White Label Coffee: Top roaster in Amsterdam

The coffee Monday this week goes back to Amsterdam. When people talk about Amsterdam and coffee in the same sentence it has historically been more the coffee shops where there is more smoking than coffee drinking go on. The specialty coffee scene in Amsterdam is however really taking off and in the past couple of years a variety of new places have popped up. One of my recent discoveries is White Label Coffee in the western part of Amsterdam.  I first encountered their coffee at Kokko in Helsinki and then decided to make sure to have time to visit.

Filter coffee
Filter coffee
Cool espresso machine
Cool espresso machine

They have a rather spacious café where they roast coffee, sell beans and some equipment as well as of course serve the coffee. They have a wide range of coffee for sale and upon my visit they had an impressive seven different coffees available to order as hand-brewed filters. The guys working here really know how to make their coffee, very nicely prepared. The roasting is also very good and I was impressed by filter as well as cold brew. For me they are among the top coffee places in town and for me they are currently only beaten by Scandinavian Embassy but I do believe the fact that these guys roast their own coffee is something that may in the long run make them number one.

There is some simple café food on offer and nice apple pie and other pastries but I would still not say that it is the place to come for a full meal. What they have is however nice and decently priced. I like the atmosphere of the place and the people working there are very friendly so it is a nice place to hang at. It is fairly spacious and has free wifi so it is also possible to hang around for a longer period of time.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 4.5
Food: 3
Vs local competition: 4.5

Coffee Bar Review: Tamper & Co, Singapore

This cafe on Rangoon Road appears to be trying to jump the bandwagon of the trend of specialty coffee bars in Singapore in general and Rangoon road in particular. It looks very much like what you would expect one of these places to loo. Pretty sleek design, nice atmosphere and cool looking logotype outside.

They call themselves Brew Bar Tamper & Co Handcrafted Coffee so imagine my surprise when they do not do any hand brewed coffees. While I do no actively dislike espresso based beverages I do in general find them more boring and when a place includes brew bar in the name I would at least expect them to do one filter coffee. This was not the case here but to be fair they seemed a bit embarrassed about it and they claimed that they were planning to start with hand brewing. I also tried to order the cold brew listed on the menu but that was sold out (not sure if it has ever been available) so in terms of the selection they did not fully impress.

The lack of appealing options made my consider whether to leave and head to Old Hen Coffee Bar next door or Jewel down the road I opted to give them a chance and ordered an iced latte. It is a fairly forgiving drink as the milk can be used to mask some failures in coffee quality. The friendly staff quickly made sure it was made, checked if we wanted any sugar in it (of course not but really appreciate them checking). In general the staff were super friendly and worked fast.

The iced latte arrive quickly and first impression was that it looked nice. Flavor-wise it was however a bit of a disappointment. It lacked interesting flavors, no real bitterness but also a bit bland. It is of course a risk when using this much milk. I would say it qualifies as ok and by far better than what you would get at a chain like Costa, Nero or Starbucks but still not good enough to be specialty coffee. I also sampled an espresso and it was nicely pulled, nice crema and while not exciting in any way it was made with fairly good skill and decent beans. They do however need to work on their coffee offering and potentially also a bit on their skills. Food is on offer here and the few things I sampled suggests that it is perhaps a much better choice.

They were very friendly so I hope they can fine tune their operations in the months to come as I would otherwise be a bit surprised if this would fly. The competition in the area is pretty sharp so if they are to make it I think they need to up their game considerably. The area is up and coming but there are not a lot of people just walking past so it is necessary to also have something that pulls in the crowd.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 2
Ambiance and service: 3.5
Food: 3
Vs local competition: 2.5

Coffee Bar Review: Roots Coffee Roaster, Bangkok

So it is once again Monday. Being back in Sweden during the perhaps worst period of the year when it is grey, chilly, damp and often a mix of rain and snow makes me think back fondly of my visit to Bangkok. Therefore it is fitting to bring up one of the highlights of the visit there. I had heard a lot of good things about Roots before heading there so I was a little bit fearing disappointment, you know that feeling when you think can it really be that good.

