Onno van Zanten | Barista
In Amsterdam, you can find coffee bars on almost every corner. But finding the gems among them is worth the scout. Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters , a specialty coffee bar located in Oud West, is one of them. Here, they not only roast their own beans but enlighten coffee enthusiasts about the art of brewing coffee. Head Roaster of the popular joint is Onno van Zanten (1983, Alkmaar), a true coffee enthusiast who took a plunge in the coffee scene more than nine years ago. We caught up with Onno on a rainy Saturday morning to talk about the coffee scene in Amsterdam and his plans for the future.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I have been working in the coffee industry for nine years. I started as a sales barista at Douwe Egberts, and even though I enjoyed it, the company was too large for me and I left to become a consultant, giving workshops and providing restaurants and cafes with quality coffee beans. In 2010 I served coffee at events across the country in a mobile espresso bar, but found myself working for the masses again, and decided to take a step back. During my time at the Espressofabriek, I started to really focus on the quality of green beans. Since June 2013, I have been working at Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters.
Why Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters?
I’m Head Roaster at Lot Sixty One, along with my colleague, Head Barista Florian Hessel. We have a really great relationship with the owners, Adam Craig and Paul Jenner, and by working here, we have the possibility to buy and work with really great coffee. At Lot Sixty One, we stand for a certain quality of coffee. We roast our own coffee beans, giving us the ability to control the quality to some extent. The roasting process is very complex but incredibly important in defining the taste of the coffee. You can roast beans lighter or darker, faster (resulting in a more sour taste) or slower (more sweet in taste). Then it depends on how the coffee is grown, where it’s grown (high or low altitude), how it has been harvested (washed or unwashed), and eventually, how it has been roasted. When you start roasting, you create profiles that record the temperature and amount of time roasted. You then taste the beans, compare it to your profile, and make changes if necessary. It’s an ongoing process, and we’re always learning. At Lot Sixty One we roast every Tuesday.
Let’s take a step back. What interested you in coffee in the first place?
I’m always looking for things I can make, think crafts and finer things that require precision and dedication. A cup of coffee really listens to you – the amount of grams of coffee you use, the amount of water and the temperature… That has always really appealed to me. Eventually I found myself learning more about growing coffee and harvesting it, and the techniques to brew coffee. I think it’s fascinating to see how something grows and blossoms.
What does an average day look like for you?
I’m either sample roasting, which means that I’m roasting and tasting beans that have been sent to us from other countries. I might be packaging and delivering orders to several of our accounts, or out tasting new coffees for the shop. You can also find me behind the bar, or hosting workshops and public coffee tasting events called cuppings. We prepare coffee with roughly grinded coffee beans and slurp it (loudly) with a spoon – this is the best way to taste the coffee. This process is an experience that people really enjoy it. It’s a good way to introduce people to the beans we have in store, and teach them more about coffee in general.
Would you say the city of Amsterdam inspires you?
Amsterdam is really a city where everything’s possible. More and more, people are supporting specialty shops and new initiatives. We’re buying our bread at the bakery, vegetables at the grocer, meat at the butcher, and coffee at the coffee bar. Amsterdam is the perfect place for this. There are exchanges between makers in Amsterdam that I find to be so incredible. They inspire us and we inspire them.
The specialty coffee market is quite small and we all know each other. We’re very open and interested in learning from each other’s experiences. We all want to teach people more about coffee, so why not do that together? Does that mean we’re standing up against the larger coffee chains? Not necessarily, we have Starbucks to thank that people are accustomed to drinking coffee outside of their homes. But we’re bringing coffee to the next level.
You could say that coffee has become a trend in Amsterdam. Do you think this goes hand-in-hand with being more conscious about what we’re consuming?
I hope it’s not a trend. I really believe in quality coffee, and think that in the Netherlands at least, we’ve grown up with a certain standard of what coffee is and what it tastes like. If you compare that to the quality of coffee we serve here at Lot Sixty One, there’s a huge difference. More and more, people are looking for quality, and that’s really connected to awareness and knowledge about where coffee comes from and how it can be enjoyed. It’s interesting when you think about the fact that we know almost everything about wine – we know that a Pinot Noir is a little lighter than say a Merlot. But despite the fact that Douwe Egberts has been around for 250 years, so many people don’t know much about it. More recently, people have started asking questions like, what kind of coffee beans do you have? Where do they come from? What’s the difference? That’s where specialty coffee shops like this one come into the picture.
I want to continue introducing Amsterdam to good quality coffee. I want to teach people why they shouldn’t buy pre-ground coffee and why they should care about the roasting date on the package, for example. Once they start to understand that, then they’ll start to realize where they should go to find quality coffee in the city. That’s what I hope to continue doing on the client-side. I also want to become more involved in the behind-the-scenes process. Let me give you an example. I was in a small coffee bar yesterday and the guy next to me paid 3 Euro 80 for an Americano. As someone who knows more about coffee, I know that you can’t defend those kinds of prices. If you’re buying coffee beans for about 10 Euros a kilo, then a cup of coffee doesn’t cost you more than 50 cents. The price doesn't reflect that, and even though the prices are 'normal' for Amsterdam, it’s not transparent. It should be very simple: you’re happy to drink a cup of coffee and I’m happy to serve it to you. I’m happy I can buy it from a farmer and the farmer is happy that people are buying and drinking quality coffee. My goal is to be able to tell that story. But I fear there’s a long road ahead…
Thank you Onno for this interview! Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters can be found on the Kinkerstraat 112, and is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 5pm, Saturday from 9am and Sunday from 10am. You can also find out more about brewing coffee at one of SIMPLY SLOW 's get togethers with Onno van Zanten (Sunday February 2nd and Sunday February 16th).