From cheap bean juice to a culinary cuppa
The Dutch coffee culture is quite something. We are the country of dark roast filter coffee and Senseo coffee pods. And unfortunately, also the country where people drink copious amounts of mediocre coffee. A shame because this beautiful drink can be so much more than a bitter caffeine kick. We had a coffee with the man who wants to boost our national coffee level: Daniell Janssen of Sprout Coffee Roasters. He teaches us all about coffee and how to brew the perfect cup.
Let's start with a short introduction: tell us about Sprout Coffee Roasters?
"My brother, Ruben, and I were approached by Fifth NRE. They were looking for someone to run the coffee roastery there. We had just returned from Australia six months earlier, where we ran a coffee business together. Down under, the coffee level is much higher. There, a cup of coffee is something special that you really take the time to enjoy, just like a fine glass of wine or a carefully prepared meal. With Sprout, we want more Dutch people to experience the true potential of coffee. Together with the other Sprout coffee fanatics, Thomas, Fleur, and Carlos, Ruben and I are trying to create a real coffee culture in the Netherlands. One that honors the product from bean to drink. Our motto is 'Creating better coffee together'."
Why did you choose the name Sprout?
"Sprouting is the process of growth. A seed can grow into something beautiful, like a coffee plant. On the other hand, sprouting is also symbolic: we want to grow the market for quality coffee in the Netherlands and preferably far beyond. We want to make people enthusiastic, share knowledge, and create awareness. Coffee can be much more sustainable, with a fair price for the farmer. We try to buy directly from coffee farmers or with as few middlemen as possible. Our website tells you exactly where a bean came from. And our packaging by designer Willem van Kollenburg reflects this as well. We hope the backstory helps people appreciate their coffee more."
How would you describe the Dutch coffee culture?
"Coffee in the Netherlands revolves around the moment or occasion. At the office, we have 'coffee talk', instead of water cooler talk. People invite neighbors or family over for coffee or grab a coffee-to-go together. Some people proudly claim they're drinking up to twelve cups a day. The taste of the coffee doesn't truly matter; it's about the company. In many other countries, like Australia, Spain, and Italy, quality is crucial. People drink one or two cups a day, paying more attention to the taste and experience."
So coffee doesn't have the status it deserves here?
"Not really. We see coffee as a cheap product. Something we consume in large volumes. Just look around in the supermarket; you'll find shelves full of coffee at a kilo price for which I can't even get a kilo of unroasted beans. This supermarket coffee has often been roasted more than a year ago and is considered stale by coffee aficionados. Ideally, you want to roast coffee within six months after the harvest and drink it between one and six weeks after roasting.
We should regard coffee as a fresh product, like bread or dairy. Those products don't sit on the shelves for weeks either. Coffee might not spoil, but it definitely loses most of its flavor the longer you keep it, which is a shame. That's also why we have an ever-changing assortment. I like to compare coffee to asparagus: you can't eat those all year round either. Every coffee region has its own harvesting periods. In some countries, that's just one month a year. If you import coffee from the same place year-round, it won't be fresh all the time."
People do go out to get a 'nice cup of coffee' more often, right?
"Yes, although many people still consider 2.5 euro for a coffee to be expensive, whereas we don't make a fuss about paying the same amount for a coke or a beer. These are products that have a much more straightforward and scalable production process. Did you know that your coffee beans are usually handpicked? They aren't actually beans, but seeds of a fruit. For a cup of coffee, you need about 20 to 30 of those fruits. Then the coffee has to ferment, dry, ship to the Netherlands, and be roasted, ground, and brewed. A quality cup at a fair price simply costs more than a soda."
How do the Dutch prefer their cuppa?
"The Dutch are accustomed to dark-roasted coffee. The quality of coffee beans in our country is not always top-notch. You can mask poor quality with a darker roast. Especially if you're going to throw a heap of sugar and a generous splash of milk in your coffee. This doesn't mean that a dark roast is bad by definition. Still, a longer roasting process does result in a distinctly different taste. Slightly bitter, with sweeter undertones. A flavor that is synonymous with the flavor of coffee for many Dutch people. We also associate dark roast coffee with strong coffee, something many Dutch people prefer. However, the roast says nothing about the amount of caffeine in your cup."
How can you taste the difference between a dark and light roast?
"Lightly roasted coffee is usually more acidic and fruity. You can taste the complex flavors that a farmer has lovingly put into his bean. The Dutch coffee culture is not that adventurous, and a light roast is an acquired taste, like red wine or olives. I advise customers to work their way up to bolder flavored coffees in small steps. For example, start with a lighter coffee with familiar undertones of chocolate and a low acidity. Otherwise, you might try a light roast, think, "what on earth is this?!" and never try it again. That would be a shame."
Which of the Sprout coffees is your favorite, and how do you brew it?
"I have a weakness for the Todos Santos, a coffee from Guatemala. That blend takes me back to my time there. How I like to drink it ... that depends on where I am. At work, I can easily spend fifteen minutes brewing a single espresso just so I can properly evaluate the flavor of the coffee. At home, I like to brew a cup with a V60 coffee dripper. You manually pour hot water over the coffee grind, giving you more control over the brewing process. Many people don't hold filter coffee in high regard. Still, the flavors are often more subtle and nuanced than those of an espresso. And filter coffee is a little more agreeable to my stomach, which is a big plus."
The number of coffee shops has increased enormously in recent years. What do you think of this development?
"On the one hand, it is very positive that there is an increasing market for quality coffee. I think the big pitfall is that many entrepreneurs think it's sufficient to quickly show a new staff member how their espresso machine works. Then that person is the barista, even if they had no prior experience making coffee professionally. Being a barista is a true profession, just like being a sommelier or chef. A good barista can tell you everything about your coffee and provide you with personal advice.
Coffee beans are not an end product, like a bottle of wine. Between us at Sprout and the cup of coffee you drink is the person who stores, processes, and brews the coffee. And if that person doesn't know how to do that exactly, you can still get a truly disgusting coffee from an excellent bean. This is why we regularly visit our customers to give courses to their staff. Ultimately, we benefit from this as well, because people are more likely to come back for a good cup of coffee. And it is also our name at stake."