Being someone who enjoy’s multiple cups of good coffee a day, but not being entirely sure what makes a cup of coffee exceptional, I decided to spend some more time investigating this dark beverage. It’s a drink we have easy acces to, but realizing there are world championships there had to be more to it then meets the eye and nose for that matter. But there are some many different ways of making coffee and so may flavors, I initially had now idea where to begin my exploration. With the growing popularity of coffee and coffeeshops it wasn’t hard to make a list of places where I thought I might get some answers. My exploration starts with a visit to a highly recommended coffeeshop in the centre of Utrecht, the Netherlands: 30ml Roasters
Smiling from behind the counter owner Frans Kooyman welcomes me in and he reaches across the counter to shake my hand as he asks me if I would like something to drink. “Sure I’ll have a cup of coffee”. He chuckles and immediately get’s to work, serving me an amazing espresso. As I sip away, I realize once more I definitely want to know more about this and we spend the next couple of hours talking about beautiful products, craftsmanship, good people and passion. Below an excerpt of our conversation and start of my quest to know more about this amazing smelling and tasting product.
Where does your love for coffee come from?
We [Frans started 30ml Roasters with his wife Wendy] worked our 9 to 5 jobs and at the same time loved traveling the world when we could. While traveling through America and Azia we created a list of favorite places by collecting menu’s, taking photo’s of restaurants we liked. Like most of us do, right. Coffee(places) became a re-accuring theme within that collection and over time we got more and more interested in the product and the vibe surrounding it. Coffee makes people happy, so why wouldn’t you love it. It really is as simple as that.
Like you said most of us collect our favorite places. Something had to be different in your case.
Well, we took it a step further in 2009. We decided to follow our hearts and I started to work part-time at Casa Barista. Here I learned the basics of the machines that are needed to make a good cup, but also learned about the basics surrounding coffee. It was a crazy period, because it basically was a second job. But if you really love to do something, you’ll find a way to make it happen. During my time here, my appreciation for quality grew. It doesn’t matter what you do or make, quality has to come first. The rest will follow naturally.
In 2011 we quit our jobs and started a small espresso bar in Utrecht where we could do our own thing. We wanted to create a laid back place, where people would feel…well…at home and could enjoy a high quality cup of coffee. We made a conscious decision to only use specialty coffee, because we didn’t want to settle for anything less than excellence. Here we where, living our dream and it was a blast. We didn’t have to actively try to market our espressobar. Word of mouth was doing its job. We realized rather quickly that the place we were in was getting to small to host everybody. Besides the fact that it already was a small place to be working in, but hey, you have to start somewhere.
Then something interesting happend, right?
You could say that. We did something bold. We found a new place and instead of borrowing the money from the bank, we tried to crowd fund our new “living room”. This went extremely well and we raised over 20.000 euro’s in the first week! This meant we were able to start 30ml Roasters without a debt, but instead with shareholders who were just as excited about the cafe as us. We’re currently buying out those share holders, so that the bar becomes ours completely and we’re well on our way.
What makes your place special?
The beauty of coffee is that you can have it every day. You can have it at any time during the day. You can have it by yourself or with others. It can slow you down and often creates a relaxed setting. And that’s exactly what we wanted to create with our “living room”. Everybody should be able to come in, relax a bit, have a cup and just…relax. That’s basically how we run our business. By creating somewhat of a second home. A good example for instance, is that we don’t really have a closing time. If people are hanging around at the end of the day and are still having a good time why should we send them away? We’ll just stay open a bit longer.
You will find that the way we run our business is something a lot of new bars, cafes and shops do. It’s about the product, the care about the product and the people who are part of the entire experience. It’s not about getting customers inside so owners can make a buck. The vibe is totally different, people notice that and care about that. Which in the end of course is good for business. We can stay true to ourselves and the people surrounding us. We work closely together with people who have the same idea’s about running a relaxed business. You are actually drinking a coffee blend we got from, what you would normally call, our competition: The Village Coffee & Music. But they want to make good coffee as well so together we strive for that perfect cup and the perfect setting. So why wouldn’t we share our knowledge so we can get just a little bit closer to where we want to go. We’re all in this together. It’s us against the big boy’s haha. But all kidding aside. People expect more these day’s. They want quality. They want that relaxed atmosphere. They want their money spend well.
How do you make sure you have the best product to start with?
The answer to that is: Specialty coffee – which has to meet the high standerds of the Specialty Coffee Association – is the only coffee you will find here. The association has a clear definition for speciality coffee:
“Specialty coffee has a unique quality, a distinct taste and personality different from, and superior to, the common coffee beverages offered. The beverage is based on beans that have been grown in an accurately defined area, and which meet the highest standards for green coffee and for its roasting, storage and brewing.”
It’s a good feeling to know that the people who grow our beans and our roaster share our values. This way we can guarantee a beautiful product and stay on top of our game.
We actually met our roaster – Björn Aarts – when we started our part-time job at Casa Barista and sort of grew up together. He won the Dutch Coffee Roasting Championship in 2014 and we are very proud that we can work closely with him. We always want to have fresh coffee and Björn is able to meet our demands. This way we can use our coffee beans within 2 weeks after the roast. We’ve actually been working on roasting our own green beans. Again we work closely with Björn who is showing us the ropes of perfect coffee roasting. We will do this gradually, because it really is an art form and we don’t want to loose our quality product. We roasted our first beans mid June and so far it has been awesome.
What’s the perfect cup of coffee?
In terms of making our perfect cup, we have the 5 M’s we stick to: Miscela: espresso (blend) and roast, Macinazione: grind and dosage, Macchina: the machine with the perfect temperature, Mano: the hand of the barista, Manotenzione, maintenance. Get all of these right and your damn near close. The beauty of a natural product is that circumstances can change how any of the 5 M’s will react. We spend all day keep up with what happens in the shop, temperature wise, humidity wise and so on. One of the tools we use is pressure profiling, which is a pretty unique thing in Utrecht. We have the ability to change the pressure of our machinery in order to alter the taste of the coffee. A rule of thumb would be: low pressure gears towards fruity/soury flavor and high pressure results in more bitterness. All these variables add to how much fun you can have with coffee. And we like doing stuff we like!
Where can I get the perfect cup in Utrecht?
In no particular order I would have to say definitely go to The Village Coffee & Music, Koffie & Ik (coffee and me) and Blackbird Coffee & Vintage to name just a few. They all use specialty coffee so, as long as the barista’s don’t do anything strange, you can’t go wrong. Mind you, a bad barista is able to f*** up a perfect roasted bean.
Any inspiring life lessons?
Follow your heart, it knows best. But you need passion. That’s where it starts.