Coffee Repair Guy’s Dutch Field Trips
I've visited Kees van der Westen's Espressonistic Works twice now; the first time in August 2012, when the temperature was a sultry 33 degrees, the second in mid-January 2013 in daytime temperatures down to minus 7. The welcome was equally warm on both occasions and the atmosphere in the laboratory-like Espressonistic Works remained that mixture of purposeful industry and informality that the Dutch do so well.
In August 2012 I attended an intensive training course on the Kees van der Westen approach along with a colleague from Canada, another experienced espresso engineer. Over two packed days Kees personally took the two of us on a technical tour and tutorial of his thinking and methods on the creation of the perfect espresso. We began by considering the history and development of the espresso machine and the limitations of existing designs. Kees was able to express complex engineering problems around temperature stability, lever function and process control and the solutions he has developed in clear and fascinating detail. At times I felt as if I was attending an engineering tutorial given by a very cool professor with a complete command of his subject and a passion to communicate its beauty, potential and intricacy.
On my second visit in January 2013 my main focus was on consolidating my understanding of the complexities of temperature stability and adjustment and on progressing my knowledge of the engineering of lever action and the technicalities of lever maintenance. Kees went through a detailed strip-down and rebuild of the Mirage's Idrocompresso levers with me taking time to explain all of the other possibilities he had investigated before settling on the design he has now adopted. I was struck by the minute attention to detail built into these incredible machines; detail that reflects a passion for engineering excellence in pursuit of the perfect espresso. All utterly fascinating to a coffee repair guy!
Upstairs at The Espressonistic Works, alongside Kees's research and development department, is the most well-appointed staff canteen I've ever visited complete with a custom-built Mirage on which the small team of engineers prepare their coffee break espressos. The walls of the canteen are home to all kinds of esoteric espresso making equipment and coffee bar memorabilia. Kees's love of the retro-futuristic styling of fifties Americana is everywhere apparent; in his office and canteen furniture as well as his beautiful espresso machines. He explains that he loves how the style and aesthetic sensibility of that era express the optimism and exuberance of the time.
Lunchtime brings a trip to a local restaurant in Kees’s classic pink Cadillac. When I ask if he has sold the car I remember from my last visit, a green Thunderbird Convertible, he explains that the Cadillac is his cold weather car, "we don't need a convertible in a Dutch winter".
On this visit I brought home a customer's Mirage Idrocompresso bound for a new venture in Edinburgh. Along with the hardware, however, I brought back the certain knowledge that these are the finest espresso machines in the world. Plenty of other machines will do the job, more or less, but if you want the very best, this is it.