Berlin has more specialty coffee shops than it’s possible to visit in a week, nevermind a long weekend and with that in mind calling this a best of is a little bit on the misleading side. Berlin’s passion for specialty coffee is fairly insatiable and so if you’re going to visit you’re also going to have to decide which establishments you really want to visit and which ones it’s possible to see while taking in a wealth of culture that stretches from art to music to history to architecture and a spectacular amount of national traditions. Given the ridiculous amounts of things to see and do, here are a few of the many places I managed to have the pleasure of visiting on our trip to Berlin.
Arriving early into Berlin and its cold brisk morning Qua Phe was suitably close to our hotel after check in and provided the perfect start to rustle up some breakfast as well as sampling Berlin’s notable appropriation of Vietnamese coffee. Stepping inside the calm and serene place we took up seats at one of the long communal tables before placing our order at the bar.
The drinks arrived first, still brewing, the cascara in it’s pot and the coffee slowly dripping through the stainless steel filter onto the thin layer of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom of the glass tumbler.
Having finished brewing I tried the coffee without stirring first, a robust dark roast with an espresso like flavour the coffee had notes of white grape, but was clearly designed to be drunk with the sweetened condensed milk. Stirring the coffee became a sweet latte with rich caramel flavours.
The food arrived, a mixture of pickle, spice and warm aerated dough flavours, authentically vietnamese in flavour and just what we needed to get our morning going and wake us up on the cold streets of Berlin. Moving from the coffee to the cascara, it did like most cascara have raisin flavours, but moreover tropical and berry notes with a heavy body for a tea, fruitier than most I’ve tried this might have been the standout of the two beverages we tried. Paying up to leave I managed to convince myself not to pick up one of the many Marou single origin chocolate bars on display, having only just recently sampled my way through their collection. Making our way outside we set off for our second destination.
Tucked away in an offstreet courtyard, it’d be very easy to miss Father Carpenter if you didn’t have a map with you, but between a collection of clothes shops we popped down the alley to find the entrance.
Taking up some seats on a table in the centre of the room, we browsed over the menu before both settling on the house filter, an Ethiopian Chechele from Fjord Coffee Roasters. As we waited for it to arrive we watched plates of brunch passing our eye level one after the other, if only we hadn’t already eaten.
Arriving with roasted citrus aromas, to taste the Chechele was a juicy gravy like mix of citrus, berries and pink grapefruit, offering a slight earthiness to some otherwise bright fruity notes. Enjoying watching the tooing and froing about the cafe, we got up to pay and head out to our third destination for the day.
In a small cosy space occupying a spot on a sort of cut through street, Ben Rahim felt welcoming and professional from the moment we opened the door. With only a handful of seats and a small amount of room for coats and bags, we were lucky to arrive as two people were leaving giving us the table by the door. Serving Square Mile coffee, it was funny to have travelled so far to be drinking coffee by a London Roaster, but unfortunately I had already tried Tim Wendelboe’s Kenya Gicherori a number of times already. Ordering the Costa Rican Juanachute as a V60 we took a small piece of the flourless chocolate cake back to our table.
The coffee arrived very professionally, poured, described and wonderfully presented by our barista, who went back to meticulously cleaning down her brewing equipment afterwards. The coffee arrived with aromas of sparkling apple juice and honey and to taste had some big apple caramel flavours with a slightly sparkling mouthfeel. A great match with the chocolate cake as it happened. It was a pleasure to sit and watch the two baristas go about their craft as well as the inventive uses of space within the shop to get the most out of their small square footage. Finishing off we returned our glassware to the counter and made our way back out into Berlin.
You can’t come to Berlin and not come to The Barn, not really, it’s an institution in the coffee world. It’s clear as soon as you walk in, the place is popular and it’s buzzing with atmosphere. It’s pretty, well, intercontinental too, both the staff and the customers are from all over the place, with the consistent theme that everybody is here because they love the coffee. We grab a table in the back before going up to order off the brew bar.
Speaking to my Australian barista means I can drop some of my poor German and get to grips with what they have on filter, which in fairness is pretty much everything they’re roasting right now, so we order the Christmas coffee which is the Rwandan Huye Mountain and the Ethiopia Nano Challa, two coffees I know pretty well both on V60 before returning to the table.
Starting with the Huye Mountain – made famous by a film about coffee – first, it arrives with aromas that remind me of a chocolate orange digestive biscuit. To taste the coffee was sweet and juicy with full blood orange notes, a little cleaner than I’d had before. Moving on to the Nano Challa, there were aromas of lemon shortbread and to taste there was a mixture of sweet citrus with tea and honey like notes, a far softer and more delicate coffee than the first. Slurping up the last of the coffee we headed out to see some more of Berlin.
Popping by the DDR museum later in the day, we got to take a look at coffee back in the days of the GDR. Don’t worry I put it back rather than make a brew with it – nothing like withholding coffee to cause protests!