Koko Coffee & Design – Amsterdam (NL)
A bright spark in a sea of red light
There are certain things that go really well together. Olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, gin and tonic, rom-coms and chocolate, muscle cars and hot babes. The list is endless. But there’s another combo that I’d like to add to this: Great coffee and beautiful design.
That’s also what Caroline Kruijssen and Karlijn Timmermans, co-founders of Koko Coffee & Design thought when they recently opened their doors in Amsterdam’s most notorious neighbourhood, the red-light district. A few years ago when I first moved to Amsterdam I had my first apartment in this part of town and after only one year of living here I was glad to pack my bags and go somewhere a bit more “quiet”. But like in many other parts of Amsterdam, there is a wind of change sweeping through the “rosse buurt”. Although it’s still a bit sleazy, it has experienced a remarkable transformation ever since the city’s government decided to take back some of the windows on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal and replace prossies with the works of young designers.
It does feel a bit odd to see haute couture in one window and a woman selling her body in the next but it does lend Amsterdam’s oldest neighbourhood a fresh feel. When Caroline and Karlijn started looking for the perfect location for their new business they initially had their eyes set on the more commercial Elandsgracht, but to their surprise, even the bank encouraged them to consider the red-light district. Clearly, a very bright spark recognized the area’s potential or, also possible, had his office close by and baldy wanted a nice place to drink great coffee. Well, I don’t blame him.
Set in an old canal house that formerly housed Concrete Amsterdam, Koko looks slightly unassuming from the outside. There’s only a small wooden sign depicting the name above the door and a bizarre looking installation by Femke Agema in the entrance. But once you’re inside you get to appreciate the amazing depth of the place.
Koko tastefully combines great coffee, loose leaf teas and delicious cakes with a selection of handpicked fashion, jewelry, home decor and other accessories by designers and artists, which both owners really love. Although the fashion comes at a price, Koko is the only place in town where you can get stunning and handmade Dutch fashion by Sanne Jansen, slightly loco women’s wear by Femka Agema and beautiful accessories with a Swedish twist by Johanna N. The one product that wins my personal seal of approval is Raul Lauri’s decorative DeCafe bowl made of recycled Espresso pucks. Normally discarded after use, this innovative Spanish designer found an ingenius way to turn coffee waste into bowls and lamps. So ingenious even that he won the prestigious Salone Satellite Award in Milan last year.
While in the beginning they focused on great coffee and mostly women’s wear, the two girls will also start stocking men’s clothes by the likes of Libertine Libertine and Uniforms for the dedicated next season. Great news for boys like me!
When it comes to coffee, Caroline and Karlijn make no compromises. While living in Perth (Australia), Karlijn started her barista training at Dome Coffee and later followed it up with a stint at Amsterdam’s own Espressofabriek. Caroline, who has a background in fashion, perfected her latte making skills at Koko’s coffee supplier, Caffènation from Antwerp. Their standard blend is Caffènation’s Little Green Bag, which combines seasonal single origin coffee beans from various coffee growing nations such as Malawi and Burundi. They also have a weekly special, which lets you experience different single origin coffees from ever changing estates and countries. This week (4, 2013), it’s a Rwanadan’s Kogimuwaka single origin coffee, which is quite fruity but as with all African coffees, not my personal favourite. If you’re more of a fan of filter coffee, they also make a mean pour-over, as my friend Josh brightly attested. “Soooooo goooood!”, he said.
In December last year, Koko hosted the unveiling of Wouter Strietman’s latest coffee equipment invention. The ES2, which is a wall mounted Espresso machine that just requires hot water and great coffee. If you’re feeling adventurous, ask one of the girls to prepare your shot using this unique device.
Personally, I am glad to have found a new favourite hang out in a part of town that I used to shun for many years. Too tacky, too many tourists, nowhere to get great coffee. Thanks to Koko and a few other new businesses, the infamous red-light district is once again becoming a desirable place to be. And this time, it’s for all the right reasons.
*Tip: Check out their toilet 🙂