She is a cheerful and light soul and the driving force behind the longest-lasting coffee shop in Europe. For the last 22 years at 9am, Marie Louise Velder has been faithfully opening the doors of 't Zonnetje koffie thee en kruiden, on the lively Haarlemmerdijk street. She wears a big smile full of enthusiasm, welcoming clients - mostly habitués - who trust her curatorship to pour them a selection of the most refined assortment of coffee and tea in Amsterdam.
After we enter, a wave of nostalgia takes us back to 1642 which is when customers started to come to this same address to purchase herbs, water and coal to heat their houses. The range of tea arrived afterwards, which alongside the herbs, were delivered by ship from the Dutch East India Company. The traders would come and stop by the country's ever important Ij river to do their business. Such exchange of goods, centuries ago, could be seen by anyone on the Haarlemmerdijk, as there were no houses on the other side of the street. It must have been quite a sight, the hustle and bustle of bartering going on!
Since then, a lot has happened to this charming part of Amsterdam and to Marie Louise. This lady has the confidence of an independent woman and I could notice the fortitude she must have felt when she decided it was time to start a new journey. Before dedicating her life to the wonderful aromas of Indonesia, Brazil and Ethiopia, Marie Louise had devoted herself to Psychology and social work. "When I was 48, I decided to interrupt my occupation to start my own coffee shop. I had worked for almost 30 years in jails. I wasn't tired but that job took a lot of energy from me".
It was 1999 and she had just left a 'world for the confinement of people' to explore the open streets of Amsterdam when something amusing caught her attention. Call it destiny or fate, truth is that certain things are meant to be. On the first day right after Marie Louise had quit her former job, she heard from a friend that an historic coffee location was for sale. Following her instincts, she saw potential to grow the business and luckily closing the deal was a breeze.
Over the last two decades, Marie Louise has created a market to cater to everyone's tastes. She couldn't satisfy herself or her clients with the meagre six varieties of coffee that she had founded when she took the business over. She was right, given the fact that coffee is an eternal passion in the Netherlands.
"The previous owner was minimalist but I'm different. I like to mix everything together. And that's how people like it: packed! It gives life to the room!", Marie Louise says. And so she did. Her cozy little spot offers a smart potpourri of almost 30 types of coffee beans from the world's best grounds, along with herbs, sweet treats, porcelain, pottery and, as she guarantees "the best tea in the whole world". Exceptional tea comes with a price, albeit, "cheaper than a good €100 bottle of whisky", as she cleverly points out. By the way: I think she also manages to offer clients one of the best coffees in town!
Preserving the shop's old tradition hand in hand with high-quality fresh products allows this authentic establishment to attract a young clientele, open to experiment with new flavours as well as eager to understand about the culture of coffee. For those who are curious, Marie Louise offers little workshops in which she combines theory and practice to teach about the history of coffee while the novices learn to refine their palate.
Throughout our delightful conversation surrounded by her "dear kids" - as she calls her rescued canine and feline friends -, she couldn't hide a deep and sincere wish to keep her legacy alive. "You know, I'm an old lady and I would like someone to continue my business, very much so. But I shall work until the day I die". What a brave and beautiful lady!