowd, while the front was bustling with customers who all seemed to know each other quite well. From greeting each others kids to saddling up beside neighbors when open tables were readily available.
The coffee was as I expected, but a much better option than most of the places I passed on my way here. I had a well pulled and balanced shot of espresso followed by my first Illy cappuccino with milk that wasn’t bone dry. It felt as if Innocent had formed some kind of hybrid between what I’ve always expected from an Illy café and a modern specialty coffee shop. With a bike on the wall and booze on the shelves, it seemed to fill the requirements of the other specialty coffee shops in town and was filled with happy, coffee loving customers.
While Riga’s specialty coffee scene may still be small, it has ample potential for a city the size of Riga. One thing I noticed every shop in Riga had in common was the vibrancy of a culture on the move. While navigating to each destination, I’d pass local boutiques alongside Bulgari showrooms and centuries old wooden homes beside storefronts displaying the work of Eames and Kartell. Not to mention the free wifi everywhere, even in Taxis and liquor stores.
There are so many rich layers of history in Latvia and so much potential in its modern day growth, it’s inevitable that the current generation will add even more unique layers to this city in the years to come. Places like Miit, Žanna and Innocent have created the kind of atmosphere in Riga where this future can take shape.
Saint Frank, the newest specialty coffee bar in San Francisco is set to finally open this weekend in Russian Hill. The new space is really incredible and I’ve got the photos to prove it. I stopped by this afternoon for a delicious cup of Honduras and to talk with Kevin Bohlin about the new venture.
Back in July, I wrote about the opening of Saint Frank’s pop-up at the Public Bike showroom in South Park. That location is still there and has since become a longer term project that’s kept customers satisfied while the new flagship space was being completed on northern end of Polk Street.
The new space is awash in natural light from the four large skylights overhead and the wall of windows up front. A long, low bar adorned with white hexagon tiles and a matching white counter top reflect the light and illuminate the light wood planks that cut across the floor diagonally and continue half way up the towering walls. The tension between the wood grain and white space create an atmosphere that’s dynamic enough to give warmth, but airy enough to be a gallery space.
It’s an absolutely stunning space.
One of the greatest features is what the space lacks—the presence of physical barriers between the customer and the barista. Kevin worked with John Ermacoff to install the first prototype of a new under bar espresso machine similar to the MOD Bar used in the new Counter Culture Training Center. The machine is still unnamed and uses the guts of a Synesso Sabre. It features the same volumetric and PID benefits, while being extremely low profile.
There are two groups and two cool touch steam wands that are controlled by foot pedals on the floor for hands free milk magic. The groups themselves have a profile that’s more aesthetically similar to an Über boiler and less like the flowing lines of the MOD Bar. But most importantly, guests are no longer walled off from baristas. The espresso bar now provides the same theater as the pour over bar.
There will soon be two espresso machines (a second low pro is being built) which will add the option of ordering single origin espressos ground on the EK43.
There are a variety of seating options, from small two person tables to larger high tables in the back of the shop. There’s a bar at the window for watching the heavy foot traffic go by outside and a future loft space that can be used for meetings or larger groups. There will also be a training lab hidden away upstairs, wifi for the internet starved and pastries for the hungry.
The coffee itself comes from a partnership between Kevin and his former employer Ritual Coffee, where he sources the coffees from farms he has built relationships with, while Ritual helps do the actual roasting. This partnership leads to coffee roasted at the same level of quality you would expect from Ritual, but with unique coffees sourced by Kevin himself.
The brand was developed by the talented Brooklyn-based designer Dana Tanamachi and the beautiful architecture was done by Amanda Loper (whose husband is currently making A Film About Coffee).
The grand opening takes place this Saturday, October 19th at 7am. So stop by and congratulate Kevin, drink some delicious coffee and admire the beautiful space.
Saint Frank Coffee
2340 Polk Street
San Francisco, California
Andrew Barnett is a veteran of specialty coffee who has been around longer than many of the younger roasters you might be familiar with. In 2000, Andrew founded Ecco Caffe which roasted coffee for the San Francisco Bay area for years before it was sold to Intelligentsia in 2009. New Yorkers may also be familiar with Ecco from its use at Joe Coffee, until Joe began roasting for themselves earlier this summer.
This week, Andrew opened the door of his newest foray in the world of coffee—Linea Caffe. The new espresso bar is an intimate, open air café on the corner of 18th and San Carlos in the Mission District. The focus on espresso based drinks and its standing room only intimacy, creates a European feel that’s contrasts with the spacious San Francisco spots that can feel more like co-working spaces than coffee bars. For those who don’t have work to do, Linea provides a warm neighborly environment that’s better for standing around talking with friends than meeting deadlines.
