Kreuzberg was once an island of West Berlin, enclosed on three sides by the Wall and mythologized for its world-famous street art, punk scene, and gangland underbelly. Today, it is arguably the cultural heart of the city. The geographically and spiritually wide-ranging Kiez is home to everything from anarcho co-ops and Bitcoin enthusiasts to steezy bars, clubs, and gourmet food markets. Full of surprises, Kreuzberg’s rapid development includes an explosion of some of Berlin’s best coffee over the last five years.
With new cafes opening all the time, this walking tour guides visitors from west to east of the sprawling neighborhood with pit stops at six of Kreuzberg’s top coffee sites, plus food, drink, and cultural recommendations en route.
We start on Kreuzberg’s northwestern border where Kreuzberg and Mitte were once divided by the Wall, an area recently captured in the heart-racing German film “Victoria”. Amidst this somewhat sleepy sea of offices and tourist attractions, westberlin stands as a lone coffee champion.
Recently celebrating its third birthday, westberlin is a bustling, spacious, laptop-friendly cafe that doubles as a “mediashop”, selling a gorgeous array of over 30 international and Berlin-based fashion, art, and culture magazines including Kinfolk and the Berlin Quarterly. Curated by German owner Kai Bröer, this passion for design translates into the bright, sleek aesthetic of the cafe.
Under the seasoned guidance of coffee consultant April Melnick, who hails from Portland, Oregon, westberlin loyally serves Stockholm’s Drop Coffee for espresso drinks, made on a La Marzocco Strada MP, as well as Berlin’s Five Elephant for AeroPress and batch brewing. One of the few Berlin specialty cafes with lunch menus, westberlin also offers plenty of sandwiches, salads, soups, and cakes.
What’s more, westberlin is a godsend for weary travelers on the tourist trail: the iconic east-west border crossing Checkpoint Charlie is visible from the cafe’s huge glass-front, while the Jewish Museum or the latest art exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau are just a short walk away.
Chapter One Coffee
Heading south towards the eclectic shopping strip of the Bergmannkiez, Chapter One Coffee is run by 2002 German Barista Champion and regular competition judge Nora Šmahelová and business partner Björn Köpke. The kindly pair met working at Schöneberg’s DoubleEye and opened Chapter One in late 2011, bringing quality coffee to the Kiez.
Walking in, eyes are immediately drawn to “The Golden Lady”: a three-burner Bonmac Hikari Siphon Bar Table that takes pride of place on the counter and glows like E.T., illuminating the cafe, as the heated halogens dramatically kick to life. The first of its kind in Europe, The Golden Lady is part of Chapter One’s wide offering of specialized coffees, which also include V60, Chemex, AeroPress, and Kalita Wave, as well as their La Marzocco Strada EP for espresso drinks.
With two ever-rotating options for filter and one for espresso, beans are ground in micro-batches through a stream of local and international roasters, sometimes changing twice a day. There’s always something new to try, plus bags to take home. On my last visit, popular German roasters JB Kaffee and Machhörndl stood alongside offerings from Sweden’s Per Nordby and Athens’ Taf Coffee.
Weekends see customers spilling out of the chequered-tiled cafe along the pavement, croissants in hand. Many wander to the nearby Marheinekeplatz, which hosts one of Berlin’s many charismatic flea markets.
Pass the swans and the idlers as you walk along the Landwehr Canal towards Kottbusser Tor, the center of Kreuzberg’s strong Turkish community. To get a taste of the community’s vibrant multicultural melting pot, nip upstairs for a drink at the smoky Café Kotti where old Turks, young students, backpackers, Germans, and ex-pats play chess and drink tea, beers, and Club-Mate.
Behind Kottbusser Tor you’ll find Nano Kaffee, one of Berlin’s newest Third Wave additions and a lovely spot to linger. The brainchild of Ramin Massah, Nano passionately showcases German roasteries such as Five Elephant, Bonanza, JB Kaffee, Playground Coffee, and Ernst Kaffeeröster on a La Marzocco Strada EE, as well as international guests in the brew bar.
The warm, minimally designed cafe exudes industrial chic with white-white walls, raw steel counters, shelves, and tables, and wooden benches along the pavement, all crafted by Massah and a metalsmith friend. Only one year old, Nano has already established a solid reputation for quality and aims to become a community hub with regular “Brew Up” events inviting roasteries into the cafe and welcoming Berlin coffee geeks and noobs alike.
Walk east along Oranienstrasse to stumble upon Companion Coffee. Hidden through a courtyard and inside the super trendy fashion concept store Voo, Companion occupies the mezzanine corner of the former locksmithery, and is fittingly kitted out with art/furniture from Sigurd Larsen and Frama. The cafe is run by the smiley duo of Canadian Shawn Barber and Australian Chris Onton, who met working as key baristas at Mitte institution The Barn.
The pair keep things pure and simple with a no-frills, high-quality focus on espresso drinks (only) from their Nuova Simonelli Aurelia T2 machine, and one grind at a time from an Anfim Super Caimano titanium grinder, set up on a concrete counter. Companion constantly rotates through European roasters with favorites such as UK’s Notes and Sweden’s Drop Coffee and Koppi among the 50–60 which have appeared in the cafe since it opened in 2013.
A growing operation is the pair’s venture into divine single-estate, ethically produced, direct-sourced teas under the Companion Tea label, which are served in shop and wholesaled across Berlin, appearing in many cafes on this list.
19 Grams is the Kreuzberg offshoot of Friedrichshain roastery Tres Cabezas, which lies on the opposite side of the river Spree.
Similar to Benjamin Pates and Namy Nosratifard’s Concierge Coffee on Paul-Lincke-Ufer—another notable Kreuzberger—19 Grams is a hole-in-the-wall venture with limited seating that enjoys heavy foot traffic from tourists and office workers. While this translates to a predominantly on-the-fly trade and a focus on speed and quality, the mainly Australian baristas behind the La Marzocco Linea Classic machine do appreciate a chance to banter, so go on, say hi.
Named for the weight of a single shot of coffee, 19 Grams offers espresso and hot and cold filter coffees, using a range of Tres Cabazas single-origin beans and their velvety house blend “Wild At Heart”, as well as house-made pastries and savory croissants.
Last, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: Five Elephant. With its single-origin, light roasts spreading their wings across Berlin and a growing international market, Five Elephant is ambitiously striving to become the Berlin roastery, having rebranded and relocated operations a year ago from their old cafe into a distinct roastery space around the corner with new Swedish roaster Patrik Rolf Karlsson at the helm. Beans are directly sourced from Kenya’s Kamwangi Factory, El Salvador’s Chalatenango region, and more recently Brazil’s Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza.
In the cafe, four roasts are served each for espresso and filter, while Five Elephant stays true to it roots as a bakery; the cafe is perhaps best described as a Berlin incarnation of an Austrian coffee house with an American twist. The cafe is particularly busy on weekends and during the cake rush hours of 3 p.m.–6 p.m., with tables along the pavement of the leafy Reichenberger Strasse often full.
Inside, the soft-lit space feels carefully orchestrated; Five Elephant’s old-world charm is heightened by vintage coffee-origin posters on the walls, large wooden tables, no Wi-Fi, and laptops allowed only in the back room. Customers lazily read newspapers or enjoy slow conversations as they tuck into banana bread, seasonal cakes, or the Philly Cheesecake, famous across Berlin. Pair it with a filter coffee prepared by one of the international team of baristas, and you’ll be ready to call Kreuzberg home.
Photos by Septimus Brope.