A lifetime of coffee
Our coffee roaster Sipke was a melangeur at Douwe Egberts for many years
We all drink coffee, and we all have opinions about it too: tasty, tangy, weak or strong. But do we also understand it? Translating these consumer desires into a good blend and corresponding roasting process just happens to be the field of expertise of Sipke (71), the coffee roaster at Museum Joure.
'After high school I had to join the service, but I didn't think that was such a good idea. Then I figured I could go to family in Canada. I enrolled at the University of Guelph, where I studied applied agriculture. After graduation, love struck and I returned to the Netherlands, where I still had to do my military service. After military service, I ended up at DE. At the time of application, an "organoleptic" (taste sensitivity) test was taken which showed that I have good taste sensitivity. Once hired, I soon ended up at Kanis and Gunnink (part of Douwe Egberts since '69) in Kampen where I could gain experience to become a coffee expert.'
Around the world for the best taste
'After several years in Kampen and increasing expertise, the request came to become head of quality in the newly built factory in France, near St. Etienne. We did see this as an adventure and a challenge. It was a wonderful experience. The children went to French school and we also had to learn French.
After about three years we went back to the Netherlands and ended up in Joure. I started working in the raw coffee purchasing department. When this department moved to Switzerland a short time later, we decided to stay in Joure, and we still have a great time there. I did retain quality responsibility and one of my tasks was to test and train new coffee experts and calibrate for taste. I was also assigned to new companies around the world: Barcelona (and to Spanish classes!), the US, Mexico, Brazil, Africa and Asia. Always it was about quality management and procurement.
The frequent travel had its pros and cons. It was enjoyable to work with all these different people in these different countries and cultures.
"Bruce Springsteen, nice to meet you." "Never heard of it," I say.
You always experience things, of course. Sometimes very nice. For example, at the end of the day I was sitting in my hotel reading a newspaper with a glass of beer until, "by the look of it and the sound of it," an American approaches me and asks about the article I am reading. He tells me that he visited Barcelona and bought a very nice leather jacket for very little money. I ask him what he is doing in Barcelona; he replies that he is there for a gig. "I'm singing," he says. "Alone?", I ask. "No" he says. "Look over there." There were about thirty men sitting at long tables eating in a separate room. "Are you famous? Am I supposed to know you?", I asked. "Well, I'm number one in the 'Hot one hunderd' in the USA right now." "So what's your name?" He says, "Bruce Springsteen." "Never heard of him," I say. Until next day when I turn on the car radio. He wanted to get out I guess.
I really enjoyed doing my job all those years, with all those people in all those different countries and cultures. However, when Douwe Egberts came up with a scheme for early retirement, I thought it was a very good idea. You only live once - I think - so around 2007 I stopped working at DE.
Of course, I didn't sit still. I volunteered with PUM (Program Broadcast Managers); this organization supports entrepreneurs in developing countries in small and medium-sized enterprises. I also flew all over the world again for PUM; I supervised as many as 40 to 50 projects. Besides working with all those people in all those countries and the flavors and processes, it was also something new, which I didn't have at DE. That was the field of work, back to the farmer: that's how I had started myself when I trained in Canada. In Jogjakarta Indonesia last year, I helped include coffee in the curriculum at the secondary school level and I taught about coffee growing, roasting and marketing.
Roasting coffee for the museum
'In my department at Douwe Egberts, there was a large coffee roaster in the coffee demonstration room. When that department moved to Utrecht, I was allowed to take the roaster with me. It was then donated to Museum Joure. There it ended up in the Kadehuis. I take care of the purchase or DE donations of the raw coffee and, together with two volunteers, I roast the coffee for museum store de Witte Os.'
'I developed three flavors: Ouwe Douwe, after Egbert Douwes. Spicy Widow, the woman who stayed behind after Douwe Egberts died and managed to build up the business, a spicy aunt, in other words. Batavia 1753; the starting date of the "store in colonial goods." And Batavia (Jakarta) was then the embarkation port for coffee.' Sipke's coffees for home? Order them here.
The sample burner
'What visitors are introduced to in the summer months is the monster burner. With that, a volunteer stands outside. He explains the burning and lets them smell the different scents. I really like that myself, but it would be too much, so we formed a group to do that during busy times.
What many people don't know about me....
'Apart from my expertise for coffee, I am also very much into wood. I have a lot of gouges, knives and chisels and I work with various types of wood. In addition to furniture, I make spatial work, or in relief, and I am guided by my imagination. I look for the color and shape in the wood and with that I set to work.'
Favorite place in the museum
'I feel most comfortable with the big coffee roasters. That's also my favorite thing to do: mixing the fragrances and determining the flavors that people can enjoy ... that's really my greatest pleasure anyway!'
Interview and text: Willeke ten Noever Bakker