Amsterdam Coffee Confusion: Coffee, cafes and coffeeshops


Amsterdam cafe
Head to an Amsterdam cafe-bar for a coffee and cookie. Photo: Letha Colleen

By Audrey Sykes in Amsterdam—

On the surface Amsterdam’s café culture seems a little confusing and intimidating. If cafes serve beer and coffeeshops serve the “green goods,” where does one go for just a cup of joe? Here are some pointers.

Ordering coffee? Ditch the details!

If you’re craving a large mocha latte with 2% milk and sugar-free syrup, you can just forget about it. Sure, train stations in the Netherlands (Amsterdam Centraal, Amsterdam Sloterdijk, Schipol Airport and Utrecht) are equipped with a Starbucks, but outside these travel terminals, you’re in a strictly European coffee culture.

Okay, you can cheat a little with the recently arrived Coffee Company, a Dutch chain, or the lunch café Bagels & Beans, but don’t expect their stock to be equipped to handle a detailed order like coffee shops in North America.

Just relax and treat yourself to a mocha with whole milk and whatever works they sprinkle on top; you’re on vacation. Unfamiliar with the menu? Try something you’ve never heard of. If you’re lucky there might be a variety of freshly squeezed juices available–those are a local favorite and packed with energy.

Bottom line: If it’s on the menu, it can’t be all that bad. Go for it.

Going Dutch: Café bars

“Only in the Netherlands is it totally normal to walk into a bar atmosphere and order a coffee or a tea,” says American journalist Laura Owings. “Back in the US, no one would ever do that there.”

It’s true; if you want to sample typical Dutch coffee culture, head to a café. By café we mean a bar, and it’s quite common to see an order of drinks range from beer to cola to tea. However, in a cafe-bar your java choices become limited to the basics: black coffee, coffee with a side of milk, a latte or a cappuccino (maybe espresso).

A cup of coffee in the Netherlands will not be drip coffee, nor will it be larger than four to six ounces. This is due to coffee being made like an espresso shot. Just like espresso, the beans are freshly ground and pressed, except coffee beans are used and a longer “shot” is pulled from the machine. The average Dutch person downs about three of these a day because they’re small and fresh.

As an extra treat, the Dutch include a small side cookie with their hot drink orders. Remember, if the café doesn’t serve a cookie on the side, it’s not worth your time!

“Coffeeshops” and coffee

Here’s where it gets interesting. Yes, “coffeeshops” are also the names of shops where people can purchase cannabis… but they also sell coffee! The whole reason these businesses are called “coffeeshops,” after all, was to hide behind the normal coffee bar façade.

And they are coffee bars, sort of. They all have a coffee bar where patrons purchase hot and cold drinks (not alcohol). Many coffeeshops pride themselves in having a variety of loose leaf herbal teas, but the coffee options are like those at a normal Dutch café.

The only difference about a coffeeshop is that the smaller bar in the back has a separate menu with a different list of “products” people can buy and consume onsite. Regardless, the environment is much more like a coffee house in the US compared to the café bar setting.

Still confused? Have advice?

So there you have it: cafes for coffee and a cookie at a bar, coffeeshops for coffee and cannabis at a café. Still boggled? If all else fails, just stick to an orange juice.

Do you have any advice for those looking for a good coffee in Amsterdam? Have a favorite coffeeshop? Share your experiences with us in our comments section.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.

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2 thoughts on “Amsterdam Coffee Confusion: Coffee, cafes and coffeeshops”

  1. Actually, it’s not “only in the Netherlands” – it is completely normal to order a coffee or a cappuccino or other warm drink at any bar in Italy, as well.

  2. Timeless Drifter

    The other layer of confusion not mentioned is trying to find a cup of coffee at point B after partaking in said products at point A thus starting a journey from point A to point B from a very mentally mixed up place indeed. Thanks for parsing the differences so we don’t have to. Wait, what were we talking about again?


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