Originally published in Barista Magazine, 2014
MY FIRST TRIP TO BERLIN was in 2010. At the time, I naively assumed any city of this size—cosmopolitan, gritty and growing, tumultuous and fun—had to have a sparkling coffee universe. I was disappointed (and, in hindsight, uninformed at the time).
That first morning, staying in a hotel near Berlin Mitte, we wandered the streets searching for an acceptable café, and were reaching our limit before finding a nice, bare-bones single room setup in splotchy white. Two round tables and chairs. A shelf with a pile of papers. A bar with some cakes and tortes. And next to it, an espresso machine whose make and model I forget.
I made a few more trips there in the past couple years, but it wasn’t until fall 2013 that I stumbled on No Fire No Glory, a cozy shop on a leafy street in Prenzlauer Berg serving roasts from Bonanza Coffee Roasters of Berlin and Coffee Collective of Denmark.
Out the door and around the corner, I saw Godshot—The Future Urban Coffee Klub, and farther down, we stopped for an espresso at the Barn, buzzing with activity.
Suddenly, in what seemed like no time there was great coffee around every corner. I returned and met up with Cory Andreen, the 2012 Cup Tasters Champ and founder of Café CK to learn more about the evolving scene.
Putting Kaffee back in Kaffee und Kuchen
“Thirty years ago, Germany was one of the biggest importers of Colombian Arabica—and then the grocery stores started using coffee to undercut others in the market, and so the others did the same to compete,” explains Cory. “That’s sort of how Germany went from serving high-quality coffee to one of the biggest importers of Vietnamese Robusta.”
Sascha Spittel of Tres Cabezas Berlin cited the Warenkorb (a German version of the consumer price index) as one of the reasons for coffee’s decline. People are very sensitive to changes in prices for the basics like bread, butter, and coffee. Once companies couldn’t source high quality at a marketable price, the coffee landscape changed, he says.
And in many places, it’s evident. Germany is big on coffee and cake—it’s an afternoon tradition between 2 and 4 p.m. Most shops feature a reverently lit refrigerated counter with an array of intricately constructed cakes, which are regularly accompanied by a push-button cappuccino or a Milchkaffee.
“Germans forgot about quality coffee, but they are curious to learn. Specialty coffee needs more attention,” says Ralf Rüller, founder of the Barn, one of the top roaster-retailers in the growing crop of shops in Berlin. “Starbucks was important in the sense that people are willing to spend more, and now we have an opportunity to buy more quality coffee and pay farmers well.”
Turning a Corner
Given Berlin’s burgeoning creative and tech scenes and tourist traffic, the market was ripe, but there were few roasters who could supply the shops that began to open up. The folks at No Fire No Glory were using coffees from Coffee Collective. Cory was bringing in Solberg & Hansen for his shop focused on fine filter coffees. The Barn was selling Square Mile.
It all converged in 2010 at the Allegra European Coffee Symposium, where Yumi Choi of Bonanza Coffee Roasters, one of Berlin’s first third-wave roasters, gave a presentation on why third-wave coffee had yet to take off in Berlin. A group of six shops got together after the presentation and created the Berlin Coffee Society to advocate for specialty coffee in the city.
The group included Bonanza, Café CK, DoubleEye, Five Elephant Coffee, Godshot, and No Fire No Glory. They held cuppings for a curious public, brought in coffee farmers and green buyers for events, and put a collective face to specialty coffee at food shows. This past August, the group worked with the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) to hold their second annual Barista Camp at a nearby historic residence.
With a combination of collaboration and creative tension, the group and others have built a diverse coffee scene. Berlin’s size has allowed cafés and roasters to spread out and find their niche. And the economic climate makes it easy to get started.
“People take more risks here. Rents are cheaper—it’s a city that’s still crawling out of what it was. It pushes people to try new things,” says Namy Nosratifard of Concierge Coffee. “It’s not fetishized like New York or places in the U.S. where you need a complete business plan, a loan, a lease.”
Both Namy and his business partner, Benjamin Pates, use coffee as a means to pursue their interests in photography and music production, respectively. Nora Šmahelová at Chapter One Coffee (see page 50) tells a similar story. The product designer and head judge of World Coffee Events competitions now presents customers with special coffees using as many brewing methods as they care to imagine.
Of Berlin or In Berlin
The other key to the growth in Berlin coffee is the influx of outside talent. The coffee scene in Berlin isn’t really of Berlin as much as it is in Berlin.
“We benefit from the exchange of people from Australia, France, and all over the world,” said Yumi. “I think being central in Europe—and that we’re part of the easyJet generation— makes it easy for this to take off here.”
Seth and Chris Onton of Companion Coffee are from Canada and Australia, respectively. Namy of Concierge is Iranian-American, and Benjamin, his business partner, is from the U.K. Kris Shackman of Five Elephant is from New York, and his partner, Sophie Weigensamer, is from Austria. The owners of Silo Coffee are Australian. There’s even an Oslo Kaffee bar run by Norwegian-bornKristian Moldskred with a pop-up shop in the Nordic embassy.
Specialty coffee continues to climb the ladder in Berlin with new shops opening every few months, each with its own slightly different take (like Am Ende der Welt, which features coffee, beer, and Frisbees). With the first generation of coffee solidly established and a reputable bank of roasters at the ready, former employees at Berlin shops are moving on and creating their own concepts.
