Berlin! We'll be there in just a few short days to throw a giant party with Cafe Imports. But in advance of that, our Bay Area staff writer Leif Haven recently spent a whirlwind few weeks seeing the town, and he's put together a partial guide to some of the city's most notable cafes.
There are a lot of great places to drink coffee in Berlin. So many that in nearly two weeks (across major holidays and Sundays) I still missed a few important ones. That’s different than a few years ago. It would be pretty easy to say that Berlin has changed more than most cities in the world in the last 25 years, and for the German coffee scene, that holds true as well. Just as we've seen dramatic growth in the last half decade in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and London, so too has the boom come on fast and strong here. In the shadow of the wall and Checkpoint Charlie have risen some world-class cafes with distinctly German character.
This is a snapshot guide to some–but by no means all–of the top cafes around Berlin. Consider this guide a first step in what will be a significantly expanded amount of German coffee coverage in the coming weeks and months on Sprudge.
Near the Berlin Wall Memorial, and the Mauerpark (literally “wall park”) sits Bonanza Coffee Roasters. They say right on their website that their coffees are roasted “as little as possible, enough to fully develop all the flavors, with the aim to highlight what makes a coffee distinct.” This is part of a wider set of values that helps drive Bonanza, laid out neatly on the roaster's official website.
The company has been around the block–they started in 2006, and were among the first to bring “third wave” to Berlin–but that doesn't mean they're out of date when it comes to style, technique, and gear. Espresso service happens here on a Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine made in the Netherlands, which they've paired with doserless Mazzer Robur-E grinders, made in Italy. The company's smart roasting program buys lots from the likes of Finca El Injerto in Guatemala, a famed farm whose coffees Bonanza recently profiled in a series of auction lot public cuppings. And the cafe has played host to a wide variety of education courses, including a recent event hosted by our friends at DunneFrankowski.
This is a progressive, adventurous, and delicious coffee company, helmed by a team of professionals with deep roots in Berlin's coffee scene. Their clearly stated mission and commitment to quality has helped give rise to today's modern Berlin cafe scene, in which they remain one of the very best.
Bonanza Coffee Heroes, Oderberger Straße 35, 10435, 8:30-19:00 weekdays, 10:00-19:00 weekends.
This shop in Prenzlauer Berg was my office away from home in Berlin. With plenty of space to stretch out both inside and out, and a wide variety of coffees from Bonanza and Five Elephant of Berlin and Coffee Collective of Copenhagen, it’s no sacrifice to camp here as a telecommuting ex-pat. Filter coffee is brewed here using either the Kalita or AeroPress methods, and served in a tulip glass; espresso options are made on Kees van der Westen Spirit. All milk drinks are made using Demeter certified milk, and there's a certain tasteful atmosphere about the space that places it comfortably in a global context.
Love sitting around at coffee bars in San Francisco, or Melbourne? You'll be quite at home here.
This is also the de facto center of the Berlin Coffee Society, a loose organization of specialty coffee boosters that organizes cuppings and events in the city. You can get a cocktail here if it’s late in the day, or enjoy one of pastry chef Laura Villanueva's signature cakes, part of her popular Tausendsuend line of baked goods. Want to learn more about No Fire No Glory? Attend one of their weekly public cuppings, held every Friday afternoon at 2pm.
No Fire No Glory, Rykestraße 45 10405, 10:00-20:00 daily.
One of two shops that Tim Wendelboe recommends in the city, this little shop is a Berlin specialty coffee mainstay, located just around the corner from No Fire No Glory in Prenzlauer Berg. Run by the 2012 World Cup Tasters Champion, Cory Andreen, Café CK impressed me several times, with impressive attention to detail throughout service. Filter coffee drinks come in rocks glasses brewed via Hario V60 or AeroPress, and espressos are pulled on a distinctive white La Marzocco FB80.
Currently Mr. Andreen is splitting time between his new project in Washington D.C., Mockingbird Hill, and daily duties at Café CK. Perhaps befitting the bi-continental vibe here, recent CK cuppings have featured beans from Intelligentsia (USA), Viva Espresso (San Salvador), and Belleville Brûlerie (Paris). There's a reason why CK winds up on everyone's Berlin cafe list: it's one of the best.
Café CK, Marienburger Straße 49 10405, 8:00-19:00 weekdays, 9:00-19:00 weekends.
West Berlin is literally right down the street from Checkpoint Charlie, one of many crossing points to and from the American sector of West Berlin. It’s now also one of the most popular tourist stops and is always mobbed with camera toting tour groups. Just a block south sits West Berlin, one of the coolest little cafes and magazine shops in the city.
You can sit and enjoy the latest edition of Monocle, while drinking a coffee from either Five Elephant or Drop Coffee Roasters out of Stockholm. Make sure you try the luxurious quark cheesecake–in a city absolutely mad for cheesecake, the one here is as good as any.
westberlin coffeebar&mediashop (lowercase styling theirs) Friedrichstraße 215 10969, 8:30-19:00 weekdays, 10:00-19:00 weekends.
