One thing we had to learn very quickly in the Netherlands last week was not to ask people where their favourite coffee shop was. After all, we were looking for a good cuppa, and cakes that were home-made but without anything ‘extra’ added…
Mind you, in three days pacing the streets of Gouda, Leiden and The Hague, we only saw one ‘coffee shop’ (in Leiden – big university town), and had almost forgotten about the other meaning over in Holland until we saw the sign saying it was ‘over 21s only’.
The biggest surprise for us was the amount and the quality of tea on offer wherever we went in the Netherlands.
Fresh mint tea seems particularly popular. It’s served usually in a big glass, piping hot with fresh mint leaves – we drank lots of the stuff throughout our trip, and it was even the main welcome drink at the wedding we attended on a chilly beach near The Hague.
But actually the tea in general was excellent, provided you go to an artisan or independent coffee house (there, I remembered…). The three venues we plan on reviewing for the Fancy a Cuppa? site all had good loose-leaf tea, though they all opted for a rather fancy serving in their own bags and hung across the teapot in a style we’d first come across at a tea room in Edinburgh called lovecrumbs.
And you’d see signs advertising High Tea all over the place in Holland.
To some extent this smacked almost of a US-style hankering after what they perceive as the languid leisurely English past-time of tea at five; something we do really only on special occasions rather than for our daily afternoon cuppa.
And sure enough, at our first venue, Koffie Fabriek in Gouda, although Afternoon Tea was advertised, we’d have had to reserve in advance so that they’d get the scones and delicate sandwiches ready for our visit.
We opted instead for a great pot of loose-leaf tea and some delicious apple cake…
Koffie Fabriek is THE place to go in Gouda, for coffee or tea. In our view, anyway. And it only took us a couple of minutes asking locals when we arrived in town, to have that confirmed pretty generally.
And what I liked about owner Jaco was his overall ethos: that coffee in particular is very much a subjective drink; everyone has their own way of drinking it, and the name Fabriek (factory) was chosen because they will make up your coffee in any way you order. None of this: no milk allowed; no sugar permitted; can’t have it hot etc…
We returned for our coffee there in the morning. A great start to the day.
In Leiden, we decided to try one of the Dutch coffee chains. Now, we don’t name names where we aren’t keen on a place, and I hear that this chain of a dozen or so branches does have some good branches (they are all franchised out), but this was perhaps the dullest and most uninspiring coffee we had in Holland.
It just confirmed my belief that when independent coffee shops try to expand too far, and franchise out their operations, the quality control and personal touch can be lost.
Having said that, we got a pleasant surprise at Anne & Max in Leiden.
Anne and Max are actually based in Haarlem and have started a similar process of expansion and franchising out. Leiden is the 4th branch, run with great enthusiasm by a guy called Sander van Bentem. The Marzocco machine helped; and the coffee beans were good quality; Sander was busy around the place and he has a great team around him. This place was buzzing and really good quality.
So, maybe I should rethink my theories on independent chains and franchising…
We didn’t have long in The Hague. Just long enough to try one coffee place I had read about on a blog somewhere.
Lola’s Bikes & Coffee in Noord Einde is in the same family of coffee shops as Fit & Fuel in Naples, Florida, and Zappi’s Coffee in Oxford: they combine a love of coffee with a passion for bikes.
Lola’s served up the best coffee we had had in Holland. It’s what a lot of people in the UK coffee scene call ‘third wave’, though I was pleased that the manager hadn’t even heard of the term – surely far better just to BE third wave, without calling yourself such a vague term (I only read for the first time what first and second wave actually were on a blog about Chorlton Coffee Festival this week!).
It’s all about knowing who your coffee roaster is, who supplies the beans, from where; and about serving up a really top quality cuppa. Oh, and Lola’s cakes are pretty damn good, as well.
And these guys were busy. I think it must be a bit of a destination coffee venue for coffee lovers in Holland, but it’s also just a few metres from the Royal Palace, so a big bunch of German tourists dropped in while we had our coffee too.
It sent us off to the wedding in great spirits, where of course we were met with another steaming glass of fresh mint tea.
Hey, these Dutch know what to do with their tea and coffee. I think we might need a return visit…
Our only major disappointment was at Schiphol Airport on the way home. Virtually undrinkable coffee from one of those press-button machines that spurts out ‘coffee’, ‘tea’ or ‘chocolate’ with barely a second between ‘shots’. Gross. And sadly the same machines seemed to be at every outlet we could find.
If anyone knows anywhere better at Schiphol, let us know here. Surely a gap in the market there?
And for those blog readers who like the cultural and historical tidbits on the usual travel blog entries, I’ll add those in to the video – you know, windmills, canals, bikes, cheese, clogs. That’s the Netherlands we’re used to seeing.
Video to follow soon.