I meet Ralf Rüller at The Barn’s roastery, a soaring almost-gallery of a space with an L-shaped brew bar so long you could lap it. All the wood in the room is reclaimed, or at least looks the part, and there are these west-facing windows that light floods through before pooling all over the place. It’s like, quite literally, someone’s transplanted the bones of a barn into the center of East Berlin.
“For a long time, things in East Berlin were still bombed out,” Rüller says. “There was no gastronomy here after reunification, so it offered the most platform for change and for foreigners to move in and to find it interesting.”
Rüller founded The Barn six years ago a few blocks away in a space far more like a shed in size. He still lives in the neighborhood and says he knows everyone who comes into the shop by name. But most of those customers have been and continue to be foreigners—transplants from other places more familiar with coffee like The Barn’s.
“The coffee scene came with very strong international influxes. When I started, there was almost nothing as far as a community was concerned, just a few people starting out. All our reference points for quality and traceability and high-quality coffee were abroad.”
But we’re not here to talk about his company’s past, instead, we’re meeting about its future. Last month Rüller opened a pop-up in the basement of Japanese retailer Uniqlo’s Berlin flagship store.
“I lived in Japan when I was in my early 20s,” Rüller says. “I still go there every other year to visit friends. So there are a lot of reference points for me from Japan—our bar uses Hario equipment, and we make it a feature in all of our shops to really showcase brewing, slowing down. The Japanese element has always been there in all our philosophy and in everything we do.”
And so, Rüller makes clear, first and foremost The Barn’s new pop-up is a collaboration with a Japanese clothing company. It’s pared down to the nth degree: just an EK 43, a two-group La Morzocco Linea PB, two baristas, and a couple of Chemexes and V60s. But every detail seems streamlined and sharpened and very much deliberately The Barn, with a matte black espresso machine like something swiped from a Star Destroyer.
But more than being just another Barn, the pop-up represents an evolution for the company. In particular, by moving into West Berlin, which is predominately German in its makeup, Rüller is making a statement.
“I’m German and I feel like I’m on German soil. I want to reach out to more German people. My goal as a German roaster is to have an impact on changing the roast scene and the coffee scene in Germany. I think West Berlin is giving us that.”
As for plans to expand beyond the pop-up, which will be operational at least through the end of December, Rüller doesn’t hesitate.
“We’re looking at spaces all the time.”
Michael Light is a writer and editor originally from Ohio. He’s worked previously for Vice and Lucky Peach. Read more Michael Light on Sprudge.