Double Dutch: an interview with World Aeropress Champion Wendelien van Bunnik

Just over a year ago I traveled to Den Haag to take a course to become an authorized SCA trainer. Sitting across from me in the class was the reigning Dutch barista champion, Wendelien van Bunnik. Wendelien directs the education program at Single Estate Coffee, a coffee roaster in Maasdijk with a café in Den Haag. I recently caught up with Wendelien over email to hear about what it was like to win the World Aeropress Championship and why there’s more to the Dutch coffee scene than just Amsterdam.   

Before becoming a coffee educator you were an English teacher. Does that traditional educational background influence the way you approach coffee training?

I think so yes! There’s a big difference between having a certain skill yourself, and being able to transfer this skill to others. During my (short) time as an English teacher, I learned that you must never forget how long it takes to learn a new skill. Once you’ve mastered a skill, it’s very tempting to forget the work you put in to learn it. So when I was in front of a class as an English teacher, I already learned that it’s not about the teacher, but about the learner’s process. The difference in speed and way people learn in general is so different for everyone. It’s up to me as a trainer to figure out how people learn the best, and to remain patient and focused on their individual process. Especially in my early days, I stepped into the pitfall of thinking training was about me as a trainer, having to demonstrate my skill (and impress every one of course). Although obviously, you need to be able to demonstrate skill, it’s 100% not about the trainer, but about the learner and the goal they want to achieve.

The Netherlands has one of the highest scores on the Gender Equality Index in Europe, yet you were the first woman in 12 years to win the Dutch Barista championship. What barriers do women still face in the Dutch specialty coffee scene?

The answer to this is equally simple and complicated. I think it’s not necessarily men who are holding women back, at least not in my experience in my country. Rather, it’s a combination of our own mindset and simple biology. I’ve met many women like myself, who are more held back by themselves and their sabotaging brains than anything else. Impostor syndrome, low self-esteem, being very critical of ourself and comparing ourselves to other women; all these hurdles women seem to struggle with more than men. I know I do at least!

The other factor, biology, is just a very practical one. Trying to combine building a career with building a family is hard enough for both sexes, but due to the hormones, pregnancy, childbirth & nursing a baby it’s simply just harder for women. It is a very personal choice how to balance work and a family, and I think it’s different for every woman to figure out what works for her.
Competing is very intense: highly time and energy-consuming, so there is a price to be paid whether there are children involved or not. The reason I have been able to compete is that my husband and I are a good team, and he is very supportive when I’m in the competition bubble.

In recent years, Amsterdam has emerged as a world-class coffee city, but there’s a lot more to the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. What’s the coffee scene like in Utrecht and the rest of the country?

It’s true that there are a lot of amazing specialty coffee roasters and bars in our capital. But just 20 minutes from Amsterdam, in my hometown Utrecht, there are also so many cool places. The Village Coffee for instance has a bit of a cult status nationwide, but I like to hang out with my family at Koffie & Ik for instance. Cupp is a relatively new place but they do amazing coffee, the trick is to get a spot there. If I want amazing filter coffee I go to the guys at Koffieleute, they change their coffees so often there’s always something exciting to drink. Because Utrecht is so small, the coffee community is very small too. At most of these places there are people I used to work with at one point, for instance, the guys from Keen Coffee I’ve known for over 10 years when we used to work together at one of the first specialty coffee bars in Utrecht.

Single Estate recently opened a café in Den Haag. What can you tell us about the space?  

We’ve felt the need to have a place of our own for a while now. We wanted a place where we could share our story, which basically is the story of the coffee producers we like to work with. So we have taken quite some time to find the perfect space and design for that purpose. I think our bar in The Hague -which opened in September 2019, 6 months before Corona hit- is stunning: it is a perfect combination of old and modern. We wanted to create the perfect surroundings for sharing our love for coffee, so the central part of the space is the long, terrazzo bar that resembles a chef’s table. You can sit so close to the baristas and watch them work behind the brew station or the Modbar. They can interact with guests without any barriers. In our bar we try to share as much information about and love for our coffees as we possibly can.

You’re also the reigning World Aeropress Champion.  What was winning the championship like?

That was such a cool event. I competed in the Dutch Aeropress Championships mostly to support the guys from Keen Coffee who were cool enough to organize it in 2019. They organized such a fun and laidback night with beers and banter, but I never expected to take home the trophy. The trip to London to compete in the World Aeropress Championship was so cool. I got to meet so many lovely new coffee people which for me is the best thing about this industry. Although we took the training and competition seriously of course ( I do like a good competition, clearly) but the event was so well organized that it just flew by. I couldn’t believe what was happening when I was making It trough round after round, let alone the fact that my hand went up with the announcement. I was so humbled by everyone’s enthusiasm, it was quite overwhelming! I felt like a celebrity that night, and it was an experience I’ll cherish for sure!

How do you like to make coffee on your day off?

Ideally, I’ll have someone else make it for me! But just to get out of bed I need at least one cup, which I usually brew with my Aeropress or Origami brewer. If the need is high, I switch on Big Daddy, my Moccamaster. If that still doesn’t do the trick, I head out for a flat white or espresso in town.

Featured photo by Sebastiaan Rozendaal, courtesy of Wendelien van Bunnik.

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