Germans are known to be straight-talkers, so it should be no surprise that the name of Berlin's Mitte neighborhood translates as, simply, “middle.” Once split by the Wall, the aptly named geographical center of the city is today a surprising hodgepodge of designer boutiques, parks, start-ups, galleries, pop-ups, and social housing surrounded by many of the German capital's historic landmarks and museums. Some Berliners adore Mitte for its Old World charm, or its sleek facades and fashionistas; others loathe its high prices and the near impossibility of finding a Späti (a small grocery/beer shop). One thing is certain though: Mitte is home to some of the city’s finest Third Wave coffee. This guide spotlights five of Mitte’s best.
Father Carpenter Coffee Brewers
For many, Mitte begins at Alexanderplatz, the transport hub and public square referred to by Berliners as simply Alex. From there, a short walk to the well-dressed shopping strip of Münztrasse leads to a true hidden gem: a quiet courtyard, bubbling fountain and all, plus the entrance to Father Carpenter.
Opened by Australian Kresten Thogersen in January 2015, the L-shaped cafe exudes rustic chic: wood paneling, soft-white walls, steel tables, low-hanging lamps, and baristas in denim aprons. Visitors linger over coffee and cake, and a recently extended brunch and lunch menu nods to Thogersen’s Melbourne-cafe-culture roots and time spent at cafe/roaster Proud Mary. Father Carpenter currently goes with Berlin’s Five Elephant roastery for espresso-based drinks on their Synesso Hydra machine and features cameos from the likes of Denmark’s Coffee Collective on their BUNN batch brewer. This may change in 2016, as Father Carpenter plans to launch Fjord, a new roastery in the Marzahn neighborhood (in collaboration with Silo Coffee in Freidrichshain) that will aim for the goals of “sweet and clean”; plans are underway for a second cafe, in Charlottenburg as well.
Ben Rahim Speciality Coffee
Around the corner on Sophienstrasse, sneak through another courtyard to find Ben Rahim Speciality Coffee and the smiling, Tunisian-born Rahim himself. After working as a barista in Brisbane (Australia again!) and at Berlin’s the Barn, he opened this one-room space—perfect for a private coffee moment—in March 2015. Rahim serves specialty coffee with an Arabian slant, offering baklava and Tunisian mint tea alongside espresso from a Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II, a Hario V60, and cezve/ibrik options for Turkish coffee; the cafe is loyal to London’s Square Mile Coffee Roasters.
One of Mitte’s most buzzing strips, Auguststrasse is a narrow half-mile street, home to excellent galleries like KW Institute for Contemporary Art and Me Collectors Room, plenty of bars, and fancy bites. In a city that loves its burgers, Shiso offers an Asian-fusion twist to American soft-bun burgers; Mogg & Melzer, located inside the Jüdische Mädchenschule (Jewish School for Girls), does a killer NYC deli-style pastrami.
The street is also home to Berlin coffee institution the Barn, which has established itself as one of Germany’s leading roasters by supplying single-origin light roasts across Europe since opening in 2012. But their legend began with owner and founder Ralf Rüller’s original Auguststrasse cafe. Compared to the Barn's larger, eye-catching roastery and “taste lab” at Schönhauser Allee 8 (located in the Prenzlauer Berg area, and thus not featured in this guide, though definitely worth a visit), the Barn's coffee shop is an intimate, neighborhood hub.
For the curious, the Barn is a dedicated space to learn and ask questions of the international crew of baristas—several of whom have gone on to open their own Berlin cafes. With no prams admitted, no music played, sugar kept firmly behind the bar, and only barista-steamed hot milk permitted, the Barn is geared toward a focused appreciation of coffee. Seasonal, weekly rotating roasts are served on a Synesso Hydra machine tailor-made in Seattle, with hand-brewed filter-coffee options as well. On my last visit, I enjoyed a smooth Burundi Muruta #26 from the Kayanza region, with hints of chocolate and dark cherry, from the V60, watching Mitte’s pretty young things wander past outside.
Head north to the bustling Torstrasse, passing hip bars like Neue Odessa, to find Röststätte: a cafe, brew bar, Victoria Arduino espresso machine machine retail-and-servicing space, barista training spot, and roasting workshop all rolled into one. The family business is headed by coffee sommelier and roastery director Ivo Weller and managing director Yvonne Weller. Coming from more than 20 years' work in gastronomy, Ivo began distributing and repairing machines in 2003 before growing out the multifaceted operation.
The warm, homey space somehow feels more European than many other Mitte specialty cafes in this guide; customers are encouraged to nest in its purple suede couches and gaze up lovingly at its Victoria Arduino VA388 Black Eagle Gravitech. The addition of the brew bar, opened in December 2015, has created an interactive space to sample Röststätte’s espresso blends and single-origin filter roasts—such as the lovely Kenya Gondo AA, containing notes of grapefruit and dark cherry—all of which are hand-roasted on their 12-kilogram Diedrich roaster, which is visible from the retail space.
North of Torstrasse stands Distrikt Coffee, which recently celebrated its first birthday. Opened by Sophie Hardy and Hannes Haake, the cafe stands out immediately for its beautiful, spacious interior: raw brick walls, wooden and black steel tables, and leather couches. Guests fill multiple rooms, some with friends, others with laptops, flocking in for Distrikt’s top-notch coffee and excellent breakfast and lunch menus, overseen by new head chef Matthew Maue.
With a Kees van der Westen Spirit on the counter looking as sexy as a Cadillac, Distrikt serves double-shot espressos, favoring European roasters like London’s Workshop Coffee and Sweden's Koppi. It's a great space for breakfast dates (the NYC-style Superfood Bowl of chia seeds, açaí, and goji berries is a favorite, as are the buttermilk pancakes), meetings, or simply wiling away slow afternoons.
Photos by Septimus Brope.