Hamburg is a coffee city. People here have been trading in coffee for 200 years now, and Second Wave coffee companies like Tchibo and J.J. Darboven were founded here. At the end of the 19th century, Hamburg was the biggest coffee market in the world. Today, the Hamburg Speicherstadt—coming from “Speicher,” the German name for storehouse, where goods like tea, cacao, spices, and coffee are stored—is still the biggest global trading place for coffee.
The first coffeehouse here opened in 1677, the coffee stock exchange, in 1887. Around that time in the middle of the 19th century, simple eating houses for laborers opened their doors. Named “Volkskaffeehalle” (“people's coffee hall”) or “Kaffeeklappe” (“coffee hatch”), because workers would receive their coffee through a hatch in the wall, these places served food with coffee, since alcohol wasn’t allowed and experience from London showed that coffee made laborers more centered and efficient—they already knew a good thing back then.
A great influence on Hamburg’s coffee scene came from the Portuguese, who brought cheap and dark-roasted coffee to Hamburg’s restaurants and coffee places. And the inhabitants of Hamburg got used to it. Being rather conservative, they still are open to new developments in coffee as well; more and more they are beginning to appreciate the quality that has come along with modern movements in coffee.
Unlike the huge international coffee scene in Berlin, a growing number of Third Wave places are popping up in Hamburg, and the people here are starting to appreciate what is being served in places like Playground Coffee, Stockholm Espresso Club, Milch, and Less Political.
Hamburg today has around 90 roasters. One of the most playful is Playground Coffee in Hamburg’s Rotherbaum district. Veljko Tatalovic, the owner, started his business about one year ago. Being a photographer, the creativity needed for taking photos is reflected in Playground's aesthetic. “I didn’t want to have standard packaging,” Veljko tells me, “I rather wanted to create packaging that played with the tasting notes of the coffee.” The packaging design—Monty-Python-style magazine collages—was created by graphic designer Andreas Teichmann; the names for the coffees, like “Dschaggah Khan” or “Skywalker” come from Veljko himself.
This creativity is also shown in his cafe, in a space he shares with Otto's Burger. The counter's drawings, for example, were created by a friend. Playground Coffee really is a playground for Veljko: he works together with small farms and importers and is trying to buy only small amounts in order to offer new coffees more frequently, usually stocking four filter coffees and two espresso roasts. Veljko is a passionate barista himself, talking to his guests, a lot of coffee geeks and students, but also his coworkers at Otto’s Burger. He chats away all while preparing filter coffees with a Kalita Wave, or pulling espressos on his La Marzocco Linea PB for flat whites and cappuccinos. As his guest you can not only feel his personality, but also the little child that’s hidden inside all of us who needs room to play once in a while.
Stockholm Espresso Club
At Stockholm Espresso Club, the Swedish lifestyle is celebrated with every single cup of coffee they serve. Owner David Vahabi is Swedish, and when he started the cafe in 2013 together with his partner Benjamin Link, he wanted people to experience Swedish coffee culture and Swedish roast profiles. His goal right from the beginning had been to let his guests, Hamburg people and coffee lovers from all over the world, try Swedish filter coffees. “My philosophy and central theme at Stockholm Espresso Club is to only offer coffee from one roaster, Koppi from Helsingborg, Sweden,” says Vahabi. These are mostly presented as very fruity filter coffees that have been roasted very light and are brewed with either AeroPress, Hario V60, or syphon. But Stockholm also offers espressos for local specials like cortados or espresso tonics.
Swedish coffee culture is also about “fika,” the Swedish coffee break that is enjoyed in the morning or in the afternoon. Swedish people aren’t that different from Germans—in Germany people traditionally have cake and coffee in the afternoons. Definitely worth a try is the cinnamon roll, known as a kanelbullar.
At Stockholm Espresso Club with its clean and stylish design and striking logo, not everything is about coffee. You can also have Swedish craft beers and a broad range of wines and whiskies. A must drink is the cascara tea from Costa Rica, served either hot or cold.
Milch is located in the Portuguese district and the Hamburg harbor area, a touristy area that is flooded with people during summer that evokes an almost Mediterranean atmosphere. The name of the cafe is taken from its actual usage back in the 1950s, when it was a small milk and deli store.
Nico Ueckermann, the owner, tells me that a lot of the original character remains in the cafe, which opened one year ago. The classic blue bathroom tiles, the cockle stove (or kachelofen), the striking lettering. The location is split in two sections, the former deli store with its clean, steal elements represented in the counter, and the former living room now being the larger part of the cafe with the cockle stove and the golden lamps.
The Kees van der Westen Spirit as the focal point lets the guests of Milch take part in the making of his or her coffee drink: “I want Milch to be communicative and the coffee being the main topic,” says Ueckermann. He wants coffee to be approachable to everyone and always offers a dark and a light roasted coffee, using coffee beans from Machhörndl of Nuremberg and Quijote of Hamburg at the moment.
Just starting off with filter coffee, Ueckermann serves small volume batch brew made with a FETCO in order to let everyone try filter coffee for a starting price of 1.50 euros per cup. Food is a side dish at Milch, but choices still provide the coffee lover with a sweet tooth for cake & coffee multiple options nevertheless.
Less Political, located in Hamburg's Schanzenviertel, is perfect for freshly brewed light roast filter coffees—you can choose from six different brewing methods. Apart from that, it's THE spot for signature drinks served at a coffee place in Hamburg. Inspired by barista championships, owners Mika Neu and Filine Manthey create coffee drinks meant to be tasted and enjoyed by everyone. Several options of hot and cold drinks are served. The hot drinks all have espresso as its base, to which either almond butter, coconut oil, or certain spices like anise seed are added. Cold drinks may contain cascara and cold-brew coffee. “The idea is to add only fine notes that do not dominate the espresso,” says Neu. “Right now we are thinking about adding matcha to our coffee drinks, so watch out for several new creations in the next couple months.”
Less Political started off as an art concept store that turned into a cafe in 2013 and is now also offering a broad variety of filter equipment like AeroPress, V60, Kalita, and syphon, and filter coffees from Five Elephant and Bonanza of Berlin, all presented in a huge wooden shelf that covers the whole right wall of the cafe.
Besides coffee, treats here include homemade cheesecake, banana bread, and sandwiches to just name a few. Neu's new project is coffee roasted by him. He started to buy green coffee beans about six months ago, and the first batches of freshly roasted coffee should be available in a couple of months. His goal is small batches of fruity single-origin coffees and light roasted filter coffees to round out their filter menu. Maybe we will also find them in some signature drinks next summer.
Melanie Böhme is a freelance journalist based in Frankfurt, Germany. Read more Melanie Böhme on Sprudge.