“It’s all kind of freestyle jazz now. There’s no Intelligentsia or Stumptown—business and money are not the driving forces in Berlin. It’s still about the fun and the love here,” said Kris of Five Elephant. “And maybe that doesn’t last forever, but it’s a nice balance now.”
If you’re lucky enough to visit Berlin’s exciting coffee scene, here’s a quick guide to help you find your way. We’ve divided it into two loops covering two separate sections of the city.
Loop #1 – Five shops in close proximity, and one a bit fArther out
- Chapter One —Nora of Chapter One has a welcoming laugh, which makes her mad filter coffee chemistry set extra inviting. This café she owns with Björn Köpke is a sparsely decorated place on a quiet side street that lets you savor everything going on in the cup. While the focus is on filter coffees, there’s a La Marzocco Strada there just in case. Beans from JB Coffee (Germany), Taf (Greece), and more with Drop (Sweden) on the espresso. Mittenwalder Straße 30, 10961 Berlin
- Concierge Coffee – Namy and Benjamin’s Concierge Coffee is among that next wave of Berlin coffee shops made up of baristas moving on from the first-generation shops (like Bonanza) to carve out their own niche in the market. In their case, it’s a tiny hole in the wall impeccably dressed in wood and brick with a walk-up window. Make sure you go in; they say some people never do. There is a piglet. And a squirrel. Paul-Lincke-Ufer 39-40, 10999 Berlin
- Companion Coffee – Like a trusted friend who knows exactly what you need, Shawn Barber and Chris Onton (who helped Ralf build the Barn’s reputation) pull in coffee from all over the world — Drop (Sweden), Five Elephant (Germany), Belleville (France), Square Mile (U.K.), Koppi (Sweden), and more. Not to mention their own line of tea: Grab a bag of the LaKyrsiew tea while you’re there. Oranienstraße 24, 10997 Berlin
- Café 9 at Markthalle 9 – Philipp Reichel and the team at Café 9 roll out the welcome mat at Markthalle 9, an unstoppable parade of local, homemade good things. Get a coffee and then get inside for a brisket sandwich or fresh fruit or flowers. Serving coffee from Berlin Kaffeemeister Willy Andraschko, but also pulling in beans from different roasters worldwide with plans to get their own roasting operation. Eisenbahnstraße 43, 10997 Berlin
- Five Elephant – What began with a focus on cake (cheesecake in particular) has branched into a coffee lover’s dream. With a coffee menu that follows the harvest, and roasts that accommodate everyone from novice slurpers to experienced quaffers, Five Elephant strives to push the coffee envelope and bring a crowd along. The recent addition of a CR25 Diedrich roaster shipped over from Idaho is sure to help Kristian Moldskred satisfy the growing demand. Reichenberger Straße 101, 10999 Berlin
- Bonanza – You’ll have to fight your way in to this shop, which is located near Mauer park, as the traffic headed to the flea market overwhelms the café. Lazy afternoon loiterers pass the time languidly as others shuffle through to place their orders. Regular cuppings are worth the trip. Oderberger Straße 35, 10435 Berlin
- Godshot, the Future Urban Coffee Club – Serving classic Italian espresso from Manaresi Caffe along with beans from Phoenix in Dresden, and single-origins from Backyard Coffee in Frankfurt, Godshot is a sleek, comfy space on a quiet street. Immanuelkirchstraße 32, 10405 Berlin
- No Fire, No Glory – Expert baristas craft silky cappuccinos from a sleek three-group Mirage in this comfortable shop serving Coffee Collective (Denmark) and Bonanza beans. Rykestraße 45, 10405 Berlin
- CK Cafe – Cory Andreen’s shop is known for finely roasted, impeccably brewed filter coffees with creative presentation (along with teas from Companion Coffee) on a quiet street in Prenzlauer Berg. Marienburger Straße 49, 10405 Berlin
- The Barn – Ralf Rüller has laid down an uncompromising vision for coffee in Berlin. There’s little room for Internet, baby strollers, or the like. Only carefully selected coffees are expertly roasted and impeccably brewed. And some carrot cake and other sweets. There are two locations: roastery with brewbars at Schönhauser Allee 8, 10119 Berlin, and coffee shop on Auguststraße 58, 10119 Berlin
- Silo – Founded by two Australians, Silo is wood and white and amazing coffee. It features a great breakfast with espressos from the Barn off their Synesso Hydra. Gabriel-Max-Straße 4, 10245 Berlin
- Tres Cabezas Berlin Coffee Roasters – The name of the place comes from the dedication to Costa Rican coffees. Check out the single-origin, organic coffees—Tres Cabezas bring in high-quality beans, but keep it attainable for the folks in the neighborhood. The Costa Rica Hacienda Sonora Yellow Catuaí Honey is one of the first direct-trade coffees and worth the trip. Boxhagener Straße 74, 10245 Berlin
- Double Eye – One of the first shops to really take coffee up a notch in Berlin—it opened in 2001—is still packed today. Owned by 2005 European World Cup Barista Champ Arno Schmeil, DoubleEye is standing-room only, serving Italian-style espresso. Akazienstraße 22, 10823 Berlin