• Germany edition
 
Gourmet Berlin coffee scene brews up a storm
Photo: DPA

Gourmet Berlin coffee scene brews up a storm

Published: 18 Dec 2012 16:30 GMT+01:00
Updated: 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
German family abducted in Yemen are dead
Johannes Hentschel, Sabine and their son. Photo: DPA

German family abducted in Yemen are dead

Two Christian aid workers and their son, who were kidnapped five years ago in Yemen are dead, a relative said on Tuesday. READ  

Analysis
Why Germany fears US digital disruptors
Angela Merkel with her official Blackberry phone

Why Germany fears US digital disruptors

Every week brings a new headline pitting German politicians, businesses or unions against a US digital company. What is the country's problem with US tech businesses? READ  

Quiz
Can you pass the German citizenship test?
Photo: DPA

Can you pass the German citizenship test?

Since 2008 anyone applying for German citizenship has had to take a test on their new country's history, politics and values. Do you know enough about Germany to pass it? READ  

Rent caps are coming in 2015
Photo: DPA

Rent caps are coming in 2015

A move to cap rent rises in German cities has been agreed by coalition parties, Germany's justice minister announced on Tuesday morning. READ  

Boy, 6, among Berlin train attack victims
Photo: DPA

Boy, 6, among Berlin train attack victims

Two vicious acts of violence on Berlin trains over the weekend have shocked passengers, with the youngest attack victim aged just six. READ  

Gerst and crew get 3D printer and some mice
Gerst is waiting the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon which launched on Sunday. Photo: NASA TV/DPA

Gerst and crew get 3D printer and some mice

UPDATE: Alexander Gerst, Germany's man aboard the International Space Station (ISS), captured SpaceX's unmanned Dragon craft with a cargo of supplies on Tuesday. READ  

Iraq denies entry to German military trainers
The seven trainers boarded their plane in Germany on Friday. Photo: DPA

Iraq denies entry to German military trainers

Seven German military trainers, who flew to Iraq on Friday to train Kurdish fighters battling Islamic extremists Isis, have been denied permission to enter the country. READ  

Father, 75, tries to dynamite son
Police searching the area after the TNT discovery in Nußdorf. Photo: DPA

Father, 75, tries to dynamite son

A Bavarian pensioner is being investigated on suspicion of attempted murder after planting 3.5kg of TNT in his son's garden, next door to his own home, police said on Monday. READ  

JobTalk Germany
How to become an au pair in Germany
Photo: DPA

How to become an au pair in Germany

It’s not quite as romantic as the Nanny Diaries, nor is it as magical as Mary Poppins. But being an au pair in Germany can be fun, as Emma Anderson finds out. READ  

Merkel hails 'impressive' French reform plans
Merkel and Valls on Monday in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Merkel hails 'impressive' French reform plans

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls visited Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday, hoping to gain Germany's blessing for his revised economic reform programme. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Munich
Fights and a skinny dip kick off Oktoberfest
Photo: DPA
Sport
German Fifa exec: 'Qatar won't host World Cup'
DPA
Gallery
The best photos from Oktoberfest's opening weekend
Photo: DPA
Munich
Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's food
Marks & Spencer
Sponsored Article
Marks and Spencer: Win €300 toward your new autumn wardrobe
Photo: Joanna Drath, University of Tübingen
Society
Europeans descended from three tribes
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
Drunk teachers ruin school trip to Hamburg
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten German words you'll never want to hear again
Photo: DPA
Education
German universities tumble in global rankings
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
The three types of firms hiring foreigners
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Frisky couple shock Berlin commuters
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
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

3,329
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd