All posts by Ant West

Amsterdam Coffee Festival

“The first coffee plant arrived in Europe in 1616, brought from Yemen to
the Amsterdam Botanical Garden. This was successfully propagated, and
the mayor of Amsterdam later presented a coffee tree to Louis XIV of
France. ” -Eccardi/Sandalj

This year I decided to skip the hipster saturated hustle of the Allegra London Coffee Festival.  It does seem like I have been attending since the beginning of time. Instead I’ve taken the short hop to the Netherlands to mingle at Amsterdam Coffee Fest. Boy did I make the right choice.

Amsterdam Coffee Festival was by not the usual coffee fest line up. Don’t fall into the thinking this was London coffee fest in the Netherlands.  This celebration of the bean has a distinct taste and style. The Dutch scene is still clearly between the new wave speciality and the old school more historic companies. Yet even with this clear contrast of operation and roast styles the ‘scene’ is surprisingly well gelled. Speciality baristas moving between the strata with no animosity between company’s. The United feeling that the dutch coffee industry has reminds me of London 10 years ago. Let’s hope the Netherlanders don’t follow the same path the UK has.

I did a quick scan around,  Probably the first thing to catch my eye was the Kees Van Der Western machine on a major coffee brands stand. The fascinating part was the groups were built with manual adjustable extraction using springs. Not a lever machine but a way to control preinfusion on a pump machine. Shame I didn’t get any time to try it out.

Seeing new machines, a Swedish built coffee brewer called “the hipster” ugly like the Slayer this behemoth will brew in the area of 2 litres with a tidy dispersion style slow drip. This device supplies the brew into three stages and allows control of each stage of amount of water,  temperature and time.

All the espresso machine classics were here too La Marzocco,  Faema,  Wmf, Victoria Ardwino and Sanremo. I also got a look at the London built velopresso again,  armed with the londinium lever espresso,  gas powered, machine. This complimented by a pedel powered HG one for grinding. All very slick off grid tech, the coffee set-up choice of the post apocalypse minded barista.

Coffee fest for me is all about the barista lectures and competitions. My favourite barista Esther Maasdam was banging out the lart like only she could. I was more interested in her talk on drawing attention to speciality coffees obsession with the term fresh. Do freshly roasted coffees actually translates to a better tasting cup? No dark corner of the warehouse left un illuminated. Esthers points included freshness of green,  nitrogen flushing, grain pro,  jute taint and also highlighted recent research that shows old green can be held for lengths of time then roasted and cup just as well after several years, followed by a quick decline. Thanks to Esther I’m now questioning my own storage and practices in my own espresso bar.

Ben Morrow of latte art fame courting no irony at all delved into the murky world of soy vs dairy. I’d always assumed the soy industry to be as devious and dirty as dairy but hearing about hearing about heritage almond farms being rebuilt and the benefits to farmers was truly heartening. To do it the cause justice you have to hear it with Bens hypnotic Australian drawl.

I love a good brewers cup and will always watch one eagerly.  Im not sure who it was exactly; but seeing a young barista freezer up on stage makes my heart sink.  Channelling encouragement and strength to all competitors everywhere.

My Comrade Dagmar however wasn’t lacking any confidence. She took the stage simultaneously presenting her research findings on acoustics and taste notes and making the best coffee of the Netherlands. A fascinating presentation that could transform high end coffee service forever.

I got to meet so many great people in coffee, who gave me so much great coffee. Every festival I go to I pick a favourite. Visiting Keen coffee,  Dagmar served me her competition espresso as a flat white. So amazingly sweet and subtle I could have been easily drinking hot milk and honey.

Innovations in the coffee industry that I saw for the first time at this show include ÜberMilk, a bench top apparatus for “steaming” perfect milk at the push of a button.  No robots to pour large art yet, so barista jobs are still safe. Another barista labour saving device is the auto Tamper the puq press. I knocked out a couple shots on the puq that has been modified to fit snugly under a mahlkonig k30 timed grinder. Makes service very smooths. Thank you Henk of La Marzocco Netherlands for indulging all my questions and observations.

