• Germany's news in English
 

Gourmet Berlin coffee scene brews up a storm

Published: 18 Dec 2012 16:30 GMT+01:00

In a trendy coffee shop in a Berlin side street, three men are crouched in front of a row of gleaming coffee machines. They rock back and forth nervously, like athletes psyching themselves up before a race.

A low buzz of animated conversation fills the room, and the crowd crane their necks to watch the proceedings. A man steps forward with a microphone and begins the countdown. The chatter falls away, replaced by the throbbing hum of the machines as they whir into action: the city's first 'Black Coffee Brew Down' competition has begun.

"I'm a professional barista," says spectator Wissem Ben Rahim. "But I don't feel ready to take part in the competition yet. Today I'm just here to watch. You really have to invest a lot of time practicing before signing up."

The atmosphere is certainly intense. Behind the scenes, the judges treat their craft with the utmost seriousness. One of them, Cory Andreen, proudly boasts the distinction of reigning world champion coffee taster.

Like wine experts, they swill the coffee around their mouths before spitting it out. In pursuit of scrupulous fairness, samplings are conducted blind. Triumphing in the competition is apparently mostly a question of avoiding mistakes.

"The easiest way to explain quality coffee is that it starts with the farmer," explains Andreen. "If it tastes interesting, what you´re trying to do is not screw it up. It´s about taking a good coffee and letting it shine for itself."

A java revolution

To the casual coffee drinker, the reverence afforded to the humble bean can seem baffling, but the sense of mission here is unmistakeable. In fact, the 'Black Coffee Brew Down', organized by the Berlin Coffee Society, is a clear sign of just how far elite java culture has come in the German capital.

Jasper Springerling, head coffee roaster for Bonanza Coffee in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood, isn't here for pleasure alone: "I have a feeling there's a bit of an emerging coffee scene here in Berlin with independent roasters, so I'm here to see the new faces," he says, noting that Bonanza supplies around fifteen other coffee shops in the city.

"It's a small scene, so everyone knows each other. Now there's more competition, so that raises the standards and pushes the limits of coffee how to make it best," he says.

All three judges agreed that Berlin is witnessing something of a revolution where it comes to upmarket coffee.

Bonanza Coffee, owned by judge Kiduk Reus, is credited with breaking the ice and introducing the capital to what is frequently termed Third Wave Coffee, a movement which treats coffee as a high-quality, artisanal product.

"We did everything differently, just focused on the coffee. There was also a major internet dimension of blogging about the coffee and creating a community," says Korean native Reus.

That was five years ago. Since then a string of upmarket independent coffee shops have opened, catering above all to young, affluent, cosmopolitan crowd. Last year saw the foundation of the Berlin Coffee Society, which includes Bonanza, Cafe CK, Double Eye, Five Elephant, Godshot, No Fire No Glory and Oslo Kaffebar. Regular events, such as this competition, play a crucial role in developing the scene.

"They make people re-focus on their craft. It´s not about putting people on the back foot or being critical, but about getting people to think about their brew and what other people were doing better," says American Kris Schackman, the third judge and owner of Five Elephant in the Kreuzberg district.

Quality is the buzzword and the obsession of the specialty coffee scene: all other considerations are secondary to the pursuit of the perfect brew. Paying up to six times as much for the beans, purchased through 'direct trade' with local growers, is seen as a worthwhile investment to ensure the best possible product. "What we sell is completely different from what you buy in the supermarkets," insists Reus.

Foreigners at the fore

The coffee aficionados are also emphatic about what is driving the movement here in Berlin: foreigners.

All three judges, each at the forefront of city´s coffee scene, are expats, though the owners of the independent cafe No Fire No Glory, host of this year's brewing competition, are Berliners.

The atmosphere at such events is thoroughly international. English appears to be the lingua franca, though the rules of the competition were announced in both English and German.

"Over half my customers are expats. Mostly from countries which already have a strong coffee scene, like London and Sydney. There is a growing German customer base, but most of them were first brought in by expat colleagues. Most Berliners haven't heard of us, but the shop is featured in lots of guide books for tourists," says Andreen.

The other judges nod their heads in agreement: their business is also heavily reliant on the city's international crowd.

"Germans have some kind of stigma about this kind of coffee. They´re used to this really dark filter coffee that their grandmothers drank, which put them off, though that´s changing. Germans are less adventurous," said Shackman.

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

16:54 December 18, 2012 by nofirenoglory
thanks for your great write up pippa! (although we - ela and ralf - are berliners: "...as is the Australian owner of ... No Fire No Glory")
17:05 December 18, 2012 by The Local Germany
Thanks, we've corrected that!
22:23 December 18, 2012 by Five Elephant
Thanks for the article Pippa! Just 2 comments after reading this.

First, and I am speaking for our roastery/cafe, I hope we didn't come across as "elite java culture", because what we are working for is exactly the opposite. We don't want this to be an elitist culture, but rather helping to raise the bar of how people drink coffee in their day to day lives. I agree that this Brew-Down could baffle most non-coffee people, but I would be disappointed if people had the sense that this event was organized as some form of highbrow culture.

Secondly, I don't want my last quote to be taken out of context. There is a stigma here in Germany about filter coffee being something that your Grandmother would drink. This is different than all "Germans having some kind of stigma" about filter coffee.

The paper filter was invented here in Berlin 100 years ago in an attempt to make the coffee from a percolator less bitter. The vac pot coffee maker was also invented in Germany. This coffee awareness has always been here, I think, but perhaps its just been sleeping for a while. There are certainly many Germans who are at the forefront of quality coffee here and I also want to make sure my quote is not taken out of context.

