My daughter recently attended a music camp in Berlin with concerts every night of the week. So, being proud parents, we decided to take a week of vacation and be there for every concert! Why not, right? Having a concert to attend every night meant that we needed to find something to do with our days, so I had an idea: let’s visit at least one Third Wave coffee shop each day. Rather than do an extensive explanation of what “Third Wave Coffee” is, I’ll reference Elizabeth Childer’s well written article, “Third Wave Coffee: A History.” Read up, if you’re intrigued by this.
Berlin has some of the most popular coffee shops and roasters in all of Europe. So, with brochure in hand, some recommendations from coffee aficionados, we began our “Third Wave Tour” of Berlin. I decided that, if I’m going to compare the shops, I needed to try the same things in each. That meant espresso and a flat white at each shop. Just a note: I’m presenting these in the order they were visited, and not in the order of preference. I’d visit every one of these shops again.
First stop was on Sunday, when my son and I stopped off at the Berlin Kaffeerösterei. It was jam packed with people (a good sign). It conveys a “step back in time” atmosphere that reminded me of a 1920′s coffee shop. Not being a fan of coffee, my son ordered a huge chocolate shake (Eis-schokolade). I ordered a shot of espresso and then a hand-filter coffee. As my son devoured his drink, I assumed it was great. My espresso was good. I couldn’t quite place the roast. It was a middle-of-the-road shot, nothing to write home about. However, the hand filter was another story. I really enjoyed the hand filter Brazilian. It tasted natural, and left a lingering flavor in my mouth; well balanced and enjoyable. And rather than brewing it for me, they brought the components to my table, instructed me on timing, amounts, etc. and let me brew it myself. Being a coffee nerd, I almost enjoyed that aspect of it as much as the coffee itself.
The Kaffeerösterei has a speciality shop attached where you can view roastings, or pick up a HUGE variety of coffees, teas, and more. They also offers a wide assortment of cakes and pies. I had the lemon pie, which was delicious! My only regret is that, my bent towards all things lemon took me to a bad pairing: Brazilian coffee and lemon pie. Had I gone with something richer, like a rich chocolate cake, I think I would have been happier. However, all in all, it was a great little shop.
Next up was The Barn, arguably Berlin’s most well known shop and roaster. Had we arrived 10 minutes later, we wouldn’t have been able to stay. There’s seating for around 15 people, and that’s IF you want to sit shoulder to shoulder with the people at the next table. Rain and cold forced us inside, where we found a corner that was comfortable. But I definitely didn’t get the vibe that you would come and stay for a while.
The shop is small, but the coffee is not! The espresso shot was perfectly pulled. It lingered. Sporting a nice crema, it was heavy and smooth, earthy, buttery. And the flat white presented the perfect balance of espresso and milk. We also tried some of their baked goods; the custard tart. They, too, tasted rich and complimented the espresso well. Being The Barn, we had to buy a bag of beans!
They offer a vast assortment of beans that are sure to please every variety of coffee drinker. We picked up a bag of the Mwembe, which I’ve already had three or four shots from. A little slice of heaven: fruity, bold, forces your mouth to water by a direct attack on the glands in your mouth… Mmmm.
No Fire No Glory
Our third cafe was No Fire No Glory. When we embarked on this journey of coffee tasting, we hadn’t even heard of this cafe. Which is a tragedy because it was absolutely amazing! Spacious, warm, inviting, we felt at home before we’d even ordered. Offering an abundance of seating, both inside and out, we didn’t have to figure out where the three of us would fit. The eclectic decor said, “Come, stay all day if you’d like.”
The espresso was a bit more earthy than that of The Barn. It was pulled well, and had the tell-tale indicators that a well-trained barista was behind the bar. It didn’t linger, but popped, eliciting an “ohhh yeah” response from my taste buds. I enjoy it when I can taste the earthy notes of a shot, and this was a shot that I enjoyed. The flat white was much stronger than usual. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d ordered extra shots or if it was just so. But I found it very enjoyable to the point of thinking maybe I should order a flat white with an extra shot. It may have just been the strength of the roast. Either way, it was a great beverage.
Am Ende der Welt
On to our fourth stop, Am Ende Der Welt (at the end of the world). And it was! We traveled to the section of Berlin known as Wedding to visit this shop. We almost walked right past it! When we walked in, we were greeted by an urban-minimalist decor: lights hanging by wires, “unfinished walls,” aged wooden floor. My wife, an interior decorator type, loved it! If the chairs had been more comfortable, she would have given it three thumbs up!
The coffee was great! My shot of espresso was more to the fruity side, which is the way I like it, than our first shops. Again, expertly pulled, it was greasy (and that’s a good thing) and coated my tongue and mouth. It was smooth and a hint towards the sweet side. The flat white was also good, with the difference from the others being the espresso.
My wife ordered a chocolate croissant, and with the first bite, said, “Ooo, now THAT’S good!” Which, at the time of day we arrived, was surprising! Usually, later afternoon pastries taste like, well, late afternoon pastries. But this was fluffy, warm, buttery, like a whole stick of butter was used in each croissant (again, to me, a good thing!).
Buena Vida Coffee Club
The last stop on our tour was Buena Vida Coffee Club, which is actually in Potsdam. Buena Vida was not in our brochure. I had posted in our FaceBook group “Third Wave Wichteln” that I was going to be making a tour of coffee shops, and asked if there were any that weren’t in the brochure that I should visit. A guy in the group recommended Buena Vida. But, being in Potsdam (outside Berlin), I had written it off as “too far.” Some friends suggested giving it a try because Potsdam is a beautiful city worth seeing, so we added it to our list. I am so glad we did! It was the greatest surprise of our tour. I didn’t know it at the time, but the guy in FaceBook that recommended it was, in fact, the owner, Patrick Berger. The shop had plenty of seating when we arrived. However, being centrally located in the shopping/touristy district of Potsdam, it quickly filled up and was buzzing with activity. This was another shop that communicated a warm “come and stay” atmosphere.
We didn’t order food at this shop, but went straight into the coffee. My flat white was just the way I like it: bold, robust. When put to the sniffing test, I could taste the roast as it lingered between mouth and nose. It was an Ethiopian espresso with that dark and seductive Africa flavor. I decided to order a Syphon Coffee instead of espresso for two reasons: first and foremost, so my 14 year old son could watch the process; and second to see the master in action! The only draw back was that, had Patrick not been there, I would have had to pass on it since the other baristas don’t know how to work the syphon. Kudos to them, though, to say, “Sorry, we don’t know how.” rather than serving something sub-par out of inexperience! Fortunately for me, Patrick was in the house, and served up a Kenyan Syphon coffee that blew my socks off. With the first sniff I could tell that it had been mixed to the gram perfectly. After the first sip, I looked at Caryn and said, “I can taste vegetables.” She laughed at me since I hate, HATE vegetables, but this was something different. As I let the sip roll around in my mouth, I tasted the earthy, almost sweet pea flavor of this african coffee. It was light, pleasant, and not overpoweringly earthy. Needless to say, Buena Vida in and of itself is worth the visit to Potsdam! We will be back!
All in all, we enjoyed every one of these shops. We felt like we were touring living art exhibits, where the baristas were performing and creating for us. Thank you for your art and dedication to excellence.