Henk also demonstrated the La Marzocco Modbar. This cutting edge coffee machine is recessed under the bar,  with taps the only visible part. Promoting potential patrons to ask if it pours beers. It’s about the only thing it doesn’t do. Marzocco in true artisan fashion had a wood turner on stand with lathe producing Tamper handles and portafiter handles. Overhead this hall had a all-day DJ ripping it up too.

The Dutch coffee scene that has a wide slice from commodity to the best of specialty despite or maybe because of this the Dutch are a tight crew. The sponsorship of the Aeropress Champs by an espresso machine  demonstrates this elegantly.

Oh shit, do the dutch know how to party. No better party this week than the Dutch Aeropress Championships. Kim and Gabe make for a wicked MCs, top bants. I would book them to host your next competition. No idea who it was who won but the party was great, floor filling hits all night long. Some great break dancing. The DJ was amazing.

I’ve a confession, although I greatly admire Netherlands finest coffee machine designer I’ve never used a Kees machine to actually pull a shot. Mr Kees Vanderwestern has been making tricked out La Marzocco hybrids in the Netherlands for decades. Seeing a La Marz on a coffee shop counter you can make the assumption the owner is serious about coffee. See a KVW and you know they are obsessive . it’d be wrong not to. Esther Maasdam kindly let me play on her KVW Mistrial.  Other than Latte art tutorials, roasting the coffee for the dutch barista champion talks on fresh coffee and supplying many of the coffee machines to the exhibitors Esther joined in on the tasting competition or Dutch Cupping Championship. Arguably the most important of the competions, certainly the less complex. Esther took home 1st. Going on to represent the Netherlands in Korea World Champs.

I ran in Peter of made by knock fame. Furtively he pulled me aside and conspiratorially opened his gym bag filled with grinders to extract a prototype from the workshop of Scotland’s newest coffee industry. A gorgeous camping grinder that will be the death of the porlex. Affordable portable coffee grinders are coming. And they are made in Scotland.

The new coffee trends were annoying still present. Robusta doesn’t taste good, please stop spending money on marketing to make it look good and use that money to buy better green.

Kubatcha, seems like this is going to be a full on trend, I’m not so down with,  but now with sugar conscience consumers and heading towards a post waste society it’s something that can only get better.

A vetren of trade shows I was impressed by the quality of the stands, the imaginative concepts. Bocca coffee roasters,  a roaster we’ve served in the Chapel, built out an airplane to take visitors on a tasting flight. Keen had a slick brew bar and machines.  La Cabra and Goat Story shared a stand and Kopp of Sweden made an appearance. Kopp Anne herself judging the heck out of the very entertaining Mixology competitions with Patrick Rolf-Karlsson of “Specialty coffee that isn’t user-friendly is like, diet coke, Nespresso, the Brexit and undercooked noodles, simply not helping anyone” fame.

I love the city of Amsterdam. It was the first port of call when I first landed on the continent and I’ve been back half a dozen times in the past decade. Bicycles, a social approach to social problem,  Canals,  amazing architecture and a culture that reflects the seafaring tradition.

Unfortunately London’s coffee scene has always been closely tied to hipster ‘scene’ and east London. I always felt that this in a major contributing factor stopping the London speciality coffee from moving forward.

The dutch also established the first  truly transnational corporation VOC (dutch east India company) who were responsible for the cultivation of the first coffee in Java and the rest of Indonesia.

Present day Amsterdam Coffee still holds the connections of the old but with a new angle,  ACF venue itself the old gas works the main hall in a firm of the century gas tank. Made for a astounding steam punk style venue. The coffee machines on display had a hard job to out shine the architecture. Or should that be engineering? Any way a suitable venue as the age of gas age gave us the energy to boil our water and make steam in the first place.  Even the Siren herself, Seattle’s giant Starbucks roast all their UK coffee here.

Traditionally Dutch Coffee houses were known for elaborate gardens and ornate surrounds. To this day although London may have more speciality coffee shops (for how much longer?),  the Dutch still fresh grind and brew at home. A morning art that if presented to a typical British coffee drinker they likely wouldn’t know where to start.

