Germans. We all know them. We all love them. Three million live in a quaint little town called Berlin, and together with a motley crew of exiled Canadians, Australians, San Franciscans, and Scandinavians, they are fast becoming frontrunners in the grand, occasionally violent, battle that is Europe’s increasingly competitive coffee scene.
In the past, we’ve brought you inspired coverage of Berlin’s major coffee players with our Guide To Great Coffee In Berlin, Volume 1. Now with part deux, we bring you yet another poetic taste of Berlin’s exciting coffee culture. Obviously, this list doesn’t represent every cup of joe worthy of your attention (seven or so may have opened up in the time it took me to write this article) but another volume in what will likely be a 63-part series.
A touching memorial hangs in the misted bay windows of Chapter One. This stirring portrait, a solemn reminder of life’s fragility, mourns the loss of a precious miracle taken long before its time—in early 2014, the cafe’s espresso machine was mysteriously stolen right off the counter.
Obviously, the cold-blooded theft of a La Marzocco Linea isn’t something to be taken lightly. Particularly if you’re the grief-stricken coffee genius responsible for Chapter One, Nora Šmahelová. Šmahelová was one of Germany’s first major contributors to Third Wave coffee culture, starting with her victory at the German Barista Championships back in 2002. A triumph now humbly immortalized as a potted-plant trophy crammed into a discreet corner of the cafe.
Together with her equally esteemed business partner Björn Köpke, Šmahelová opened Chapter One amidst Berlin’s first run of specialty espresso bars about three years ago. Since then, they’ve garnered a healthy reputation for diverse coffee offerings with a strong emphasis on filter brews and good times. Filter options account for a large portion of Chapter One’s trade—particularly on Mondays when the bar serves filter coffee exclusively.
Since the theft of their beloved Linea, a Strada EP now accompanies a Mahlkönig K30 on the matte black bar. Next to which a glowing procession of syphons, bronze kettles, and V60’s take pride of place, set off against the cafe’s striking checkerboard floors.
Though there seems to be some preference for Munich-based roasters JB Kaffee here, coffee offerings for both espresso and filter remain largely unpredictable as Šmahelová and Köpke cultivate a platform for collaborating with an endless stream of roasters. Depending on what has caught their attention that week, Chapter One can also be a great place to sample smaller European roasters from much farther afield than Scandinavia and London.
Since specialty coffee began gaining momentum in Germany some two years ago, Australian baristas have brought many invaluable contributions to its fast moving coffee standards.
One such contribution is being made by Morgan Love (a romantic name) and James Maguire (a romantic guy). Together this duo opened what would later become Friedrichshain’s most distinguished purveyor of coffee-based beverages, as well as an important vehicle for specialty coffee’s push towards Berlin’s eastern suburbs.
Until a recent wave of cafes reset Berlin’s food/coffee climate, Silo stood alone as (probably) Berlin’s only cafe offering specialty coffee alongside a kitchen-produced menu. A feature that, particularly where the specific cravings of a certain ex-pat community are concerned, has made it the official Mecca of Berlin’s weekend brunch pilgrimage.
Originally, Silo was popularized as a multi-roaster cafe favoring Berlin locals like The Barn and Bonanza. That is until preparations to launch its own roastery, Combine Coffee Roasters, came to glorious fruition this summer. Now, they peddle their very own seasonal blend alongside a mixture of in-house and guest-roasted filter coffees, brewed either by V60 or AeroPress.
Continuing this theme of self-sufficiency, and in the spirit of Germany’s fierce environmentalism, much of Silo’s pretty interior is the result of some serious recycling ingenuity. Almost every surface in Silo was at one point an abandoned scaffolding plank, including the bar that supports its very handsome, completely un-recycled, Synesso Hydra and Mazzer Robur.
Distrikt Coffee opened its doors in mid-December of last year during the height of Berlin’s frigid winter. At which time, in spite of snow and very brisk winds, crowds of pale Germans descended upon it like a hoard of white walkers on Westeros.
In reality, Distrikt is almost nothing like Westeros. In fact, it’s less of a fictional kingdom where everyone you like gets stabbed, and more of a delightful cafe in Mitte with sweet leather upholstery and tasty batch brews.
Mitte and its adjoining suburb (Prenzlaur Berg) boast the highest density of specialty coffee bars in Germany, which, aside from generating some healthy competition, means that cafes make a solid effort of differentiating themselves from one another. In the case of Distrikt, this is achieved via the existence of an actual kitchen. Which, as previously mentioned, is a fairly scarce feature of cafes embracing the Third Wave in Berlin.
Under these circumstances, it’s easy to be distracted by buttermilk pancakes and swanky pastries. Then again, few things are more distracting than a Kees van der Westen Spirit perched atop a nice slab of timber, particularly if there’s a stark black EK-43 sitting right beside it.
Again, Distrikt holds no allegiance to any particular roaster. During my visits, the bulk of their espresso offerings were sourced from either Belleville in Paris, or Ozone in London, though that’s liable to change week to week. Filter options vary between V60 and AeroPress, as well as a daily batch brew.
The cross-section between specialty coffee and fashionable hats is a well-documented phenomenon. At Companion Coffee, hats are mostly incidental, as are pants and scented candles. But, you wouldn’t need to leave the building to buy either should the mood happen to strike you mid-coffee.
Convenience thanks to Companion’s location within Kreuzberg’s Voo Store. If you’re unfamiliar, Voo Store is essentially a boutique department store selling swag like clothing, books, jewelry, and the aforementioned fancy hats. And though it’s a great little perq certainly worth a mention, it’s one outshone by the standard of espresso being served at Companion Coffee.
First up, don’t be misled by the shelf of brew gadgets. In an effort to tighten up precision, Companion serves only one espresso-based coffee at any one time (no filter). It’s a humble but outstanding operation executed with a modest two-group Nuova Simonelli and Anfim Caimano resting on a handsome, hunking concrete bar.
Like most cafes on this list, Companion isn’t married to any one roaster. Over a handful of visits, I clocked coffees from Casino Mocca, Square Mile, and Jb Kaffee to name only a few. It’s also worth mentioning that Companion offers the option to split shots. Sure, it doesn’t sound ground-breaking, but in a city ruled by naked portafilters and default doubles, it’s more of a novelty than you might realize.
Alternatively, if for some obscure reason you’ve read a thousand words into this article and don’t drink coffee. You are in luck. Between hand-sourced Nepalese Oolong, ultra transparency, and regaling tea-origin tales, Companion’s owners, Shawn Barber and Chris Onton, have swiftly earned a reputation as Berlin’s pre-eminent suppliers of specialty tea.
As Australians continue to spread themselves across Berlin’s coffee scene, Berliners rejoice in the delicious coffee that usually follows in their wake. Father Carpenter is the latest move in Australia’s passive conquest of Berlin’s coffee market, the brain-baby of Kreston Thøgerson, formerly of Nolan Hirte’s highly celebrated Melbourne café/roaster, Proud Mary.
If you’ve visited Proud Mary before, you’ll already have some concept of Thøgerson’s coffee ethos, which is, and I quote: “try to serve super delicious brown stuff that makes people happier.” Obviously, that’s one goal we can all support, though the reality of Father Carpenter’s coffee involves a lot more coffee geekery than simply serving “brown stuff.”
For the most part, coffee at Father Carpenter revolves around a Synesso Hydra and Robur E combo serving a semi-permanent house blend supplied by Five Elephant, whose coffee and cheesecake we’ve covered in some detail previously. They also churn out a daily BUNN batch brew sourced from several international roasters including The Coffee Collective.
And while we’re on the subject of coffee and cheesecake (a contemporary classic of Berlin food pairing), Father Carpenter has convincingly thrown itself in the mix with an espresso cheesecake amassing more social media posts than a kitten riding a miniature speedboat.
Concierge delivers precisely what its name suggests. Not in the literal sense of course. Nobody here is going to fetch you fresh towels or score you tickets to The Lion King. Other than being a nod to the former concierge’s office, the espresso bar now occupies at the bottom of an old apartment building, the name now implies only a focus on service-orientated espresso. That is to say, a return to a time before baristas became too preoccupied with fancy scales and refractometers to offer good old-fashioned hospitality.
That’s not to suggest Concierge’s coffee program isn’t precise—it is. It has, however, been drastically simplified for the sake of improved customer service. Which means no food, no filter coffee, and no single origins. Just one very consistent coffee served by two loquacious baristas in a 200-year-old concierge’s room.
That one coffee is a custom house-blend by Bonanza, where both of Concierge’s owners, Benjamin Pates and Namy Nosratifard, were roasting themselves before grabbing a two-group Mirage and Mazzer Robur, then jumping ship to open the espresso bar in question.
The space itself, despite being the size of a standard van, is well worth some complimentary words too. Between the echoes of history and the dim Edison bulbs throwing old-timey ambience across the raw brick walls, Concierge crams in more atmosphere than a thousand standard vans.
Henry Brink is an Australian traveling abroad who has written for Broadsheet and others. Read more Henry Brink on Sprudge.