Roots is one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Bangkok and it was started by Varatt “Tae” Vichit-Vadakan, also Thai Barista Champion and he together with the others involved in Roots, run the restaurant Roast. Roots is located at Ekkamai Terrace #2-4 (at Sukhumvit Soi 63 between Ekkamai Soi 15 and 17). It is not a super convenient location with Skytrain but still, sort of, walkable from Ekkamai station (around 15-20 minutes) but a taxi is recommended. More of an issue than the location is however the opening hours, only weekends from 12 to 6pm. The rest of the time the space is used for trainings and work shops so it can tend to get packed with people.

People do however come here for a good reason. The coffee served here is by any measure fantastic. It is number one in Bangkok and to me they also beats the competition in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Tokyo and they are definitely at par with the better places in Europe and the US. The scene for coffee in Bangkok is really booming and while Roots lead the pack there are numerous others that do great things as well. The consistent quality and the great roasting is however what in my mind gives Roots the edge.

There is a rotating selection of coffee available and usually there are three to four different beans to choose from for the filter coffees and then two for espresso based coffees. The selection rotates roughly every 6 weeks so come back to find new things. For the filter coffees it is also possible to select the method (V60, aeropress etc) but they also make a recommendation for each different coffee and based on my experience it is fine to just trust them. Every single cup I have had here has been great or excellent. The execution as well as the roasting really impresses and it does not seem to matter that much who is making the coffee. The cold brews, in bottles, are also great. Especially in the hot Bangkok weather.

The training of the staff seem to be an area of focus at Roots (and Roast). From what I understood from one of the girls working there, all the baristas go through a 3-month training before, if passing, becoming a full-time employee. It is however not as if it stops there as they then provide continuous training to let people develop more. Tae believes that the people are crucial to making good coffee so in his work to provide the best coffee he has realized that it does not matter if he sources excellent coffee, roasts it to perfection if the people serving it are not as good. So trying to retain people by allowing them to develop, learn and have a career path is a way to serve good coffee.

The strategy seems to work as the coffee is just awesome. What is then even more surprising is the pricing model. There is no price list but rather one pays what one feels it is worth. They have an honesty box and it is up to people to put as much (or little) as they want there when they leave. It does seem to work well though as most people are amazed by the quality.

There is not a full kitchen at Roots but there are delicious pastries available. These are baked on site so just sitting there they bring out new and freshly baked pastries and I do at least find it difficult not to overindulge. The pastries are also great, some of the better I had in Bangkok and these also follow the same honesty pricing system.

Since the place tends to get a bit crowded I do not really feel comfortable sitting around for too long but the place looks nice and it is pleasant to sit and sip the coffee. There is no free wifi or such but this is not the place to come and work or study – the focus here is on great coffee (and pastries) so I am not really bothered by it. I also like the fact that it is clear that the space is not only a café but that they also roast, bake and hold courses here. It does give the space a different feel to many other over-designed cafés. Service is extremely knowledgeable, very friendly and it is clear that people like talking about coffee and they are happy to answer any questions you may have. My only regret is that I do not have such a place anywhere near where I live.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 5
Ambiance and Service: 4.5
Food: 3 (pastries are five star but there is not really any ‘real’ food)
Vs Local Average Competition: 5

Coffee Bar Review: Department of Caffeine, Singapore

Located right around the corner from Duxton hiIl this place fits nicely in the neighborhood. It is nicely designed, has a very modern feel to it and they do as many of the good cafes in Singapore serve both good coffee and food. The service is friendly and knowledgeable. The place seems to be constantly full but they still manage to provide fast service with a smile. I also like that they still ensure that they keep the quality level high even though they are busy.

The coffee is usually from Common Man so no roasting of their own is done. I did however find that they usually executed the coffee better here than at Common Man. The selection of coffees is however smaller here. Usually there are three options for the hand brew and then one additional one, usually a blend, for espresso based drinks. The hand brews have been excellent quality as well as the cold brew. Especially the cold brews have been really nice and flavorful yet without a hint of bitterness. The other beverages that I tried have also delivered good quality.

