AMSTERDAM, Feb 21 — Mention coffee shops in Amsterdam and you’re likely to get a snigger or two. Visitors flock to so-called “coffee shops” where they can legally smoke cannabis but there are also cafés where real coffee is brewed.
Amsterdam is also very accessible on foot, by bicycle or via its efficient bus-and-tram system. What better way to work up a thirst for some of the best cuppas in Europe than a walking tour of the Dutch capital?
Starting from the Amsterdam Central Station, take a stroll to the Red Light District, a mere eight-minute walk via the touristy Damrak. Here, located on Oudekerksplein, is Quartier Putain. No other café has a better views as it overlooks Oude Kerk, an 800-year-old parish church, and is within calling distance of the infamous prostitutes in windows.
In fact, that’s how Quartier Putain got its name, which means “prostitute quarter” in French. Sandwiched between the city’s oldest building and the lure of the world’s oldest profession, this coffee shop has to work hard to draw in both the devout and the deviant.
Founded by Erik de Kok, Quartier Putain doubles as both coffee shop on the ground floor and performance space on the first floor. The former provides Amsterdammers with espressos and brewed coffee while the latter is where Top Notch, a local music label and publisher, hosts events for musicians, artists, film makers and writers. It’s the best of both worlds.
Five minutes away, across Oudekennissteeg onto Oudezijdsachterburgwal (“Old Side Behind Bastion Wall”), a long street running the length of the River Amstel, is KOKO Coffee & Design. Both a boutique and a café, KOKO may not seem like the first choice for a caffeine stop but looks can be deceiving.
Sparsely and tastefully decorated, KOKO offers a selection of vintage and new designs from around Europe curated by owners Karlijn and Caroline. Comfortable leather sofas and framed pieces by young artists make the café feel like home — albeit a very special one.
The coffee is a wonderful surprise: their cappuccinos are some of the smoothest we’ve had in Amsterdam. The beans are roasted by Antwerp Caffènation, a formidable Belgian roaster. Add friendly owners and baristas to the mix, and this is a café after our own heart... and likely yours.
Leaving KOKO, walk along the Damstraat for about 10 minutes, passing several canals before the winding street continues onto Hartenstraat. Here you’ll find the well-named Screaming Beans as they offer coffee so good you’d want to shout all about it.
From the simple décor (the bar and pastries in front; a small kitchen in the rear), Screaming Beans is nothing less than invitingly casual. The coffee is the true draw here, of course. An Aeropress-brewed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is delightfully floral while a Chemex-brewed El Salvador has a lively and complex flavour.
Unlike most cafés, at Screaming Beans the brewing takes place in front of the customer to bring you closer to the barista. A visual performance, surely, but also a great opportunity to ask the barista about the beans, the brewing technique, and more. Oh, do ask questions.
Consider grabbing a tram — Tram 13 towards Geuzenveld, to be exact — for the next leg of the coffee shop tour if walking for more than 20 minutes isn’t your cup of, ahem, coffee. Get off at the Mercatorplein stop; our next café, White Label Coffee, is right in front of it.
Started by baristas Franscesco Grassotti and Elmer Oomkens, White Label Coffee has an aura of anonymity, given its low profile Jan Evertsenstraat address. This is fitting given that the term “white label coffee” is usually one of anonymous coffee suppliers who supply retail-appropriate roasted beans to cafés and companies to be packaged with the logos of these clients.
With high ceilings, white walls, blonde wood floors, Oriental rugs and a sketched map of the world with tagged origins of beans they carry, White Label Coffee has an spare, unassuming charm. Instead of blends, single origin beans are used for espressos. The espresso shots are pulled “double naked” — only the double shot filter basket and a bottomless “naked” portafilter without any spouts are used.
For the last stop, take Bus 18 in the Central Station direction. Eight stops later, get off at Nieuwe Willemsstraat and walk towards the park. Westerpark, an almost bucolic urban park, used to house one of the Dutch capital’s gas extraction facilities but today has a new life as a cultural centre with markets, festivals and young businesses thriving.
One of these startups is Espressofabriek, founded in 2005 by Rick Woertman with a mission of bringing specialty coffee to Amsterdammers. Housed in a two-storey red-bricked building, Espressofabriek has a café on the ground floor and a roastery on the top floor. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee is ever present.
Outside wooden picnic benches offer an al fresco experience when the weather is fine. Yogis and yoginis practice on the open green, holding their poses for as long as they can. They should come in and have some coffee. There’s no better restorative, especially after a long day of walking around this beautiful city, navigating its sprawling alleys and circling canals.
Oudekerksplein 4, 1012 GZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Mon-Fri 9am-6pm; Sat-Sun 10am-6pm
KOKO Coffee & Design
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 145, 1012 DG Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Mon-Fri 9am-6:30pm; Sat-Sun 10am-6pm
Hartenstraat 12, 1016 CB Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Mon-Fri 8am-5pm; Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 10am-5pm
White Label Coffee
Jan Evertsenstraat 136, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Mon-Fri 8am-6pm; Sat-Sun 9am-6pm
Gosschalklaan 7, 1014 DC Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Mon-Fri 9:30am-6pm; Sat-Sun 10am-6pm