Meet the Woman Reinventing Dutch CoffeeshopsDerrick BergmanOctober 17, 2016
Mariska’s coffeeshops, dubbed The Boerejongens (“farm boys”), are unlike any other in Amsterdam—inside and out. The marble counters, hardwood floors, and beautiful wooden cabinetry create an atmosphere of luxury and refinement. Yet it’s the menu that has really put Boerejongens on the map. Thanks to Mariska’s role as both coffeeshop and seed bank operator, customers can be completely sure which strain they’re getting. That kind of reliability is exceptional in a country where the commercial cultivation of cannabis is still illegal.
“We want sommeliers behind the counter.”
The commitment to quality also extends to the block hash that Boerejongens has introduced to the Netherlands cannabis scene. It’s made from Amsterdam Genetics strains that are sun-grown in Morocco, Mariska said, and so far it has been well received by consumers. At this year’s Highlife Cannabis Cup, their Tangerine G13 block hash won first prize in the hash category. Their Kosher Tangie block came in second.
“It started with our White Choco cannabis,” Mariska said. “This strain was so popular in Amsterdam at one point that we could no longer meet demand. So I had to think like a true entrepreneur. Some fantastic producers from Morocco crossed our path who asked permission to cultivate our seeds there.”
The hope was that the seeds would adapt to Morocco’s mountainous terrain, Mariska explained, though at first nobody was sure it would work. It did. “The plants were twice as large, and the yield double that of traditional Moroccan hash plants,” she said.
“This created great enthusiasm with the Moroccan farmers,” she continued. “Don’t forget that an estimated million people in Morocco depend on the revenue of hash production.” The farmers produce hash the traditional Moroccan way, with dry sieving. “They only use the first sieve for our blocks, giving the best quality.”
The focus on quality is a break from the anything-for-big-volumes mindset of many men in the commercial cannabis industry. Mariska thinks it could be a game-changer. Producing hash from high-quality genetics in one of the world’s best-known regions for hash, she predicted, “will cause an earthquake in the cannabis landscape.”
“It’s a win-win situation: The farmers are happy because of more revenue. The customers are happy because they get a stronger product with more taste and smell at a cheaper price,” she said
Mariska took her first steps in the cannabis industry in the mid-1990s, while a student in Amsterdam. She got a job at one of the city’s coffeeshops and stayed there for three years. “When I had to make a definitive career choice, I chose the cannabis industry,” she said. “I literally took the Yellow Pages and my finger landed on a company specializing in nutrients for cannabis. Thus my adventure began. I learned all about the breeding, growing, and harvesting process, from the clone until the harvest.”
When she got the chance to buy a coffeeshop, she took it. “It was a great opportunity and I was ready for it,” she remembered. “I had built a solid foundation and could now use all the knowledge and professionalism I had built up in a new way, and broaden and refine it.”
When asked what she believes sets Boerejongens apart from other coffeeshops, Mariska answered with a question. “What distinguishes a Michelin star restaurant from another good restaurant? It’s a combination of several well-balanced factors: the finishing touch, the product, the service, the atmosphere. There’s always someone who opens the door for you—not a bouncer but a greeter, in a three-piece suit with matching bowler hat.”
A trip to the coffeeshop isn’t just a transaction, as she describes it. It’s an experience. “The bottom line is that we’re never afraid to do things differently.”
It’s more than just surface treatment, too. Staff take at least three continuing education courses every year to beef up on product knowledge. As Mariska put it, “We want sommeliers behind the counter.”
Being a woman in the male-dominated Dutch cannabis industry, she said, wasn’t as difficult as one might expect. “It certainly wasn’t harder when I started 22 years ago, although I did expect some difficulty at first. But this soon turned out to be nonsense and those thoughts disappeared. Maybe it has been a little easier for me as a woman. At that time there were very few women in the cannabis industry, so for some it may have been a pleasant surprise, a fresh breeze in the business. And it can still often be positive.”
Mariska’s hard work and unconventional outlook does more than raise the standard for coffeeshops. She’s helping put an entirely new face on cannabis. “The shady image that some people still wrongly associate with coffeeshops disappears very quickly if I start talking,” she said. “Too many people don’t get that a coffeeshop is just a store. Apart from the backdoor problem, you can compare it to a wine shop.”