Food selection is good and they serve both delicious full dishes such as pastas as well as more standard cafe fare like pastries and sandwiches. Everything I had here has been very good so can easily recommended it for both food and coffee. As mentioned it is very popular and that in combination with not that comfortable seats makes a place I do not really hang out for that long at. Free wifi is available but it does not feel as if it is ok to sit and work or study here.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 4
Food: 4
Vs local average competition: 4.5

Coffee Bar Review: Assembly Coffee, Singapore

Assembly coffee is on Evans road (26 Evans Lodge), just outside the Botanic Garden in Singapore, next door to a wine store (the Wine Company), burger restaurant (Wildfire Kitchen) and Mr Prata. The cafe is fairly small and the space feels very cramped, at least when it is full (which it was when I visited). It was also fairly noisy, so it was difficult to have a normal conversation due to sound from everyone around you. The cafe is however neatly designed and has the vibe of a cool cafe.

They claim to be part of the third wave coffee movement but the focus on the coffee was not really there when I visited. They had only one option for filter coffee and while it was prepared in a decent way, it did in no way impress me. The espresso based beverages were pretty good and compared to the average place they do serve a good cup but it is not a place worth going to just for the coffee.

I was however more impressed with the food. A good selection of different sandwiches, simple dishes and some nice sweet stuff. The salted caramel waffle was really good and the same can be said for the egg and mayo sandwich as well as the scrambled egg croissant. Prices were pretty decent to be a Singapore cafe but it still bothers me that they only accept Nets or cash, so for us non-locals better bring along cash.

Service was friendly, but as it often seems packed to the brim, also a bit stressed and it was difficult to really chat about the coffee with them. Still a decent place and by far the best around the Botanical garden.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3
Ambiance and Service: 3
Food: 4
Vs Local Average Competition: 3.5

Wine Review: 2010 Miette Grenache Shiraz Mataro, Barossa Valley, Australia

While hanging at one of our new favorite spots, Verre, in Singapore we explored the wine list a bit and came across an interesting red from Barossa Valley in Australia. Miette Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro from 2010. This red wine is from the winery Spinifex in Barossa. They were established in 2001 so compared to many other wineries in Barossa they are still just getting started.

The man behind the project is Peter Scheel, New Zealander who has spent considerable time working in France before establishing Spinifex. He runs this together with his wife Magali Gely. The influences of France can be seen in the selection of the grapes, so a lot of focus on Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro (for those not familiar with Mataro it is also called Mourvèdre or Monastrell). They do also use other traditional French or Mediterranean grape varities such as Cinsault, Carignan, Ugni Blanc, Grenache Gris.

This specific wine has 100% Barossa valley fruit. It has been sourced from a variety of vineyards, the Mataro from one old (90 year old bush vine vineyard) in Koonunga Hill region of the valley and the other Mataro competent from the far south of the Barossa valley. The Shiraz part also from Koonunga Hill as well as the far west of Barossa valley. The Grenache part came from three different old vine (30, 50 and 90 years old) vineyards in the east and north. All wines are made in small open fermenters, using indigenous yeast, and are basket pressed. The 2010 Miette Grenache Shiraz Mataro has been matured in French oak.

image

The color of this wine is deep red. The nose is a pleasant mix of red fruits (strawberries and raspberries), dark plums and spice. The flavor is full of red cherries, plum but also leather and tobacco notes mixed with hints of something herbal. The relatively high alcohol level (14.5%) is not at all apparent on the palate and it also relatively refreshing and avoiding the sweetness that may come with a lot of the high alcohol and fruit driven reds.

