April 15, 2019

An Alternative Specialty Coffee Shop Tour of Berlin, Germany


Berlin’s specialty coffee scene is exploding. There’s an overwhelming amount of places to get a great cup of coffee here, and everyone you ask will have their own favourite spot. But with some cafés, you get much more than a tasty brew – you also get a story and an emotional connection.

In this alternative guide to Berlin’s coffee shops, we take a look at the hidden stories behind some of the German capital’s cafés.

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Latte art and the Berliner newspaper. Credit: Melanie Böhme

Why These Five?

I used to work as the International Wholesale Manager for The Barn, one of Berlin’s best-known specialty coffee roasters. Before that, I worked in the Melbourne coffee scene. So I’m no stranger to good coffee and could easily list many more quality coffee shops in Berlin. But these days, I dedicate most of my time to revealing stories in the coffee supply chain through my Filter Stories podcast.

Perhaps because of this fascination with storytelling, I chose to highlight the Berlin coffee shops that have interesting backgrounds. Whether this is how they create their physical space or how they’re choosing to place ethics at the forefront of their business, these cafés have fascinating tales connected to them. Even with this criteria narrowing the options, there are many more cafés that I could mention and that I encourage you to explore. In addition to these five, check out Leuchtstoff, Concierge, and Populus.

1. Isla Coffee

This bright space is a little haven of tranquility away from the intensity of noisy Hermanstrasse. Co-owner Peter Duran tells me that he has made a particular effort to source ethical food items, including cacao, palm oil, sugar and, of course, coffee. Isla ensures that all of these ingredients are traceable, certified, or both.

The milk left over from service each day is made into yogurt and ricotta cheese. Peter says that the money they save from not having to buy these dairy ingredients can almost cover a part-time employee salary.

The owners try to keep every part of the business as environmentally sustainable as they can. For example, the interior of the café is primarily made of recycled materials. You may notice a set of green panels made from reclaimed timber. Used to acoustically soften the space, Peter says they’re painted green to remind him of a desert island. “The space is light, bright, and [makes] an oasis,” he says.

isla coffee interior

The interior of Isla Coffee. Credit: Isla Coffee

WhereHermannstrasse 37, 12049
Espresso MachineLa Marzocco Linea PB ABR
GrinderMythos One, EK43
Coffee OfferingsEspresso-based drinks and filter coffee made with house-roasted beans
Must-Try DrinkCoffee kombucha
Retail OfferingsBags of house-roasted beans, brewing supplies, tea from Companion
Food & Other DrinksBreakfast and brunch, house-made baked goods, grilled sandwiches, vegetarian and vegan options
Nearby SightsRelax in nearby airstrip-turned-public park Tempelhofer Feld

2. Companion Coffee

When specialty coffee was first making inroads in Berlin, Shawn Barber met Chris Onton. The two opened a café space in Voo, a trendy clothing store in Kreuzberg. “We didn’t have any money, so we rented an espresso machine, bought three kilos of coffee, and had empty shelves and six glasses,” Shawn tells me. Their first day was so quiet that they didn’t even use all of the glasses. “It was an eight hour day and we sold, what? Three coffees?” Shawn says.

Fortunately, business picked up and the two went on to open this café in Neukölln. They also began travelling the world in search of quality, consciously sourced teas that you’ll now find available in a number of Berlin’s specialty cafés thanks to their efforts.

Companion Coffee is the place to come for finely prepared teas alongside specialty coffee. The Asian inspired food menu is divine and carefully balances the subtle aromas and flavours of the teas.

Inside, you’ll find nods to Taiwanese tea houses and classic American diners. In a truly unique choice, Shawn painted almost every wooden surface with a home-made tea varnish. “What I didn’t know going in is how much work it would be,” he says. “All of this wood was stained five times and each time needed to be dried for a minimum of eight hours in between stains and sanded in between each stain… I was here for a lot of late-night, eight-hour shifts for a period of months.”

Calm, empty coffee shop

The tranquil interior of Companion Coffee. Credit: Melanie Böhme

WhereWeserstraße 166, 12045
Espresso MachineLa Marzocco Linea PB
GrinderMahlkönig Peak
Coffee OfferingsRotating selection from specialty roasters
Must-Try DrinkHimalayan Tips, a black tea from the Jun Chiyabari farm in Nepal
Retail OfferingsBags of tea and coffee, brewing supplies
Food & Other DrinksCongee, soup, a wide range of house-made cakes. Both sweet and savoury vegan and gluten free options.
Nearby SightsConvenient for a walk along the Landwehr Canal, close to cinema and social space Wolf Kino, and there’s an insanely huge chestnut tree in the café’s courtyard.
cup of tea served on a wooden tray

A slice of pandan and a cup of Himalayan Tips at Companion Coffee. Credit: Melanie Böhme

3. The Future Breakfast

If anyone in Berlin is going to get a prize for dogged determination against the odds, it’s Katie and Flo, the couple behind The Future Breakfast. Katie came to Berlin from Australia in 2011, to study German history. She soon fell in love with the city’s spirit (and Flo), but missed the great Aussie brunch.