Apart from Andrew and his coffee, the space is also shared with Anthony Myint, of Mission Chinese fame, who’s making fluffy Brussel-style waffles and salads meant to satisfy. Andrew is determined to ensure the focus on coffee and fare be well balanced, instead of leaving the food as an afterthought. So Linea Caffe partnered with Anthony to launch food concepts that will be just as much of a draw as the coffee.
The espresso at Linea is meant to be sweet, balanced and approachable, leaving the more experimental flavor bombs to some of San Francisco’s other specialty coffee bars. After sampling the espresso with and without milk, it was right on target. It was a straightforward, enjoyable coffee that should please both coffee purists as well as the rest of the neighborhood. Next I’ll be sure to try the waffles.
3417 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
8am – 3pm Daily
(I’m also a big fan of the Heath Ceramic demitasses)
A unique campaign was recently launched to tell the story of Philadelphia’s spirited specialty coffee community. The dedicated website is a collaborative effort produced by Hy-Lo, a marketing agency that’s focused on working with hyper-local movements and independent businesses. By promoting the collective specialty coffee community in Philly there’s a greater opportunity to communicate the idea of specialty coffee to consumers in a more effective way that elevates understanding and appreciation.
The story begins by introducing the camaraderie of the baristas who make up the Philly coffee community, their lively TNT events and the knowledge shared to foster their growth. The site also highlights the origin of five influential coffee shops who credit their birth to the passion that once emanated from the now-closed Spruce Street Espresso.
Shot Tower Coffee
It’s been many years since my last trip to Philly, so I haven’t had the chance to visit any of these shops. But with roasters like PT’s, Counter Culture, Stumptown and Intelligentsia all being prepared by dedicated baristas, this list offers a solid start for anyone looking to do a bit of coffee touring in Philadelphia.
Philly Coffee Revival
The coffee options in San Francisco’s Financial District continue to grow with the recent opening of Coffee Cultures on Bush Street. This new café is the first to exclusively serve Counter Culture in the city (though it could be found previously at the multi-roaster shop Stanza). Apart from coffee, they’re also serving Straus frozen yogurt (I assume that’s why “culture” is plural). I’m looking forward to a FroYo Affogato when I visit.
Counter Cultures was started by Jason Michael Paul, who co-founded CoffeeBar another San Francisco company preparing to open their second shop in the Financial District this summer. When Jason isn’t opening coffee bars, he is a producer of concerts who make incredible things like this exist—Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.
If the design of Coffee Cultures branding looks familiar, it was done by the same Chen Design Associates who were behind the iconic Verve Coffee packaging. It uses an extravagant mixture of earth tones, intricate patterns, and layered details to create a leather bound feeling of warmth, and to some, a greater sense of value when paying more than usual for their coffee. Though if you’re working in the Financial District, come on.
225 Bush Street
San Francisco, Ca 94104
Monday – Friday, 6am–6pm
The Daily Meal, one of the internet’s fastest growing food websites, just released one of the more thorough lists of great coffee shops that can be found across the US. While there are a few notables I would add, there are far fewer surprises then other lists I’ve seen. After first giving readers an update on the progression of coffee culture over the years—with the oft-used wave metaphor—they break down their method of selection:
We scoured for the best independent coffee shops and chains that have changed the way we drink coffee. Our criteria? The best quality in coffee and food, atmosphere, customer service, and the “unique” factor. (Case in point: a DeLorean car in the back of one shop.)
Then a panel of coffee aficionados and industry surveyors, including the current US Barista Champion Katie Caguilo, weighed in with their own nominations and suggestions of both national craft coffee “chains” (i.e. Stumptown & Intelligentsia) as well as domestic shops. A selection of nearly 150 shops across the United States were then narrowed down to 33 winners with the highest ranking.
The Daily Meal’s list the of Top 10 US Coffee Shops
- Ultimo Coffee, Philadelphia
- Gimme Coffee, Ithaca, NY
- Barista, Portland, OR
- Courier Coffee, Portland, OR
- Cafe Grumpy, New York City
- Lamill Coffee Boutique, Los Angeles
- Stumptown, national
- Ritual Coffee Roasters, San Francisco
- Joe the Art of Coffee, national
- Intelligentsia, national
(view all 33 top shops at The Daily Meal)
Last year at the end of his talk for the Nordic Barista Cup, René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of the two-Michelin star restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, made a pledge to the 200 coffee professionals in attendance:
next year, I can guarantee you 110% that we will have the best coffee of any restaurant in the world.