The Barn, situated in Mitte, has sort of dual personality: behind the bar it seems like a laboratory, while on the customer side, the modular furniture and laptop-free seating, makes for a hushed, almost hands-off vibe. Weirdly, it doesn’t seem like Berliners go to drink coffee in the afternoon on Sundays, as this shop was empty when I visited. Riding by during the week it was always packed.
The Barn's roasting program garners attention and accolades from around the world. Their lineup includes some specialty coffee favorites like an Ethiopia Sidama Guji Suke Quto, a Brazil Sitio Canaa, and a number of others in their rotating menu, all roasted in-house. Ample education is available for each of the coffees they offer; if you yearn to learn everything about the coffee you’re drinking, this is the place to go. Espresso here is made out of a Synesso Hydra, served by a battery of grinders that includes the Mahlkönig EK43 and Mazzer Robur. Hand-brewed coffees are served without milk or sugar; the only milk available in the shop is steamed to order by the barista.
Ask your average coffee nerd which roaster they know in Berlin, and they'll say The Barn every time. Perhaps that's because of the international row owner Ralf Rüller created when he famously forbid baby strollers in the shop; perhaps it's because of the training, service, and roasting input lent to The Barn by the likes of Tim Wendelboe and Tim Varney. These days I'd wager it's because of The Barn's willingness to ship their product to any country in the EU, with only a small surcharge for shipping. It means this coffee is being served not just in Germany, but at fine coffee bars across the continent. The legend grows.
The Barn, Auguststraße 58 10119, 8:00-18:00 weekdays, 10:00-18:00 weekends.
Five Elephant gets a lot of mileage as a roaster in Berlin–most of the cafes that use more than one brand of bean will sell something from this small Kreuzberg operation. They also have a café on the lovely treelined Reichenberger Straße, where you can sit outside and smoke your Gauloises while looking trés European with your kaffe. This is one of the few cafes in Berlin we've featured in-depth on Sprudge previously, in this lovely feature from 2013 by Cory Andreen.
I feel like every food writer in this city has done a feature on Five Elephant's signature Philadelphia-style cheesecake, which you are contractually required to order during any visit lasting more than 10 minutes. It's hyped for a reason, and that's because it's delicious, but don't sleep on the coffee. When I visited there they made me a cup of brilliant Burundian coffee from the Buziraguhindwa washing station, brewed on Hario V60. They're also currently serving a variety of microlot single origin coffees from Brazil, a country historically overlooked as mere blending filler, and home to many delicious and distinctive lots of coffee (for those willing to take the chance).
Five Elephant Coffee Roastery and Cakeshop, Reichenberger Straße 101 10999, 8:30-19:00 weekdays, 10:00-19:00 weekends.
This little Schöneberg café has been serving up their version of traditional northern Italian style espresso for years. It’s not exactly what you expect from a third wave western café, but it’s pretty awesome. Double Eye is crowded–even in the middle of the afternoon–with standing room only to order coffee. No line forms, and the baristas just look at you and yell when it’s time to order. They also carry a wide selection of weird candy and amazing Portuguese egg tarts.
“Traditional northern Italian style espresso” is like layered code for “may contain robusta”, but we're all adults here, and they're slinging the stuff out with aplomb here at Double Eye on a solid La Marzocco Strada/Mazzer Robur espresso set-up. In keeping with the Italian tradition, espressos here cost just one Euro; there's basically no seating, so you can stand and slurp your shot (preferably paired with one of those egg tarts) or take your coffee to go out on the Akazienstrasse, surrounded by newly caffeinated locals.
Double Eye (or DoubleEye as it's sometimes listed), Akazienstraße 22 10823, 8:15-18:15 weekdays, 9:15-17:45 Saturday, closed Sunday.
Godshot calls itself a “Future Urban Coffee Klub”, which sounds a bit like what Hans and Franz might open, should they branch out into the cafe business. It sits in the white-hot coffee neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg, within spitting distance of Café CK and No Fire No Glory. They serve coffee from Phoenix in Dresden, Backyard Coffee in Frankfurt, and Manaresi out of Florence.
This diverse little shop is much loved by locals and has a very Euro-café vibe, complete with a Eurodance soundtrack and a stunning chrome'd out La Marzocco GB5 espresso machine. There's wifi here, and even some toys in their stylish downstairs area if you've brought the kindchen along with you. Godshot is different from a lot of other cafes in Berlin, and worth visiting.
GODSHOT Café Berlin – The Future Urban Coffee Klub, Immanuelkirchstraße 32 10405, 8:00-18:00 weekdays, 9:00-18:00 Saturdays, 11:00-18:00 Sundays.
Photos by Gabriel Dunn for Sprudge.com.