Amsterdam Culture — Coffee Shop vs Cafe

This is Back to Black (@backtoblackcoffee), a great little cafe near the Rijksmuseum.

Whereas in most cities the terms are interchangeable, in Amsterdam, there’s definitely a distinction between a “coffee shop” & a “cafe.” The importance of this distinction depends entirely on your mood, sense of adventure, & probationary status.

“Remember that one time in Amsterdam…”

All Amsterdamers have stories of visitors naively announcing — “Where are these weed shops? Let’s toke some green!” Nobody sounds cool saying “toke some green,” & it’s in these situations when Amsterdamers are forced to flip the big kill-switch known as “Project De-escalation: Keep Uncle Steve Away From The Weed.” Step 1 involves a long bike ride followed by trips to brewery/tasting rooms like Borouwer’ij (@brouwerijtij) or Butcher’s Tears (#butcherstears). If you can sneak in a few rounds of bitterballen with the heavy beers, it’s likely your charge will forget their boastful weed promises.

If Step 1 doesn’t work, Step 2 suggests a visit to a mellow coffee shop & slyly ordering — “Mag ik je zwakste weed? I have an idiot tourist who doesn’t need anything stronger than hash cut with a ton of rolling tobacco.” Once in hand, take your visitor on a walk to smoke & see the city. They’ll last 30–45 minutes before crashing back at the hotel/AirBnb/your extra bedroom. Easy peasy!

Amsterdam is a very tolerant city. You’re allowed to climb on the “iAmsterdam” sign even when super inebriated. More on that in a future post.

The worst situation is when the visitor stays energetic through the bike ride, dubbels, bitterballen, & your kind offer to order weed. If they say “It’s cool, dude. I’ve smoked a lot of weed, I know the score,” the only option is traditional Dutch directness. “No, Uncle Steve, you don’t know the score. In fact, the score has been hydroponically mutated to such levels that you’re going to end up wobbling down Leidsestraat wearing a knit Amsterdam beanie and asking strangers for the ‘Hanses Blinkers Hotel.’ I don’t want to be on a cold bench listening to you repeatedly slur ‘I might puke,’ while my actual friends have normal evenings. But, hey, you get to go back to Rochester or Atlanta or Fort Worth & tell everyone about the time you were ‘in Amsterdam looking for coffee and ended up at a coffee shop.’”

Find the best coffee & coziest cafes in Amsterdam on Sightseen.