We had this wine by the glass at Verre and since it was happy hour it was very decently priced at 18 SGD for two glasses (when not happy hour it is 18 for one glass). Prices for a full bottle in Australia appear to be around 22 AUD (approximately €15) and while it is difficult to get hold of in Europe it is sold in the Netherlands and Belgium for €17. I think this is a very pleasant wine and while I would not necessarily run out to snap up several bottles of it, I would happily have it again. So I give it a quality rating of 3.5. Price wise this makes this wine pretty decent value for money but for reds one can often find similar or better value with other wines so it is a solid 3 in rating for value for money. It is a nice and approachable wine to enjoy now and for the coming year or years but not anything for long term storage.

Cocktail Bar Review: LongPlay, Singapore

LongPlay is a fairly newly opened (opened in dec 2014/jan 2015) cocktail bar on Haji Lane (and having an entrance also on Arab Street) in the Arab district of Singapore. As the name suggests it is celebrating the old vinyl LPs and while I may be a bit too young to fully have lived through that era I still must say I love both the LP as such and the concept. The bar is clearly aimed at young hip crowd and will most likely draw in a mix of hipsters, after workers and expats. When I was there it was however very relaxed and laid back and friendly service so hopefully that will continue as popularity increases.

The bar is a part of the growing empire of restaurateur/hotelier Loh Lik Peng. He already has restaurants/bars such as Esquina, Sorrel, the Library, Bincho and hotels the New Majestic Hotel, Wanderlust and 1929. They also run the Typing Room, Corner Room and Town Hall hotel in London as well as hotels and restaurants in Sydney and Shanghai. It is an ever growing empire but as long as they do things as well as this I am not complaining.

Design wise the premises is a bit tricky as it as a very long and narrow space but they have made remarkably good use of it. There is a bar when entering (if coming from Haji Lane), barely space to walk past before entering the slightly more spacious lounge that has sofas, chairs as well as tables along the wall. The decor is tying into the era of the 1970s but also connecting to the LP with menus in the shape of LPs, round LP-style tables. There are exquisite looking brass mirrors, dark wood furniture, comfortable leather sofas and wooden chairs paired with perfectly fitting lighting as well as light white curtains nicely dividing the space and creating at least an illusion of privacy at some of the tables. The, a little bit rugged style fits the place perfectly. There is of course also a DJ playing LPs and I loved hearing music like David Bowie, the Beatles and Elvis Presley when sitting there sipping my cocktail.

There is a short and well selected cocktail list and there were many ones that peeked my interest. I opted for the cleverly named Marlon Brando with cognac, Stella (of course since it is Brando) beer infusion, orange slices (think end of the Godfather…) and a nice straw with some Godfather branding so most of the ingredients had some connection with Brando or the roles he played. A bit clever and cute and the other cocktails had similar fun aspects to it (eg House of the Raisin Sun with raisin infused tequila and there was also a Fred Astaire cocktail). More importantly than these fun things were that the cocktails were very well-prepared and tasted great.


For those not in the mood for cocktails there was also a good selection of wines by the glass such as two cavas (Torello at 16 SGD and the Noches y Dia at 17 SGD) as well as a Verdejo (white) and a Crianza both priced at 16 SGD per glass. Also very impressed with the commitment to quality in them checking the wine served,  discarding the first bottle and opening a new one. Clear they know what they are doing. There are also a number of beers as well as different liquors and a good selection of non-alcoholic beverages and the bartenders will be happy to whip something up for you as well.

They also have a short but well considered food menu with a number of snack sized dishes as well some larger dishes. The standout dishes seemed to be the buttermilk chicken as well as the squid with Harissa dip. I was however also very interested in the mac n cheese well as the hummus with pita. So while it may not be the main reason to visit they do have good food as well. All in all a very welcome addition to the Singapore cocktail scene. What makes it even better was the really good service. The manager, David, made sure all guests were being tended to and he always had time to chat with all the guests so really made people feel welcome so if they keep up that level of service this place will be a huge success.

