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COFFEE AND CAFÉS IN AMSTERDAM

A new generation of coffee establishments have taken over from the old 'Brown Cafés'

coffee cup

Sitting in Gary's Muffins>>, sipping a frothy cappuccino and munching a toasted onion bagel oozing with cream cheese, you might easily be in San Francisco or New York. The fact that you're in Amsterdam isn't all that surprising since the energetic duo who launched this thriving little chain are Americans - one from the East coast and the other from the West. But the open, light, friendly and relaxed ambiance at Gary's couldn't be more in contrast to the dour, dark and often dingy Brown Cafés where Amsterdamers have traditionally congregated.

Coffee has long been taken for granted in this city of infinite delights. The Dutch, of course, have an intimate connection with the bean as they were the first to actually grow Gary's Muffinsthe plant on European soil (see Fertile Grounds). And Dutch traders were quick to exploit the potential of the black brew, setting up the earliest coffee plantations and using the proceeds to fuel themselves as well as their nascent stock market. But even though Amsterdam, along with London, was one of the twin centres of the early worldwide coffee network, consumption at home was generally the quick and bitter fix that became the standard fare for caffeine starved workers. Of course there were specialty shops like Geels>> that served the more sophisticated tastes but, in the main, coffee in cafés was seen as simply a chaser for alcoholic stuff flavoured with hops or juniper. The entrepreneurial spirit of the Dutch, however, knew a good thing when they sniffed it. The mad growth of 'designer' cafes in America made coffee part of the youth culture and gave it a new kind of glamour. American imports like Gary's were successful because they were able to merge easily into the culture - it worked out of fusion rather than force. But it took the Dutch themselves to show how enterprise, coupled with an intimate knowledge of the trade and the boundless energy for business which bubbles in Amsterdam like a fired-up percolator pot, could develop new models which, unlike the Starbucks template being stamped all over England, is uniquely theirs.

Brandmeester's posterAn example of this new coffee enterprise is Brandmeester's>>. Located far enough from the city centre to avoid being McDonaldised, it still has an advantageous location being a stone's throw from the Museum district , thus benefiting from the tourist trade. Brandmeester's has the feel of a neighbourhood café - friendly, open and warm. You enter into a well designed space which articulates its focus on coffee in every conceivable way - from a charmingly drawn mural of world-wide coffee production covering an entire wall to the appetising variety of beans in great see-through containers affixed behind the counter and the brilliant collection of exotic coffee paraphernalia displayed on glass enclosed shelves like a museum exhibition. In the rear of the shop a miniature coffee roaster fills the room with a seductive fragrance that sets the tone for a smallish café in the back. The drinks are expertly made by well-trained staff and consumed by regulars who know their coffee and are delighted to find a place like this in which to drink it. But the heart of Brandmeester's operation is downstairs which is where the packing and shipping of the coffee, equipment and supplies is consigned for their growing European mail-order business. There is a buzz about the place that is palpable. Brandmeester's are in the midst of expansion and see the potential of their market growing by leaps and bounds - a salutary example to a good many small businesses that knowledge, energy, a good organisation and love of your trade can take you a very long way.

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