The Netherlands is exactly as you imagine, almost to the point of parody. You round the bend on your rented bike to see an open wooden boat putting along a canal, waterbirds causing a ruckus on the banks and a windmill behind on a grassy knoll. You can ride for hours and not come across more than a mild incline. It intrigues me that café culture appears to be so far behind Australia given that here there are more bicycles than people. There’s something about cycling and coffee that just seems to work. Perhaps it’s the fact that bicycles make fantastic decor, or more simply that in order to pursue cycling as a sport you need some form of caffeinated reward at the end. There is, however, hope: Lola in the Hague provides a welcome respite from the rubbish attempts at coffee that I have suffered from other places. Lola makes coffee the right way – they care about how it looks and tastes.
It seems the owners of Lola, a café and bike shop, have some serious ambitions about trying to promote good coffee. We’ve frequented them a few times over the past week, and although at times I think the staff forget the difference between types of coffee, say a double shot latté and a flat white, the flavour and technique is pleasing. My travelling companion has ended up with a little more caffeine than he bargained for on a couple of occasions, but when it’s done well those sorts of errors matter a great deal less. Lola feels welcoming and cool without pretentiousness from the staff, with bright colours and interesting design on the walls. I don’t have much knowledge about bikes, but it is obvious that the ones on sale here are über chic (and expensive) with their matte finish frames, dynamo lights and leather finishing.
Yesterday as we sat and enjoyed the summer sun with a morning drop, the barista walked in finishing a phone call to a friend who he plans to compete with in the Dutch Coffee Championships. We got talking, and he told us that in the Netherlands the tradition of coffee being brewed through percolators into large steaming mugs of ‘tarmac’ had made the transition to more delicate, refined flavours has required some serious effort by café proprietors. There isn’t the same easy market as there is in Australia as most employers offer their staff free or incredibly cheap in-house coffee. The Dutch do not seem to have the same need or desire to step out and wander down the street to grab the morning or afternoon pick-me-up. This adds up to an industry that doesn’t necessarily have the competition or the intensity that push cafés towards new heights. The barista told us in order to assist with the shift a great deal of explaining is required for the few locals that do decide to try something new.
They do offer some sweet treats at Lola – we bought a generous serving of the carrot cake, walnutty with cream-cheese icing. It was a little undercooked, but I’ve always been a fan of mixture so I didn’t really mind. More broadly, I think Lola would do themselves a favour by improving the food given there is enough space available inside to provide something more than cake and croissants. Regardless, it was just the right starter before a 50km bike ride to Leiden and Katwijk beach.
It is always hard to say when you don’t know a place very well, but it seems Lola is an interesting and welcome addition to a café scene that doesn’t appear to be enjoying coffee in the same way we do in Australia. I enjoyed having the chance to sit and read while listening to the sing-song Dutch conversations occur around me. If you’re ever making the hedonistic sojourn to Amsterdam, I would strongly recommend a day trip down to the Hague for a bike ride followed up by a coffee at Lola.