Wine Review: Amisfield 2010 Pinot Noir RKV

Amisfield Pinot Noir is one of the many nice Pinot Noir’s coming out of New Zealand in general and central Otago in particular. Amisfield was founded in 1988 as a specialist producer of Pinot Noir and aromatic white wines. The Amisfield vineyard is in the central Otago area close to the shores of Lake Dunstan. Historically it was actually a high country sheep station for merino sheep. In 1999 planting commenced with four varieties of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. It took three years, until 2002, before the first vintage was produced. They are currently producing around 20 – 30 000 cases of wines per year and the majority of that is Pinot Noir, accounting for around 60%. So no surprise it was the Pinot Noir, the 2010 vintage, I encountered at a recent restaurant visit. The restaurant had a fairly overpriced wine list (cheapest sparkling at $50+) but I was happy to find this very exciting Pinot Noir from Amisfield and none less than the RKV 2010.

Amisfield are also committed to sustainable production of wines and are doing a great deal to produce wine that has as little environmental impact as possible. Ther motto is ‘working with nature, not against it’. It is something that is very admirable and I of course prefer a wine produced in this fashion. The do also run a very nice looking restaurant and wine bar close to Lake Hayes. The pictures of it makes me really want to go and visit.

This specific Pinot Noir is produced only in exceptional years and may be very difficult to come by as volumes are not that big either. When the wine was poured the dark ruby red color was what the first thing that caught my attention. It is of course not unusual to see the New Zealand Pinot Noir’s being much fuller and darker in color than the Burgundian Pinot Noir’s. This was in a sense a clear example of the more full-bodied Pinot Noir that often can be seen from New Zealand and the alcohol level is also higher than one would normally find in for example many French Pinot Noir’s.

The aromas of this wine was remarkably full and complex. The aging on French Oak barrels could be noticed in the nose mixed with dark fruit, spices and hints of leather. The flavor is intense with a mix dark berries, plum, spiced oak but I also could sense some earthy flavors and licorice. The wine is really full and has a powerful finish. It is a really nice Pinot Noir and I do appreciate this type of wine. My personal preference is normally the lighter Pinot Noir’s, that feature more subtle flavors. This is more a wine that knocks your socks off and it goes really well with food. Despite the full flavor and fruit it is balanced enough to avoid having sweetness mixed into it so how can one not love it. I know I do!

A very nice wine and I would rate it as a clear 4.5 for quality. At this instance I had the wine at a restaurant at approximately 40 SGD (around €25) a glass but I have seen it available in some online stores for around for around €60-70 for a bottle and that would be deserving a value for money rating of 4. I am very intrigued to sample some of their other wines as well and  especially since I have seen that the have launched a sparkling wine as well.

All the pictures used in this post are courtesy of Amisfield winery (the lighting at the restaurant was insufficient to take decent pictures) and a special thanks to Debbie at Amisfield for providing the nice pictures and a lot of useful background information.

Coffee, travels and approach to coffee bar reviews

Being into speciality coffee is often great but when traveling it can often be a disappointing coffee experience. There are of course plenty of great places spread out in the UK, US and the Nordic countries as well as more and more in Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. Latin countries such as Spain, Italy and France are however a totally different story, the quality of coffee is often depressing. Execution can be pretty good when it comes to consistent quality of the coffee made but the problem is usually with the actual coffee beans used. If you are not a fan of coffee that is dark roast, almost burned and with some level of robusta mixed in then it will not be easy to find anything to your liking . Asia on the other hand can be a mixed cup, so before my trip to Bangkok I did some research. And it appears as if there is a budding coffee scene, so we made a small list of places worth visiting.

More on that will follow in separate posts (as well as reviews of coffee bars from all over the place) but here a bit on how I will in general  approach coffee reviews. I will be giving ratings from zero to five with five being the best.

All my coffee bar/cafe ratings will rate the coffee quality as such, but it will be rating the quality on what I expect from a specialty coffee bar. So a rating of three is not at all bad so more think of it in the context that a place like Starbucks or somewhere where they serve Lavazza or Nespresso would be a zero but a place that serves a decent cup will be given a two. To clarify a bit for all of you who for example love Starbucks (yes I am aware that there are people out there who love it, in the same way some people think McDonalds have the best burgers, Taco Bell serves the best Mexican food and Moet makes the best champagne), the way I look at what coffee is similar to how I look at wine. The beans should usually be fairly light roast to bring out the specific flavors of that coffee and I usually prefer single origin or single lot coffees. While I realize this may not be for everyone, that is how I like my coffee.