The article is great though!
22:38 December 18, 2012 by ChrisRea
The best coffee I drank in Berlin was in Röststätte in Ackerstraße (near Rosenthalerplatz). The barista is also an expat (from Romania) that regularly takes part in international barista championships/cups.
09:15 December 19, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
Silly season again at TL? I thought this was a news website (albeit an online tabloid version of one). Surely there are more newsworthy events happening in Germany than the smell of coffee?
10:39 December 19, 2012 by The Local Germany
@Five Elephant - We used 'elite' as in the top of a field, not to label you as elitist!

@Berlin fuer alles - Perhaps we can offer you a story about a stalker pigeon instead? http://www.thelocal.de/society/20121219-46863.html
10:43 December 19, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
Thanks TL. It is an improvement but still some way to go before reaching the standards of a reasonable news media portal.
Today's headlines
Baby ducks shut down Autobahn traffic
Stock image of baby ducks running. Photo: DPA.

Baby ducks shut down Autobahn traffic

Police officers and a fire fighter crane were called in to rescue five orphaned baby ducks on Friday, stopping autobahn traffic briefly to escort them to safety. READ  

Taliban release German hostage in Afghanistan
The region of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Photo: DPA

Taliban release German hostage in Afghanistan

An employee of the German International Development Agency (GIZ) has been released from captivity in northern Afghanistan after being taken prisoner by the Taliban six weeks ago. READ  

Cameron and Merkel sing from same hymn sheet
Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron arrive at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Cameron and Merkel sing from same hymn sheet

Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron presented a newly united front at a Berlin press conference on Friday, after their first meeting where the UK premier set out his demands for reform of the European Union. READ  

German industry: Brexit would be ‘disastrous’
Photo: DPA

German industry: Brexit would be ‘disastrous’

The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) have told the BBC that if the UK were to leave the EU it would be disastrous for both countries. READ  

At last, Germany has a new Top Model
Vanessa is over the moon. Photo:DPA

At last, Germany has a new Top Model

Everyone can breath easily again. Despite a delay of two weeks due to a bomb threat, Heidi Klum has finally been able to choose Germany’s next top model - a 19-year-old from her own home town. READ  

Steinmeier: corruption poisons football
Steinmeier had harsh words for FIFA. Photo:DPA

Steinmeier: corruption poisons football

Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday that if world football can't clear up "poisonous" corruption, state bodies need to step in, amid a graft scandal engulfing governing body FIFA. READ  

Greece eclipses G7 meeting in Dresden
G7 finance ministers in Dresden. Photo: DPA

Greece eclipses G7 meeting in Dresden

Debt-wracked Greece's battle to hammer out a deal with its creditors dominated a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations in Dresden on Thursday, with officials insisting much work still lay ahead. READ  

EU investigates Germany over airport security
Photo: DPA

EU investigates Germany over airport security

The European Commission said on Thursday that it had referred Germany to the EU Court of Justice for failing to regularly check up on its airport security measures at some airports. READ  

Germans want to keep their hands on cash
Germans still trust cash over other forms of payment. Photo: DPA

Germans want to keep their hands on cash

Confirming conservative stereotypes, Germans have come out strongly in favour of sticking to hard cash in conducting transactions, a survey published on Thursday showed. READ  

This week in history
Fassbinder: New German Film's Enfant Terrible
Rainer Fassbinder on set in 1977. Photo: DPA

Fassbinder: New German Film's Enfant Terrible

On Sunday May 31st, Rainer Weiner Fassbinder, one of the most influential German film directors, would have turned 70 - had it not been for his death at the age of 37 in 1982. The Local takes a look back at the life and work of the enfant terrible of New German Cinema. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Features
Fassbinder's blaze of glory
Rhineland
Defusing Cologne's giant WW2 bomb
Travel
1,000 years of Leipzig
National
Cops have nothing to go on after ministry toilet theft
Sport
The hidden history of FC Bayern Munich
Technology
In future, we may all be scraping drones off windshields
National
The 65-year-old who gave birth to quadruplets
Travel
Why the train strike is bad for passengers and workers
National
Meet Germany's Eurovision hope
Business & Money
Is 2015 a new moment for jobsharing?
Features
How the LGBT rights movement was born in Germany
National
Why you don't make bomb jokes at the airport
National
Why Germany needs a little less tipple
National
Who Germans and Americans trust... and don't
Politics
What the UK election means for Germany
National
Why Germany is great for mums
Features
The Germans with GI dads
Five ways Germany falls short on gay rights
Travel
Giant tortoise found riding Munich rail
National
FCK CPS? A-OK with court
Politics
Opinion: Brexit's dangers for Germany
Features
Smart kids all want to work for BMW
National
Minister shows off top Denglisch
National
Germany's 'other genocide' in Africa
National
Arms firms get a 'must do better' mark on ethics
Sport
Bayern's anticlimactic 25th Bundesliga win
Politics
A Greek learning politics in Germany
Features
The battle of the "Gates of Berlin"
National
Germany's 'very poor' lobbying record
National
Germany's favourite baby names of 2014
Politics
Merkel's 15 years at the top of German politics
Travel
Lowest of the low: how woman exploited Germanwings crash
Features
Spice up asparagus season with The Local's serving suggestions
Sport
Football and the €30,000 firework
Technology
Why scientists oppose killer robots
National
'Cannibal cop' gets 8 years
National
Which city is Germany's worst for drivers?
Technology
Electrifying 'Ostalgia'
National
Cologne Cathedral returns from space
Pupils mourn lost classmates
National
Freed after 25 years on death row
Is your workload 'out of control'? You're not alone...
Features
Paddy's Day, Berlin style
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

6,698
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd