Alex Kitain & Erica Armistead | The Coffeevine
It's hard to deny that the specialty coffee scene has taken Amsterdam by storm. Eager to document this wave of cafés was coffee addict Alex Kitain (1983, Mexico City, Mexico). In
December 2012, he launched the blog,
, a source of great reviews of cafés, not only in Amsterdam but
across Europe. Earlier this year, with the addition of creative director Erica Armistead (1984, Santa Cruz, California) to the team, The Coffeevine set out to support the coffee
community once more with a
coffee subscription service
, delivering fresh beans from Europe's leading roasters to the homes
and offices of the coffee crazed, every month. We caught up with the duo during one of their pop-up shops on a late summer afternoon.
Can you tell us a little about yourselves?
Alex: I was born in Mexico City to a Mexican mother and a German father. I was raised in Germany, educated in the UK and have been a serial traveler since I can remember. I have already cracked the 100 countries mark and am always looking for a new adventure to get inspiration from. My international upbringing also made it easy for me to go and settle somewhere outside of Germany.
Erica: With an American father and a British mother I spent my first 10 years traveling between the UK and US up to 3 times a year. This had a profound effect as I was always part of two cultures and consequently consider myself both American and English. I moved to the UK when I was 10 and continued my education in the British school system, completing it with a Foundation Degree in Photography and a BA in Graphic Design.
What brought you to Amsterdam?
A: After university I did a trip around the world with some friends rather than going straight into a job but during my trip I applied for a bunch of marketing management trainee programs. Eventually I was recruited into a local Dutch program at British American Tobacco. After landing the job I moved here in October 2007 and have stayed ever since. It totally wasn't planned. In fact I was looking at moving back to the UK but fate had other plans for me.
E: Shortly after meeting my husband, we realized (having lived abroad previously) we both wanted to try our hand in another country again and four months after our wedding, a job offer brought us to Amsterdam! I continued to work in London for the first six months then went full time as a freelance Art Director and Designer. Be it working for my own clients or at local agencies this town is never short of inspiration.
Alex, you started the popular blog, The Coffeevine , at the end of 2012. Why coffee?
I remember I started drinking coffee during trips to the US where my dad had a holiday house until a few years ago. He'd always put loads of cinnamon on his latte and I sort of started drinking Starbucks coffee through him. My taste preferences didn't change for a long time and actually only started evolving after I discovered some of the local specialty coffee bars in Amsterdam. At first I wanted to launch an online shop for the best beans but then I started a new job and didn't have the time so I focused on my other passion, which is writing. The main reason I started the blog was because at the time there wasn't a single directory for the best coffee in town, definitely nothing in English and since most of my friends are expats I wanted to help them find the best coffee in town. We sort of went from there!
What inspired the specialty coffee subscription? What have the responses been so far?
A: The blog was always something that I did out of passion and because I wanted to support small local businesses. Since day one I made it my mission to only write about the best places and to never use the blog as a platform to criticize people in public. If a place doesn't convince me, I don't write about it. But that also meant that it would be hard to make money with the blog so I went looking for suitable concepts that could help us turn The Coffeevine into a business. Coffee subscriptions are already quite big in the US, but not here. I wanted to offer people all over Europe a chance to try some of the continent's finest beans and when this idea started becoming a realistic prospect, Erica joined the company and helped me make it happen. Last week we shipped our 4th edition and over the last few days we've been getting lots of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook messages from excited subscribers thanking us for those gorgeous coffees. Coffee roasters across the continent have been incredibly supportive and when you can call up the best roasters in any city and they can't wait to have their coffee featured in your tasting box, then you know you are doing it right.
E: Soon after Alex started The Coffeevine blog, I was asked to look into some branding and logo ideas. This started me on the path that I now walk with Alex as we journey through this wonderful evolving world of coffee. Having worked in both advertising and branding, when the thought arose to turn the blog into a business I was and still am honored to combine my love of coffee with creativity. But above all, having a business parter with whom I have such a great working chemistry makes my job all the more a pleasure. Coffee holds for each of us its own unique associations, however nothing gives me more joy than to witness when someone has a truly great coffee for the first time. That realization and astonishment as that first taste washes away a perceived expectation of what a coffee tastes like. That is my gold in a cup and why I am so passionate about sharing these beautiful coffees with anyone who is willing to try it. A coffee subscription that gives you the best coffees from all over Europe delivers that golden moment to more people every day. So to be able to read and watch our subscribers sharing their pleasure with us is truly wonderful, if only I could be there to witness it in person!