The couple saw a gap in the market and started serving up delicious Aussie fare from a caravan. But van life isn’t as easy as social media would have you believe. The couple paid their dues serving breakfast from a cold van in freezing winters before eventually moved into a permanent café space. Over the years, their vision has become increasingly ecologically focused.

“When you start making food on a big scale, you start to notice how much impact you’re having,” Katie says. “You see how much you’re selling and how much food is thrown away.” They modified the menu from bacon and eggs to a fully vegetarian one that still offers one of the best breakfasts in town.

The minimalist café space is full of thoughtful details, such as the arch linking the two front rooms. What could easily be a forgettable passageway is brought to life by contrasting pastel paint. And, of course, the coffee is great.

minimalistic coffee shop interior

The minimalist interior at The Future Breakfast. Credit: The Future Breakfast

WhereBöhmische Str. 46, 12055
Espresso MachineLa Marzocco Linea
GrinderMahlkönig K30 vario/Mahlkönig EK
Coffee OfferingsEspresso-based drinks, filter coffee
Must-Try DrinkThe Cocofilter, a light-roasted filter coffee on ice with coconut water
Retail OfferingsBags of roasted beans, brewing accessories, merchandise
Food & Other DrinksVegetarian breakfast and brunch menu including eggs benedict, buckwheat kale bowl, cheesy toast, and sourdough French toast
Nearby SightsRichardplatz and the historical Rixdorf village, Böhmischer Platz, where locals hang out and play table tennis.

4. westberlin

This is a specialty coffee haven in the otherwise touristy area around Checkpoint Charlie, between Mitte and Kreuzberg. It all started in the 1990s, when Berlin was in the running to host the 2000 Olympics. westberlin’s founder, Kai Bröer, was in a New York café watching CNN broadcast the competition results from wall-mounted TVs. He loved the energetic atmosphere of the café he sat in, where you could strike up conversation with a stranger and bond over the day’s events.

When he launched westberlin in 2012, he wanted to create a similarly atmosphere and break the mould of what a specialty coffee shop should look and feel like. The result is an eclectic mix of furniture with a curated selection of niche and general interest magazines.

My favourite touch is the wooden wall divider in the middle of the space. Kai needed a way to obscure the chimney in the middle of the café. The simple diagonal beams evoke the fachwerk style of traditional German houses. Simple, beautiful, and effective.

westberlin coffee shop interior

westberlin’s fachwerk-inspired wooden cladding. Credit: westberlin

WhereFriedrichstraße 215, 10969
Espresso MachineLa Marzocco Strada MP 2 Group
GrinderMazzer Robur S electronic
Coffee OfferingsEspresso-based drinks, filter coffee
Must-Try DrinkEspresso or Aeropress
Retail OfferingsBags of roasted beans from Drop Coffee Roasters and Five Elephant, tea from Companion, independent magazines and books
Food & Other DrinksHouse-made baked goods, sandwiches, and salads. Fresh juices, kombucha, and wine.
Nearby Sights

Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin wall, Jewish Museum, Berlinische Galerie, Martin Gropius Bau

5. Nano Kaffee

When Nano’s founder, Ramin was in his 20s, he ran a successful furniture business. Then he became a father around the same time that specialty coffee arrived in Berlin. While walking with his son through the streets of Kreuzberg, he felt the need for quality coffee in his neighbourhood.

So he opened Nano Kaffee, which allows him to apply his craftsmanship to coffee. The café’s approach to coffee is dedicated, almost reverential, and its aesthetic reflects Ramin’s background making quality furniture.

But what makes Nano Kaffee special is Ramin’s philosophy of putting people at the centre of the business. “You must see a company as an organism,” he says. “If you have a healthy organism, you’ll have profit.” Baristas have paid leave, long term contracts, and a fixed monthly salary. It’s not surprising that the small team includes four people who have been here from the very start.

interior of nano kaffee

The interior of Nano Kaffee. Credit: Nano Kaffee

WhereDresdener Str. 14, 10999
AtmosphereCasual, welcoming
Espresso MachineLa Marzocco Strada EE
GrinderEK43, Mazzer Kony, Anfim Super Caimano Titanium
Coffee OfferingsNano coffee
Must-Try DrinkNitro coffee from tap
Retail OfferingsBrewing supplies
Food & Other DrinksBaked goods from Black Isle Bakery
Nearby SightsWalk along the Landwehr Canal or the River Spree, explore Kreuzberg, or pay a visit to international food hall Markthalle Neun.

The Berlin specialty coffee scene has no shortage of options, but these five are quietly working away, providing excellent coffee with interesting stories.  I hope you enjoy visiting their spaces as much as I enjoyed learning about them.

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Feature photo:  Making a Chemex pour over in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Feature photo credit: Melanie Böhme

All views within this opinion piece belong to the guest writer, who is a local of Berlin, and do not reflect Perfect Daily Grind’s stance.

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