I will also mention in case I tried any of the food and if so how it rates. There will also be rating of the ambience or feel of the place including the service. Some coffee bars are just not made to hangout but may serve excellent coffee while others may serve just decent coffee but can be perfect to spend time at.

The final rating is also how it rates vs the local competition eg a place that has five in coffee quality in for example NYC can have a a rating of three vs competition and in the same way a place that has for example a rating of two of coffee quality in Barcelona can have a five vs competition.

Wine Review: Champagne Oliver Horiot Seve

Now for something a bit less main stream. The first time I tasted a Oliver Horiot Champagne was this fall at one of my favorite restaurants Kitchen Table (London). It was after a long, unclear babble of a description of what we liked that the Sommelier suggested to try “5 sens”, Oliver Horiots Ancient variety champagne. Ancient variety means that the Champagne is made with an “old” mix of grapes, that was more common a few hundred years ago than it is nowadays. In the case of 5 Sens this includes the use of Pinot Blanc and Arbanne together with today’s common mix of grapes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It was wonderful, tasteful, minerally, I remember my mouth watering when drinking it. But this is not a review of the 5 Sens, wish it was, but that one is not easy to find with only around 8000 bottles produced a year. This is a review of Horiots other Champagne “seve”, which to my delight, was in box no 5 of the Wine calendar.

Seve is a Blanc de Noirs, so 100% Pinot Noir, and boy was that apparent from the color. A light ruby colored champagne with even a bit of a brownish tone. Look-wise it was mainly the bubbles that distinguished the champagne from a red wine, however it had a fresh look to it, so not as thick as a Lambrusco. This goes perfectly in line with what other writers say about Horiot, that he is more interested in making still wines than he is at making champagnes. But I am really pleased that he has decided to make bubbly, as his wines are always very different from what I expect from Champagne, in a positive way I mean.

At first sniff, you get a very dry scent of wood and rose. When taking the first sips I am a bit disappointed. I was expecting this flavorful, mouthwatering and minerally experience as with the 5 Sens. The Seve has much more “red wine” notes of ripe red berries to it than I would expect of a champagne (I am really not a fan of Lambrusco). It was not bad, not at all, but definitely not as great as I expected. So we put the bottle back in the fridge after one glass and moved on to some red wine that evening. Hmm, but the next day, as we opened the bottle again for a pre-dinner aperitif (I might be a bit of a wine-snob, but I will not throw away good alcohol) the taste had developed. The airing had made it much more flavorful and round with notes of marzipan, vanilla and hints of almond. I always foolishly expect the first sips of a wine to be the best, but this one just required a bit of patience to get to its full potential. I have run into this experience with some older champagnes before, and some of them are definitely worth airing for a while even with the expense of losing some bubbles. Seve is also a vintage champagne (this is advertised only in the back label), in this case 2007, so I could imagine that there is some development from year to year. So perhaps I need to get an annual subscription.

As with the 5 Sens, the Seve is nothing main stream, it is a wonderful rebel to the have in the mix. I just wish stocking up on Horiot’s would be a bit easier. After prying about how M had come across this wine, I heard that getting it through the Monopoly’s private import was not a walk in the park. The service, that is supposed to partly justify not having a free market here in Sweden, took over 3 months and a lot of pushing (calls to the Monopoly) from M to deliver. So if you come across a Horiot and feel adventurous, do not hesitate one minute, buy it! The price for a bottle is around 400 SEK through the monopoly private import; or for those of you in London the Sampler often have this or some other champagne from Horiot on the shelf. A Horiot Champagne will not rob you blind and is definitely worth the extra effort to find. All in all, I give the Seve 4 stars.