Today’s Travel Spot takes us back three years to the summer of 2018, when I caught the Eurostar to Amsterdam to attend the World of Coffee. In all, I spent four days in Amsterdam, mostly exploring its speciality coffee scene, before catching the Eurostar back to the UK. This Travel Spot covers my journey there, when I took advantage of the (then) newly introduced direct London to Amsterdam service (which started running in April that year), although my journey had actually started that morning in Newcastle, with the leg of the journey to Amsterdam only an hour longer than it took me to get down from Newcastle.
Although my journey out was direct, my return was a two-stage affair, taking the Thalys service from Amsterdam to Brussels-Midi before transferring to the Eurostar back to London St Pancras. The good news is that as of this time last year, Eurostar runs direct services from Amsterdam as well. At the time of writing, Eurostar is offering two direct outbound services a day, with another two services involving a change of trains at Brussels-Midi, while there are just two direct return services (afternoon and evening), with no indirect services, which is slightly disappointing.
I first came across Antwerp’s Caffènation as a roaster when I visited Loustic in Paris in 2014 and again the following year at Kofra in Norwich. Ever since I’ve been a big fan of Caffènation’s coffee so when I had the opportunity to visit Caffènation in Amsterdam, I jumped at the chance. Note that despite the name, this is independent from the roastery/coffee shops in Antwerp, set up (with Caffènation’s blessing) by an ex-employee in 2014.
On the western side of Amsterdam, south of Rembrandtpark and west of Vondelpark, Caffènation sits on a corner, the shop spread over several levels upstairs, with a wonderful basement below. If that doesn’t appeal, you can sit outside on one of several folding chairs on the broad pavement.
Other than the building, the focus is all on the coffee, which comes from the Antwerp roastery. There’s a seasonal blend on espresso, used for milk-based drinks, with a weekly single-origin used for black drinks. Alternatively, Caffènation always has a Kenyan single-origin on batch-brew, which is joined by another weekly single-origin.
Toki, which opened in August 2015, is just a 10-minute walk northwest of Amsterdam’s Central Station. Despite being close to the centre, it felt to me more like a residential area and definitely not a tourist destination. A large, bright, open coffee shop, Toki’s made up of several smaller, interconnected rooms, the layout reminding me of Edinburgh’s Brew Lab (subject of yesterday’s Coffee Spot Update).
The coffee’s from Bonanza in Berlin, with a seasonal blend and single-origin on espresso and, typically, three single-origins on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. These change every month or so, depending on what Bonanza sends through (during my visit the choices were from Kenya, Indonesia and Ethiopia). The single-origin espresso changes more frequently, typically once a week, sometimes twice.
If coffee doesn’t take your fancy, there’s a wide range of loose-leaf teas, plus cold drinks and a fridge full of beer. Meanwhile, if you are hungry, there’s cake every day, while the kitchen, serving brunch, is open from 08:00 – 16:00, Wednesday to Friday, and from 09:00 – 16:00 at the weekends. Note that Toki is cashless, so don’t forget to bring a card!
Back to Black is a chain of precisely two Amsterdam coffee shops which, since 2015, has been roasting its own coffee from a small roastery/bakery which, sadly, is not open to the public. This branch is on Weteringstraat, south of the centre, near the Rijksmuseum and Heineken Experience, making it a good stop if you are out for a bit of sightseeing, and has a lovely, canalside location. The other branch, in contrast, is on Van Hallstraat, about a 30-minute walk west of the main station.
Back to Black is primarily a coffee shop, serving a range of cakes and savoury snacks, all baked in-house. The coffee, similarly, is all roasted in-house, with Back to Black only roasting single-origins. There’s a choice of two espressos, one that has a more conventional taste profile and the other which is a bit different. There’s also a choice of filter coffee, where you can have anything that’s on the shelves in retail bags through V60, Aeropress or Cafetiere, or, if you want to share Chemex or Syphon. The espresso changes on a regular basis, Back to Black moving to something new once the current one runs out, while the filter options are seasonal.
This time last year I was in Amsterdam for the World of Coffee, after which I spent three days exploring the city’s excellent coffee scene. The subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Scandinavian Embassy, was on several people’s lists, and, in keeping with the principle of leaving the best until last, I popped in for breakfast on my final day. South of the centre, in the De Pijp neighbourhood, it’s at the western end of the Sarphatipark, slightly off the beaten tourist track, but well worth a visit.
As the name suggests, Scandinavian Embassy has championed Scandinavian roasters since it opened in 2014. During my visit, there was a blend from Coffee Collective on espresso, plus single-origins from Drop Coffee Roasters, Koppi and Kafferäven Per Nordby on pour-over through the V60. My choices included two washed coffees, a Colombian and a Kenyan, both from Koppi, plus two naturals, an heirloom varietal from Ethiopia (Per Nordby) and a Geisha varietal from Bolivia (Drop), with the options changing every week or two. All of this is coupled with a limited all-day breakfast and lunch menu, plus a copious supply of cakes, featuring freshly baked cinnamon buns to round off the Scandinavian theme.