Just seven months later, Noma announced a newly revamped coffee service developed with the help of Tim Wendelboe and his Oslo-based coffee roastery. Noma has been named the World’s Best Restaurant for the past 3 years and Tim Wendelboe, who won the World Barista Championship in 2004 and has won the Nordic Roaster Championship on several occasions, makes their partnership one of culinary renown.
When making a reservation four months in advance, paying $400 a person and sitting through a four hour dining experience, you might think it’s expected to receive exceptional coffee at the end of the meal. However, there’s been a lot of discussion (here, here and here) after a recent article by Grub Street revealed that 30% of Michelin star restaurants use the same Nespresso capsules many people have in their home or office.
Noma, however, was never among the ranks of Nespresso using restaurants. For the past nine years they had been using a French press to brew coffee roasted by Estate (co-owned by Claus Meyer who also co-owns Noma), so coffee already received a high level of regard by comparison. After years without evolving the coffee alongside everything else on the menu, it was time to offer a coffee service that, according to Noma sommelier Mads Kleppe, would be “both delicious and interesting … and play with the light, fresh and acidic flavors that you find familiar throughout a noma experience.”
Noma is not the first and surely won’t be the last restaurant to begin taking coffee more seriously. They just happen to be one of the most visible examples of a small but growing number of restaurants that have dedicated the time, money and effort into providing coffee that truly reflects all the other details considered in the creation of an exceptional dining experience. Eleven Madison Park in New York has been serving tableside Chemexes of Intelligentsia coffee for several years, Coffee Collective provides coffee and training to the Michelin starred restaurants Geranium, Kadeau, Kiin Kiin and Relæ in Denmark, while Sweden’s Koppi is working with Copenhagen’s newly opened Bror, run by Samuel Nutter and Victor Wagman—two former sous chefs from Noma.
Just a few days following the official announcement of the new coffee service, I travelled to Copenhagen to take part in the complete Noma experience—three and a half months after making a reservation. Noma offers two services, one that begins at noon and a second identical one later in the evening. We choose the early service to enjoy our food in the light of day and still have the evening to enjoy Copenhagen.
As our party walked in we were greeted warmly by a team of hosts, had our coats removed and were led to our table and tucked into our chairs. We toasted the beginning of our journey with a glass of Champagne and were informed that our appetizers would begin coming out at a brisk pace. What followed next was a remarkably choreographed dance of new dishes, descriptive monologues and bite-size explosions of flavor.
During the next 40 minutes, we would try ten different plates that included fried reindeer moss, smoked pickled quails eggs, sorrel with fermented crickets and Æbleskiver (a pancake-esque ball of dough) with a smoked muikki fish poking through both sides. Every dish was unexpected and challenged the palate in new ways. Each new dish, though unique, complemented the flavors that preceded them.
Following the appetizers were a series of main courses. Each new course was punctuated by fresh baked bread with whipped butter while the sommelier introduced a new wine. The twenty course meal was complimented with nine wines—all but one were white.
For the next two and a half hours, new culinary experiences would arrive, each one just as considered as the last. From the onion and fermented pear soup to the pike perch with verbana and dill, the flavors were delicate and balanced with sparks of incredible flavor—exactly what you’d hope for in a delicious and exciting cup of coffee.
As the final dish from the main course was brought out by the chef, he explained the lengths to which they went preparing the Danish beef rib—aged 3 weeks and cooked for 3 days—adorned with lingon berries. I began to think how unimaginable it would be, after eating that rib, for a restaurant of this caliber to spend less than 3 minutes preparing an excellent cup of coffee to compliment the rest of the menu.
After the wine had all been reduced to empty bottles and the desserts were just a sweet memory on our tongues, we were led from our table in the dining room to the newly remodeled lounge next door. Four hours had passed since first sitting at our table and it was now time to counteract the nap encouraging wine with the results of Noma’s newly implemented coffee service, prepared by the head sommelier Mads Kleppe.
When developing the new coffee service, Noma settled on using the 03 size V60 to brew large enough quantities of coffee to serve parties of various sizes. Kleppe explained his intention of changing coffees seasonally and being dedicated to brewing coffee that pair well with the menu. The first coffee selected and currently being used at Noma is Tim Wendelboe’s Kenya, from the Kapsokisio coop located near Mt. Elgon.
As Kleppe brewed the coffee in front of us, his iPhone keeping time and an extractMoJo nearby, he spoke comfortably and openly about the new coffee, training with Wendelboe and the staff’s excitement for the new service. When the coffee finished it was stirred and decanted into a collection of blown-glassware, custom designed in just a few days by the Danish artist Nina Nørgaard in collaboration with Noma. We were then seated in the lounge with our coffee, a selection of flavored aquavits and a few last snacks—including a chocolate dipped potato chip and a smoked bone marrow infused caramel.
The coffee glowed deep red in the afternoon sun and smelled of berries with the same hue. It was balanced with a buttery body and a sweetness and acidity that was accentuated by the smoked caramel served beside it. Sitting in the warmth of the lounge, and running my fingers over the smooth lines of the thick glass in my hand, I couldn’t imagine a better way to end such an incredible meal. I can’t say whether it’s the best restaurant coffee in the world, but I can say it’s the best I’ve experienced so far.
Before leaving, we were given a tour of the kitchen areas and taken up to the private dining room where all the chefs eat and new dishes are explored. We happened to meet with Redzepi himself who briefly discussed the new coffee service and its success so far. He mentioned that one of the biggest surprises during the whole process was discovering just how complex and particular the infrastructure for coffee can be, including the cost and effort of installing the restaurants second dedicated water system and having a full-time staff member devoted to just preparing coffee.
Now that the world’s best restaurant has taken the effort to highlight coffee with a passion that’s on par with the rest of their food, will more restaurants follow suit? Should they? While some may argue that coffee isn’t needed after a meal, let alone anything more than mediocre swill from a capsule, others realize that post-dinner coffee is a ritual for many and at the highest levels of culinary craftsmanship, God is in the details.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in Amsterdam, a place I hadn’t been to in years and whose small but vibrant specialty coffee scene has grown significantly in recent years. While the number of quality shops are growing, it’s still possible to visit most, if not all, of them during a short visit and still have time for some of the city’s other cultural and recreational treasures.
The evening I arrived I headed directly to a gathering of local baristas for a Friday Bean Battle, which is basically a TNT (Thursday Night Latte Art Throwdown) that takes place on the first Friday of every month. The event was being held at Espresso Fabriek, one of the staples of the specialty coffee foundation in Amsterdam. There is no money or points involved in the battle, just a cool little trophy that’s displayed at the shop of the winning barista until the next competition. It was a fun introduction to some of the people I’d be visiting around the city over the coming days.
Gosschalklaan 7, Amsterdam
+31 (0) 204862106
As one of the first small specialty coffee roasters in Amsterdam, Espresso Fabriek has helped build a foundation for what is now a growing market for lovely coffee bars and cafés across town. They currently have two locations, the first can be found at Westergasfabriek, a former gasworks factory that is now a renovated hot spot for creative and cultural entrepreneurs near Westerpark. The second location is a bit further east of the city in a residential area, which I didn’t visit on this trip (IJburglaan 1489).
Espresso Fabriek can be found behind the main buildings inside a smaller one that once housed gas meters for the nearby factory. It is now an airy two floor loft, with a coffee bar on the ground level and a Giesen roaster with extra seating up above. There’s a 3-group Kees van der Westen lever machine as well as slow bar with V60s and AeroPress filter coffee available. Be sure to try a slice of the Apple cake.
Eerste Constantijn Huygensstraat 35, Amsterdam (coffee, wine & cuisine)
+31 (0) 206160770
Hartenstraat 12, Amsterdam (original location)
+31 (0) 206260966
Screaming Beans is another company that has been a staple of the Amsterdam community who serves coffee roasted by Bocca. In the last year they’ve refreshed their original location with a recent remodel and opened a second location that doubles as a well stocked wine bar and restaurant—complete with tasting menu. The wine bar takes the format of a typical coffee shop and throws it out the window. It offers an experience of fine dining and elegance that won’t have customers questioning the cost of a Chemex. Stationed in front of the glowing wine cellar are dueling Kees van der Westen lever machines, an Über boiler and a myriad of different brew methods to choose from.
The original location, which just re-opened last month in a popular shopping district, has a more traditional café menu, with weekend brunch and pastries along with a fully equipped coffee bar up front, which is also outfitted with a Kees van der Westen lever machine. The space is long and narrow with a bright white wall that reflects light into a nook that’s adorned floor to ceiling with lovely reclaimed wood. What impressed me most about both of the Screaming Beans locations is their dedication to table side coffee brewing, which really elevated the experience to new levels.
