There are certain places that seem to exude comfort, and a quaint coffee shop like Oldhand Coffee in Abbotsford is one of them.
Forget those cheap cups of half cream, half sugar from Tim Hortons, and gone are the days of mediocre instant coffee at the local gas station.
While a good cup of coffee may not stick in your memory either, chances are you will remember a coffee shop that invited you to sit and relax for a moment, one that provided a mental sanctuary and a comfortable place to chat with friends. Suddenly without realizing it, you are coming back again and again: first for the coffee, then the décor, and eventually for the people who open the door each morning.
Oldhand Coffee is located off a busy road in Abbotsford, and although it doesn’t scream for attention, its unique signage does spur curiosity. When you walk in, you are invited to take a moment to slow down, look around, and subdue your yammering mind. You will be greeted by a friendly, authentic smile and a simple and specialized list of coffee choices and pastries.
With their daughter Else playing at their feet, Kristina and Johannes van Bommel van Vloten sat down to talk about their journey.
Whether you are meeting the owners of Oldhand for the first time or have reached the status of a “regular,” you will be treated with the same hospitality. Besides brewing a good cup of coffee, their mantra is to make an effort to connect with everyone who comes through the door.
After living in Vancouver and successfully managing some of the city’s finest cafés, they decided to return to Abbotsford with the knowledge that they would be running the risk of offering something outside the box.
It was time to entice a new generation of coffee connoisseurs.
“The reception from the community blew us away, it was so incredibly encouraging for us to feel that,” says Kristina about their first week of opening back in February of this year.
“On day one we just texted our friends to come out – and it was crazy because we were in operation – and then the next day, we did a harmless Instagram post, and it felt like everyone came,” says Johannes.
They built up hype for their opening through Instagram, posting beautiful visual snippets of the construction process, their little family, and a behind-the-scenes of their decision making. Never did they imagine that building that kind of relationship online ahead of time would prompt hoards of supporters to flock to their coffee shop once it opened.
“We thought it would be a slower build, but it was an explosion right away,” says Kristina.
Initially, they questioned if people would like the kind of coffee they were offering, as everything is pretty light roast and specialized (meaning it reflects the taste of the region from where it came).
“It’s changing the conversation from ‘I’ll get a medium or a dark” to “I’ll get a Kenyan or Guatemalan,” explains Johannes.
Encouraging that kind of dialogue is exciting in Abbotsford, and they are happy to contribute to a more modernized vision for the future of the area. Now people don’t have to drive out of town for a good cup of coffee and WiFi connection.
“We are approaching this the same way a sommelier or winegrower would approach their product, it’s agricultural and it expresses itself,” says Johannes. “It’s different from commodity coffee, which just tastes heavily roasted with a lack of nuance,” he says.
Johannes grew up with a mature palette as taste was important to his family.
“My Opa has been buying French wine for years, he has an old cellar that he keeps locked up, and my dad was raised to appreciate fine things and drink,” he says. “When I first got into specialty coffee I had a context and I understood it and I knew what was beautiful because I would think about how my Opa drinks wine.”
“It’s not just about coffee, you are always thinking and appreciating and looking for flavors,” adds Kristina.
When someone walks into Oldhand, they tend to stop and scan the room, noticing that it is different than any other coffee shop in Abbotsford.
“Ideally, we then get to walk [the guest] through the coffee list: coffee by the cup, espresso drinks and baked goods, all made in-house and fresh,” says Kristina. “It’s an experience here, and we want them to feel like it’s an extension of our home.”
“It’s really important for us to be unpretentious,” says Johannes. “We want be the best hosts we can be. We want people to look at the [coffee] list and know that this is what we love.”
The name Oldhand is a reference to their respective grandparents, whom they describe as the greatest hosts of their lives.
“The name reminds us that those are the kind of people we want to be,” says Johannes.
Whether Oldhand is something new you have yet to try, or it has become a favored sanctuary, you can be sure that it will always feel like home. That’s because their focus is not only elevating the experience of sitting and sipping but making sure it’s in a community-oriented space that is warm and welcoming. Just like the coffee they serve.
Oldhand Café & Bakery
Address: 31962 South Fraser Way, Abbotsford
Hours: Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.