The Dutch didn’t start drinking coffee until after the Oxford and London coffee houses. The English rejection of coffee in favour Tea after the suppression of coffee houses by Charles II gives the Dutch, like the Germanic cities during the same period an unbroken tradition of coffee drinking.


Dutch Aeropress Champs ’17

The Dutch coffee scene is represented with a wide slice from commodity to the best of specialty. And despite or maybe because of this, the Dutch are a tight crew. The sponsorship of the Aeropress Champs by an espresso machine  demonstrates this elegantly.

Oh shit, do the dutch know how to party. No better party this week at Amsterdam Coffee Festival than the Dutch Aeropress Championships. Kim and Gabe make for a wicked MCs, top bants. I would book them to host your next competition.

Smack down style 34 participants eventually Jonatan Scheeper took home dutch gold and will represent the Netherlands later this year at the World AeroPress Championship in Seoul (South Korea). Second was Milad Feroegh and Erik Oosthuis went with the third prize.

the party was great, floor filling hits all night long. Some great break dancing. 

Thank you to the Dutch for making me so welcome.

The La Marzocco Factory Tour


A short train journey from Florence couched amoung the Tuscan hills is a holy site for all coffee afficianados. The first thing that struck me about the La Marzocco factory was it’s modern clean look. A building more likely to be seen in silicon valley than amoung the olive farms.
San Sieve is known for its moter racing track, yet La Marzocco is the coffee machine of choice worldwide, but apparently they not as well know within Italy itself. My comrade Dagmar, who organised this juant via Mr Henk of La Marzocco Netherlands, was wondering out loud who we were meeting when a La Marzocco branded van pulls up.

Two Italians from La Marzocco Rome shared our ride to the factory. Despite the language barrier quickly we were talking coffee machines. Such is the fraternity of coffee. They talked with love for their company founders and ethics. They spoke of 1939, when Giuseppe Bambi registered a patent for a machine with a horizontal boiler, the first of its kind, with group heads side by side (linear). This gave the barista more space to operate the machine and the possibility of more groupheads that disperse the espresso. This is often the first thing you learn about La Marzocco, But more on this later.


Walking into the Factory’s reception the space is dominated by an early 20th century Vittoria roaster, maybe 40kgs I’d guess. Well waiting Dagmar and I discussed the pros and cons of the old roaster and direct flame roasting this roaster having its flame jets in the centre of the drum axis, rather than from beneath the drum. We were giddy with the spirit of the space already.

We were then welcomed into museum and coffee bar area. At this point only a couple people had arrived for the tour so with luck we got Silvia, La Marzocco PR, to ourselves. We quickly got down to the business of talking history. I feel disingenuous using the term PR as that term is associated with spin, marketing and hype. La Marzocco was free of all of this. I’ve never seen a company so large that is full people passionate about who they work for and the history of what they do.


Silvia told us about the two brothers, craftsmen who operated a workshop building all sorts of things, panel beating and metal working. Giuseppe and Bruno Bambi. One commission taken by the workshop for an upright boiler coffee machine. The Fiorenza, essential I large mokkha pot with something like a portafiter on each side of the machine and no pressure regulation. If you want to cool it down add more water, if you want more heat as more coals. The pressure was a mere 3 kg per cm³ compared to the 9kg per cm³ machines that came later. The machine required two operators. One stoking, one brewing. At the time they were not known as barista, simply Italian for bar men, But machinista. This machine was akward, dangerous and didn’t produce very nice coffee. 

By 1936 the Bambi brothers had completely revolutionised the coffee machine. Inventing design features which are still standard today. They changed the way the boiler worked, adopted the successful group style from Gaggia with spring levers in the 1950s. By far the most beautifully designed of the coffee machines in the espresso Hayday of post war. 


While other coffee machine manufacturers in Italy continued to operate during The war the Officina Fratelli Bambi as they were known was no friend of the regime. They could not obtain license from the Mussolini government for use of metals. Many early machines were taken and melted down for the war effort. 

Hardly surprising since the lion found on all LMs are a symbol for the Florentine Republic. The La Marzocco lion, based on a sculpture by Dontello, was a reinterpretation of Mars, a god who was a symbol for the Florentine republic. Pre dating the Roman invasion and Christianity. Guiseppe however did patient the liner boiler during this time but due to Bruno dying during the war his wife took the Linea patent to other companies which is why they are now the style of all modern coffee machines.


