Antwerp is not only an important port in Europe but also the World’s Largest Coffee port. There are 45000 tons of green coffee in stock in the port at any given moment. Since this amount of coffee is not consumed in Belgium, Antwerp is an important point for transport of beans to the rest of Europe. So much coffee coming in and out has an effect on the city that has an increasing amount of baristas brewing the best coffees they can get their hands on. No more needs to be said: the Antwerp coffee scene deserves a tour on a sunny day in June!
Caffenation, the pioneers
Rob Berghmans and his Caffenation are pioneers in the Antwerp coffee scene. You may have seen their bright coloured bags in bars throughout Europe. He started in 2010 the first Belgian specialty micro roastery. Since then they have kept their focus on quality, origin and well trained collaborators. I visited the coffee bar next to the roastery that is located in the south of the city at walking distance from the train station Berchem. Unfortunately I was not able to visit the roastery itself. Having tasted very nice Caffenation coffees in different places in the Netherlands my expectations were high, very high. The personnel were friendly and talkative. The barista recommended me to have an espresso with bourbon washed beans from Rwanda Nyamasheke Macua although it was not his favourite coffee. That confused me but I ordered it anyway. To my surprise my espresso had almost no crema, eventhough I was waiting for it next to the barista and the espresso machine. The barista worked by the book weighting the portafilter and ground coffee, extracting it in less than 30 seconds and serving it immediately. The coffee was roasted two weeks before so well, then still it must have been the brewing technique that killed the crema. The aroma floral and spicy was promising but I was not impressed with the flavour with a bitterness as from black tea and unpleasant cider acidity. The aftertaste was salty, as described by the tasting note next to my espresso, but it was bitter too.
Cuperus, the legend
In the downtown I found Cuperus, the oldest coffee and tea bar in Antwerp. This former family business has been supplying the city with coffee for more than 190 years. Besides serving warm drinks and sweets, this is a proper coffee and tea store where you would have a hard time choosing what to bring home. Their old-style cans reminded me of their long tradition. Here too, the personnel was helpful and friendly. The espresso of the day was a Bourbon and Catuai from Serra do Cigano, Brazil. My cup had a good crema, fruity aroma and medium body. It tasted a bit sweet, hints of stone fruits and serious nutty flavour. I enjoyed it! Which was not a surprised since it was a natural processed bean roasted light from Latinamerica, more or less my type of coffee.
Normo, the hipsters
A short walk from Cuperus I walked into Normo. This place felt more of a third-wave coffee place than the previous. Here I had a very professional yet stressed barista trying to cope with a queue of costumers waiting for their turn to order coffee combined with a constant flow of costumers returning empty cups. Maybe I was there on the wrong time. Nevertheless, my espresso was well extracted and served with a quick smile. The espresso blend had 70% Catuai natural from Agua Limpia, Brazil plus 30% Ethiopia Limu washed. Interesting combination that results in a medium body, clean cup with good balance between an apple acidity, hints of walnuts, sweetness and savoury notes.
Teakoff, the hidden jewel
Between my necessary waffle break (I cannot be in Antwerp and go back without enjoying a good waffle) and the visit to the Museum Platin-Moretus (highly recommended) I realized that I was not going to be able to visit all the coffee places in my list. I was heading towards Viggo’s which was a must-visit in my list when a blackboard caught my attention. It announced a specialty coffee place that I was not aware of. Curiosity took the lead making me forget about the other places that I wanted to visit and I walked a block to find Teakoff, a cozy tea and espresso bar. I had a nice chat with the owner/barista Sofia. She served me an espresso brewed with coffee from Huehuetango, Guatemala. The blend of Bourbon, Catuai and Caturra washed beans was roasted by Cross Roast, an Antwerp roastery. It had more body than any other espresso I tasted that day. It was a balanced cup with hints of citrus fruits, slight bitterness and a sweet aftertaste. For me this was the best espresso of the day!!
Antwerp has more places worth visit so I will have to come back. Stay tuned!