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COFFEE

Gourmet Berlin coffee scene brews up a storm

Expats on both sides of the counter are fueling a gourmet coffee revolution in Berlin. Pippa Wentzel visits a brewing competition to taste the city's flourishing java scene.

Gourmet Berlin coffee scene brews up a storm
Photo: DPA

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.

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BERLIN

EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

Shops
If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

Leisure
2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

Hairdressers
For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

Transport
3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.

 

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