Beukenplein 14-H, Amsterdam
+31 (0) 207519956
Coffee Bru is located south east of the city and is a bit out of the way for most travelers. However, if you have the time it’s a journey that will take you to parts of Amsterdam you would otherwise probably never visit. This café has only been open for about a year and a half, but it has the feeling of a neighborhood institution. It’s less modern than the other shops around town and much more bohemian. There’s a corner full of toys for the kids, a living plant wall in the back room and a menu offering vegan friendly fare.
The coffee bar is built on a brightly tiled island that feels like you’re in someone’s kitchen. The baristas serve coffee roasted by Bocca on V60s and espresso was pulled on a La Marzocco. I had my best cup of filter coffee here, but the least welcoming service.
KOKO Coffee & Design
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 145, Amsterdam
+ 31 (0) 206264208
KOKO Coffee & Design was a favorite of mine on this trip. The shop has only been open for 6 months, but it already seems to have a stream of regulars taking advantage of the inspiring surroundings and great coffee. The atmosphere, the location, the concept and the coffee where all fantastic and the service by the lovely owners Karlijn and Caroline was warm and welcoming. KOKO is located right in the heart of Amsterdam, with a front door that sits just across the canal from the Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum. Its presence is unsuspecting and greatly appreciated in this part of town.
The space is part coffee bar that uses beans roasted by Caffenation in Antwerp, Belgium and part design boutique that sells clothing and other accessories from exclusive designers that can’t be found elsewhere in The Netherlands. There is a variety of vintage furniture for lounging and well-lit tables for working or sitting with groups. All of which share the space harmoniously with racks of designer clothing and rotating art exhibits on the walls. I could have spent all day sitting here reading through old magazine and sipping a cappuccino, which was the best I had on my trip.
Tweede Helmersstraat 96, Amsterdam
+ 31 (0) 611641654
Headfirst Coffee is the newest coffee shop in Amsterdam and will soon be the newest specialty roaster as well. When I visited, they had only been open for a month and were using coffee roasted on a friend’s machine while waiting for their new Giesen roaster to arrive. The owners of Headfirst, share the space with another business called Harvest & Co that sells vintage furniture, home accessories and other lifestyle goods that transform the space into one you’d find on the pages of Kinfolk as well as Barista Magazine.
The space here is warm and inviting and the bar is simple and understated with little to distract from the shiny new La Marzocco Strada, which takes center stage. The filter coffee was brewed with an AeroPress while I was there and the single origin espresso was singing with brightness and balance. The owners will soon be roasting themselves in the back half of the shop which will introduce more customers to the process behind their cup and adding even more to the quickly growing coffee scene in Amsterdam.
There’s so much activity in Amsterdam and the coffee shops have all taken their own unique approaches to the service they provide and the atmosphere they’ve created. If new shops continue to open up at the same rate as they have in the past year, Amsterdam will soon find itself as one of the leading specialty coffee hubs in Europe.
View Best Coffee in Amsterdam in a larger map
CNN Travel recently published a story about a unique (and surely controversial) coffee bar in Japan that is either too new or too elusive to have made Oliver Stand’s Tokyo list. Irukaya Coffee Shop (Google translated to Dolphin?) is a windowless, 4 seat, reservation only shop run by Hiroshi Kiyota.
The shop maintains a strict set of rules on its Japanese Excite blog that include:
- Please refrain from lingering on one order—order again within 1 hour.
- No groups larger than 2 people
- No pictures
- No Smoking
- No mobile phones
- No take-away
- No children
- Reservation only during open hours
- Rule breakers are asked to leave
The article details the writer, Nicholas Coldicott‘s visits to Irukaya, including Kitoya’s humble demeanor, the competition-worthy signature beverages on the menu and the extensive list of rare whiskeys that can only be ordered alongside coffee.
Finally, he poured the brew into two cups, alternating so each shared the top, middle and tail of the coffee. He tasted one cup, then served me the other. “Yubisaki,” he said. “Drink it as you would a whisky. It should take around 20 minutes … On paper, the rules look forbidding, but the longer you spend in Irukaya, the more they make sense. It’s not a place you go for a caffeine fix. It’s a sanctuary that happens to serve java. Most of the rules are in place to keep things tranquil. – CNN Travel
While this is sure to ruffle some feathers as being pretentious and off-putting, it sounds like an incredible experience. Where Penny University meets the Soup Nazi, wrapped in Japanese tranquility—sign me up.
Read the full article on CNN Travel
+81 (0) 90 3042 4145
open 2 p.m.-midnight, closed Wednesday
Photos: Julen Esteban-Pretel for CNN