Good Coffee in Berlin is Hard to Find (Literally)

As a barista, I’m always on the trail so new coffee experiences, so when I took a trip to Berlin this spring, I was over the moon. Berlin is an up-and-coming name in the world of coffee, and I had come prepared. I made a list, checked it twice, and promised myself that I would hydrate as much as possible. 

I was ready… or so I thought. 

I expected greatness, but what I didn’t expect was the circuitous journey that I would take to get there. 

The thing to know about Berlin coffee shops, is that they are hidden, and well-hidden at that. Unlike in the United States, coffee shops in Berlin often masquerade as something else, like a barber shop, a stationery store, or as the first stop on my trip: a Vietnamese clothing outlet. 

Companion Coffee

I heard about Companion Coffee as I hear about most things: by asking someone. 

“Oh yeah,” said the Australian barista I had questioned (all baristas in Germany are Australian), “you should check out Companion, they’re doing some cool things over there.” 

It was about eight thirty in the morning when I set out from my AirBnB in Kreuzburg, one of the “hip” neighborhoods in Berlin. I walked the fifteen or so minutes to the road where Companion was supposed to be located. People in Germany tend to be up and about a bit later than we are in the States, so the streets were fairly quiet. A handful of students heading towards class. The sun yawning its way over the horizon. 

An important note at this point in the story: I did not have access to Google Maps on my quest. I was traveling the good old-fashioned way: by taking pictures of maps and referring to them as I walked. 

This might explain in part why I got so confused searching for Companion. I walked confidently down the street looking for the address. I walked confidently back the same way, still looking for the address. I turned to give it a third sweep when finally, as if by magic, a sign appeared. It was a mirror with words written in white. 

“Voo Store” the sign read. And in tiny letters underneath “Companion Coffee”. 

I walked in, feeling awkward, certain that I was the first person in the store. I smiled shyly at the salespeople, and tried to look like I might buy a thirty euro shirt. Around a corner I saw the familiar glint of an espresso machine, and I was home. 

Everyone has a different technique on their coffee crawls. The more dedicated (and those with higher caffeine-tolerance) go for drips and espressos and flights etc. I prefer to compare cappuccinos and sometimes sample specials. 

I ordered my first cappuccino of the day, and it was delicious. For me a cappuccino has to be a blend of perfect milk texture with a shot of espresso that can hold its own. The cappuccino at Companion did the trick. 

After luxuriating in my experience and taking some notes, I felt awake enough to engage in conversation with the fellow who had made it for me. 

Although our first interaction had been in German (ich spreche Deutsch), I had overheard enough to know that he was Australian (like I said… all baristas in Germany), so I talked to him in English. 

I told him that I was a barista from California on a hunt for the best coffee in Germany. In return he gave me a list long enough to keep me occupied the rest of the year and offered me a cup of tea. 

Time for reflection. 

Bonanza 

My second stop was Bonanza which has been around for twelve years and is considered one of the big names in the Berlin coffee scene. I headed for the roastery definitely so I could check out the vibe and not because it was way closer to where I was staying… 

Luckily, Bonanza is not far at all from Companion, and after a lovely walk through the spring sunshine, I found a nice big sign for Bonanza. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as all that. The sign had an arrow on it that seemed to be pointing directly towards a nearby kindergarten. 

I walked around the corner to see if that was where the ambiguous arrow meant. There was nothing around the corner. 

I returned to the sign. There it stood in its commanding black-and-whiteness. Bonanza. And there was the arrow, stubbornly pointing towards a kindergarten. 

No, I thought, nice try. I’m not going to be the weird tourist who interrupts children learning their ABCs. So, instead, I walked down what appeared to be a service road leading to a back alley. 

Which, obviously, was the correct way to Bonanza. 

Once there I admired the lovely roasting facilities, the towering indoor plants, the Australian baristas, and to switch things up, a nice cortado. A bit lighter than Companion’s roast, I enjoyed the espresso thoroughly and then took my leave. Jittery, ready for my next and final stop, and very thankful that I hadn’t walked in on the kindergarten. 

Bonanza Roastery

BARN

My final destination was BARN coffee. Another big name in Berlin. Shamefully I must admit that this was not my first time searching for them. The day before I had scoured a three block radius, stopping in nearly every storefront where I thought it must be located. 

This time, though, I had minutely mapped out my route and refused to take even a single step that I hadn’t written down beforehand. I wasn’t going to have any spontaneous fun, but I certainly was going to have some coffee from BARN. 

Brow furrowed, feet a bit sore, still flying on a caffeine-buzz, I made my dedicated way to a tiny shop a tiny back alley. It was crowded. It was hot. I was overjoyed. 

I had a few minutes to take in the place, the classic American indie playing on the radio, the baristas smiling bored smiles, an Italian family asking thirty-five questions and then buying some bottled water. 

I waited my turn and studied the menu. Where I found listed under specials something called a beetroot flat-white. I was sold before I finished reading the description. 

The barista who took my order was kind as I fumbled with my multi-colored Euros, and in no time I was staring into the purple-pinkish face of my final coffee drink of the crawl. 

No coffee should look like this, I thought. But I tried it anyway. 

Like my journey through Berlin, drinking the beetroot flat white at BARN on a hot April day was confusing, unexpected, and utterly delightful. The earthy sweetness of the beet accentuated and offset the roastiness of the coffee. I was, once again, over the moon. 

Beetroot flat-white courtesy of BARN 

There were so many other wonderful coffee shops I could have visited, and so many other lovely coffee people I could have met. But I only had the capacity I had and only three days in Berlin. 

I’m not sorry, though. It gives me a great reason to return. And the next time, I’ll be prepared, knowing that great coffee in Berlin may be hidden around any corner, waiting to welcome me back in. 


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