Today I’m taking you back to June last year when I visited Amsterdam for World of Coffee. Other than the festival itself, my first experience of Amsterdam’s speciality coffee scene was Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters. Set on the canal-side, on a corner by a bridge, I’m not sure there’s a more stereotypical location for an Amsterdam coffee shop and it was a perfect first introduction.
Split between a small front section and a slightly larger rear basement, this is the original Lot Sixty One, with a second branch having opened inside the Urban Outfitters clothing store on Kalverstraat. Despite the name, and the presence of a roaster in the basement during my visit, Lot Sixty One roasts at a new, appointment-only facility in Amsterdam, so this is now just a coffee shop (although “just” hardly does it justice). On the plus side, this means that there’s more room for seating, good news given its popularity.
There’s a house-blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a single-origin for the smaller drinks (espresso, flat white and cortado), plus there are single-origin pour-over and batch-brew options. If you’re hungry, there’s a decent selection of cake. Finally, it’s cashless, so bring a card!
I didn’t have very long to explore Amsterdam’s speciality coffee scene when I visited the city for the World of Coffee in June, but I noticed that the majority of places are outside of the centre, often to the south or west. In contrast, Black Gold, on a quiet, residential street, is just a short walk east of the red light district, making it one of the more easily-accessible speciality coffee shops for those on a more traditional tourist itinerary.
Black Gold is both a coffee shop and vinyl record shop, part of a small band of such establishments around the world. The front is given over the vinyl, although there is some seating and you are welcome to sit there with your coffee. Alternatively, there are a few more seats in the spacious rear of the shop. When it comes to coffee, Black Gold uses local roasters White Label Coffee, with a single-origin on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest roaster. There are also three single-origins on filter through V60, Aeropress, cafetiere and batch-brew, with the same single-origin guest espresso also available as one of the filter options, an innovation which only started in June.
This time last week I was in Amsterdam for the World of Coffee, the Specialty Coffee Association’s annual European jamboree. If you’ve never been to World of Coffee, think London Coffee Festival, but with a more relaxed feel. London Coffee Festival on decaf perhaps? Although general consumers are welcome, it is more of a trade event, which contributes to the relaxed atmosphere.
All the usual (big) names are there when it comes to coffee equipment, in a large, spacious main hall dominated by big stands. There’s a dedicated Roasters Village, home to the small (and not so small) speciality roasters. The stands are much smaller and closer together, which gives it a London Coffee Festival-like atmosphere, but without the annoyingly loud music. World of Coffee is also home to one or two of the world coffee championships, this year hosting the World Barista Championships.
I’ve not been very good at attending World of Coffee, first visiting two years ago in Dublin. I really enjoyed it though and had every intention of going to last year’s event in Budapest, but work sent me to Vietnam instead. I know, it’s a hard life. However, this year I was free and determined to go…
Monks Coffee Roasters is part of Amsterdam’s multi-cultural coffee scene. The owner, Patrick, is a lovely Irishman who opened Monks in 2016 after 26 years in Melbourne, bringing with him a very Australian coffee and brunch concept, Monks serving a combined breakfast and lunch menu until 2:30 in the afternoon, backed up by copious quantities of cake.
When it comes to coffee, the name Monks Coffee Roasters is more aspirational than current reality, with the coffee toll-roasted by Bocca, another renowned name in Amsterdam speciality coffee. However, Patrick has a roaster on order and will soon be producing his own beans, supplemented by various guest roasters, including a guest espresso and multiple options on filter, with Monks offering V60, Kalita Wave, Aeropress, Chemex and French Press. You can have any bean via any method, but the staff have a default method for each bean.
Monks has a modest store-front, but this hides a large interior which goes a long way back, offering multiple seating options from window-bars at the front to a large, communal table at the back. There’s even a shaded garden/yard at the back, but sadly objections from the neighbours mean you can’t have your coffee out there.
Amsterdam has an enviable collection of well-renowned coffee shop/roasters, but none came more highly recommended to me than White Label Coffee, out in West Amsterdam. So when I found myself in the neighbourhood, on my first day in the city after World of Coffee, naturally I had to go.
White Label has been going for four years from the same spot on Jan Evertsenstraat, although roasting now takes places in a dedicated facility a few doors away. There is a 6kg Giesen roaster at the back of the store, but this is only used on Mondays to roast the filter coffee. For the rest of the time, White Label Coffee is just a regular coffee shop, with perhaps the weirdest shape I’ve ever seen…
When it comes to coffee, White Label Coffee roasts numerous single-origins, all of which are for sale in the shop. When it comes to serving coffee, any of the filter roasts are available as a V60, with one selected each day for batch brew. Meanwhile, White Label Coffee offers two choices on espresso, putting on four kg at a time and changing it when it’s gone, which often means more than once a day!