The coffee scene in Amsterdam has definitely changed in the past few years. What might be a reason for this?
A: Amsterdam has always been a forward looking city that's not afraid to set trends. That's one thing that I always admired about this place. But with regards to food and drink it was a big let down for many years. Now you have a different market every weekend, delicatessen stores on every corner, some of the finest cocktail bars in Europe and much more. Coffee is just one of those products that benefited from this change and I can only say, thank heavens! I think a lot of it had to do with the financial crisis and also the large expat community. People were fed up with paying a lot of money for a rubbish product. When you have less to spend you want to make sure that every penny goes that extra mile although now there are also people who are taking advantage of that by offering mediocre products in fancy packaging. You really have to be aware of what you buy and where, which is why we are also working on providing much more information about each of the coffees from our tasting box on our website soon. People want to be informed!
E: Ah Amsterdam. You are a special place in so many ways. What is truly special is to have such a number of people from so many countries in a relatively small space. Over 51% of the population in this city are from other countries which makes this such a great cultural melting pot and with it comes many different tastes and expectations. Although the Dutch have a long standing history with coffee it is primarily thanks to our Australian and New Zealand friends that Europe has finally been put on the coffee map. Most high class roasters in London, Berlin cafés and even a few local ones here in Amsterdam are in hands of people from down under! From less than a handful of speciality coffee shops 18 months ago to now over 30, Amsterdam is brewing up a storm and where there's great coffee, there's great coffee drinkers from the world over.
Would you say that the city of Amsterdam inspires you?
A: For me it's the myriad of cultures that live here, the city's tolerance and many events and festivals. I also love being so close to lakes and the beach, the fact I can fly anywhere from Schiphol and quickly nip home to Hamburg to watch Germany win the world cup (wink wink). I have never had a more international group of friends and when you walk down the street and randomly bump into people you know, you know you are at home.
E: I am a people person and I love to share experiences. Often that will be over a coffee ;) or at the dinner table, but those unplanned moments are the best. Be it working in our shop kitchen window and someone walks by that I know and they pop in for a catch up, or a last minute invitation to a picnic boat ride along the canals, Amsterdam is so accessible and flexible. Nothing is more than a short bike or boat ride away. Having been in London where it can take hours to travel A to B, your sense of freedom in this city I believe affects you in every way, every day.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A: Erica and I usually work from her house as that's also where we are currently storing all of our equipment and coffee. We usually meet at around 10am and start the day with a great cuppa Joe and discuss what's on the agenda for the day. We don't really have a set schedule or tasks, we just do whatever need to get done that day and then some! When you run your own business you don't really have a typical work week or day. I sometimes work 7 days a week until 11pm. It just depends on what's required. But when you do what you love and love what you do then it never feels like work really.
Can you name a few of your favorite places in Amsterdam?
A: All my favorite cafés are on our website . In terms of places to eat I always love authentic street food style eateries or places where people make everything by hand. There are number of nice Italian delis in town that offer delicious home made pastas, great Indonesian places, wood oven pizza shops and a couple of good tapas restaurants. I actually love cooking at home, especially authentic Mexican food, which you simply cannot get here. I love taking friends and visitors to places that are slightly off the beaten track, like Westergasfabriek, de Brouwerij t' IJ, NDSM, Slotermeer and other places like that.
E: Right now my best value for money dinner out with great wine is Barrique . Delicious food, good wine and excellent service, the three in one place can be hard to find in this town. I also love taking a friend's dog for a walk in the local park and striking up a conversation with fellow dog lovers and owners. Nothing like hitting the refresh button by feeling the grass beneath your feet and the sun on your face made all the better when shared with a wagging tail.
A: First we're finalizing our upgraded website and making sure that everything works the way we want it. Then we're going to start advertising our subscription service online, offer small business solutions for creative agencies, many of the Amsterdam-based ones have already approached us. We also want to make sure that our subscription reaches as many people in as many countries as possible. We can't really reveal more but our list is loooooong.
E: We have been doing so many things between mile stones including pop-up shops, coffee tastings, B2B development and marketing strategies we are constantly on the move. So, yes, quite simply the list is indeed loooooong!