The machine in the hospitality area, a three group Linea with a brass casing hand beaten by Giuseppe when he was 97 years old decorated with the Lilly of Florence. As Silvia is asking if we want a coffee an elderly man starts dosing and grinding behind the machine and makes us an espresso. Silvia smiles and introduces us to Pietro Bambi.  I’m taken hold by an uncharacteristic shyness but Dagmar jumps behind the machine with him and despite the language barrier an exchange ensures.


Silvia tells me that when she first started she wasn’t a barista, but she was trained by Pietro, she found all the techniques and steps a little overwhelming. Asking him to slow down he told her well I’m teaching you properly because I wouldn’t waste my time on someone stupid. A backhanded compliment. We tried an espresso from Guatemala, roasted locally.

After the war Guiseppe work with limited resources. He would visit soldiers markets to buy old parachutes and metals to fashion in the workshops products. Hard to imagine when looking at this large, solar powered Spanish mission style building that it was grown on coffee machines built with used fun casings.


We started the tour moving from the offices to R&D but unfortunately I didn’t get to see the La Curva LMs lever project. It was in the research and design section. The blinds were down and the future plans of LM are still a secret to me. 

First stop was the top floor where both GS3s and Linea Minis are assembled. These are single group machines. GS3s for low use commercial such as in roasters, bars and training. The Linea Mini the new sweet heart for home users.


The shop floor for both of these machines are broken up into separate areas with the top for people working in each section. Silvia explained all staff had interchangeable skills and no one was fixed in one position. 

It’s amazing that each machine is handmade to order. Each customisable, and they often are. The Brothers design skills also extended to decor as did Piero Bambini was originally training to become an interior designer and his older brother was to continue the company.
interior designer. So many coffee bars were designed by Piero. He even designed chandlers and moldings for them.
It’s almost like LM have developed along parallel lines to the industrial revolution. They have not industrialised and compartmentalised the process but simple made the workshop method bigger and bigger. They don’t operate top down push and production line assembly, but operate collaboratively and give room for bottom up innovation. They are modern day craftspersons not allowing themselves to be hurried each machine taking the time that is required to finish to a high standard.

That a single machine can be assembled by just a few workers each having responsibility for those individual machines. Counter intuitively LM is a quiet, clean and zen like calm space where intelligence and innovation is valued. The large windows over vistas of olive farms no doubt helps worker morale too.


Dagmar pointed out the number of women employed by La Marzocco. The ratio is healthy and women take tasks equal to men, not resigned to just making the tea (or espresso).

Moving through the lower part of the factory we continued the tour we passed the man himself Kees Van Der Western, Dutch innovator of such machine design as the mirage and minstrel. I can only guess what creative collaborative projects may be in the works. He was kind enough to compliment me on the Faema shirt I happened to be wearing that day.
As well all workers having a knowledge of the wide range of techniques for assembling all builds of machines they also have strict quality control. Parts from suppliers are rejected for the smallest imperfection. We were shown a saturated group cast as a single piece of surgical stainless steel that was rejected for the rough finish it had been given.


These groups are a major source of pride for LM, a solution to temperature instability, and created in the early GS models. The design so much a part of LM at every point even the concept behind the saturated groups is encoded into the GS logo for these machines. This design profile of the machine gave the barista far more space to interact with customers. It was also the machine the original Starbucks use and was the foot in the door for the American market. If it wasn’t for LMs and Pietro having the insight to expand from Italian to American markets the espresso and third wave coffee movement we know today would have not happened as beautifully as it did.wp-1488678612573.jpg


  My £600 Rescession Proof Coffee Shop

This is the full version of the article published by Caffeine Magazine
Co-writing credit to Charlotte Taylor-Page

I’m gonna take a completely unrisky bet that if you’re reading this, you’re either in a coffeeshop right now, or you work in one. Take a look at the people around you, they’ll probably fall into two categories, and I’m not just talking about preferences for facial hair. You average barista is either I’m just barista-ing while studying/travelling/saving money to study and or travel – unfortunately this trend leads to those once a year conversations with aunties back home asking why you’re still ‘just a barista’ despite being in my mid-thirties (just me?) The second category is the barista who knows more than the boss, the barista who is intending to open a coffeeshop of their own one day.


Starting a coffeeshop is one of those things – it looks like anyone can do it (we’ve seen enough of those kind of places in the recent coffee explosion) but without investment from multimillionaire or loopholes around tax-law it also looks like a Sisyphean feat (not easy in skinny jeans). But there is a way, if you go down the DIY route, you can open a coffeeshop on as little as £600. I know, because I did it, and here’s how. Kiss goodbye to your annoying hipster boss. You are now that annoying hipster boss.


You’ll need some start-up money, of course. Short of collectivising with your coworkers and pooling your tips now is the time to beg, borrow and steal. Set up a Kickstarter with free cups of coffee as rewards (in fact, pay all your bills in coffee, this is the freemarket afterall). Sell your soul freelancing. Or, you know, stay in your current job until you have enough savings and accumulated knowhow to do it all yourself (either that or you’ll hate coffee so much you’ll start drinking tea).

You’ll need a space. A place with people, preferably. People are really important for a coffeeshop, almost as important as a pitcher-rinser, definitely more important than that on-demand grinder you’ve been eyeing up. To come under budget your best bet is a market or shared space. A lobby in a set of offices or unit in a trendy studio. Charities with free space are often keen so long as your business is ethical, drug cartels looking for money laundering fronts, if not. If you have transport, pop-up spaces are gaining popularity and it always helps to be flexible and fashionable. Some people are running coffee bars in London in spaces they get in exchange for free coffee and the customers they bring into a shared space. I rented a corner of a vintage market, using the second-hand furniture for tables and seating.


There is a reason why shabby chic is in. It is cheap. But it looks edgy and arty, not so cheap that you’re reluctant to hand over nearly three quid for a flat white, but enough that people assume you care so much about your coffee that you didn’t have time to strip plaster and hide wiring. Stripped plaster and exposed wires are in. Old school lab stools go for £45 a piece online, but if you’re willing to dumpster dive they’re free. Find a school chucking out desks and fittings and you’re onto a winner. Workshop benches make a gorgeous bar and are just the right height for an espresso machine.

Which brings us to machines. In my first shop I got lucky and found a La Pavoni lever for less than £300. This doesn’t happen often, but the seller didn’t know enough about machines or the Internet to haggle. Italian eBay is a goldmine (so much so I’m reluctant to impart knowledge). Otherwise ask your roaster of choice for a machine on lend, most places have something lying around the workshop. Espresso machines aren’t nearly as complicated as they look. If you have the knack (or a friend) then refurbishment of a clunker is the cheapest option. Limescale is easily removed, parts sourced online. Dr Espresso can refurb your not so shiny kit for a price.


With all the hip coffee bars flashing an EK43 the older clicky-clack grinders are flooding auction sites. You’ve got time enough later to buy all the fancy toys and RO systems your coffee-nerd heart desires, once you’re open and making money. If you’re really geeky you can modify your grinder to be G.O.D. by removing the doser, replacing with a funnel and timer switch (check out Home Barista Forum for hardcore hacks). Made by Knock is the place to go for tampers, they’ll even laser your logo onto your handle, also perfect Instagram fodder.

And yes, you’ll need to be on social media, but maybe not as much as you think. Marketing is important, but likes and favourites do not necessarily translate to espresso sold. Better to encourage existing customers to share your shop on social media – perfectly Instagrammable latte art and writing your @name on those witty a-boards you spend all day coming up with. Get yourself a listing on Google Maps, Foursquare, London’s Best Coffee App etc, this is how actual people looking for coffee will find your shop.

The most important thing is open your damn shop. Open first, details later. All cafes take a few months to get into the swing. Don’t laminate your menu just yet. Obviously don’t laminate it at all, find the perfect typewriter font and bulldog clip it to a plank of wood.

Baristas, the coffee revolution is happening, ditch the bosses and open £600 espresso bars everywhere. All you have to lose are the chains.