Monday, January 23, 2012

Coffee Germania

Making coffee at Kaffeemaccherei.

Like many places around the world, ask the local coffee people about their "scene" and you get similar reactions: "it kinda sucks", "it's lacking", "we need help", etc., etc. It seems in Germany it isn't much different. Ask the Germans where to get coffee and they'll tell you that there's only one or two places serving decent coffee - little do they realize that those "one or two" shops is typically more than most American cities.

Coffee and almond pastry at Der Backer Eifler.

My trip to Germany was less about coffee than it was about driving and cars, so I didn't really take the time to research or make tremendous effort to visit coffee spots. If it was out of the way (like Hoppenworth & Ploch, located in the middle of a university campus and a pain in the butt to get to) or open odd hours (sorry Berlin, but opening at 1pm on a Sunday is "odd" and not enough of a draw for me to delay my tour), then I just didn't bother. After all, if I really want to have okay coffee served by attitude filled hipsters, then I certainly don't need to fly to Europe for the experience. America is the leader in that regard.

Hoppenworth & Ploch - Frankfurt
Located on a university campus, H&P was the first place I tried to visit on my stopover to Africa. Colonel Matt was in town, had a car and we were in search of this place that supposedly serves great espresso. We drove around, consulted the iPhone, drove some more, got lost, dead-ended several times, always thinking that we could drive up to the coffee place (it said so on the iPhone). Finally, we realized that it was not going to happen, that we would have to find parking and hump it in across campus. With no parking to be found anywhere in the Westend, we gave up. Maybe that backerei chain would have passable coffee.

A regular coffee at Karin.

Cafe Karin - Frankfurt
The problem with a 5am arrival is that you can spend five hours getting yourself together and it's still only 10am. Wolfram Sorg said that Karin has a good breakfast, so I went there after I gathered myself, my rental car and arrived in downtown Frankfurt at 7am - only to find that Karin opens at 9am.

WTF??? This is Frankfurt. The financial center of Germany. Hell, it's the financial center of Europe and where the Euro is based. Nobody works until 9am?? This isn't America because Americans would be working. Ironically, the only place open in the neighborhood was a Starbucks (opens at 7am) and a bakery serving passable coffee with cream and sugar. I had to wait.

The day's special for six euros fifty.

When Karin finally opened, I was treated to fresh food, nicely prepared, at a good price and bitter, over roasted coffee. Better to stick with Coke Lite and a bottle of water.

Cafe Karin
Grosser Hirschgraben 28
60311 Frankfurt am Main
+49 69 2952-17

Kaffeemacherei - Lovely table settings.

Kaffeemacherei - Frankfurt
Truth be told, it's a rare experience for me to visit a coffee place and wish that I was the owner. Typically, I might admire a certain aspect of that coffee shop's operations, like their volume and revenue stream, or their retail sales, or perhaps their decor, or packaging.

On the other hand, I'm also thankful that many of the shops I visit are not mine because of generally rude baristas, poor sanitation, lack of standards and slipshod presentations.

Celebrity photos brighten the whitewashed walls.

But Kaffeemacherei is different. Located in a relatively nondescript neighborhood with a simple exterior that belies the gorgeous interior. Lots of white paneling and cute details compensate for this truly tiny shop. From the color coordinated La Marzocco GB-5 to the fresh flowers on the table to the complete presentation of labels signs and probably one of the best printed menus I've ever seen in a 3W cafe.

A slightly foamy cappuccino.

Speaking with the owner who, evidently, decided to open Maccherei after burning out on a photography career. Whatever the path that led him here, the execution here is world-class. I loved it.

The coffee was decent and the foam on my cappuccino while slightly foamy was still nice. When I grow up and burn out on my next career, I want to open a cafe this nice.

They squeezed seating for 12 in this tiny cafe.

Arguably the best printed menu in the 3W.

Eckenheimer Landstrasse 70
60318 Frankfurt
+49 69 48008766

Welcome to Kaffeewerk Espressionist.

Kaffeewerk Espressionist - Frankfurt
You've probably heard about it and I'm pretty sure you've never seen one in a working cafe environment, but if you want to see the new La Marzocco Strada EP 2 group, then this is the place to be. Of course, it doesn't look like they know how to exploit the machine's potential, but the ladies working here look pleasant enough. And yes, they're Russian. Run, don't walk.

Nestled in what seems to have been a sort of industrial area reclaimed by development and modern buildings, the roadwork makes it a but confusing to arrive, but the modernist decor is typical of the new wave coffeeshop. Lack of on-street parking is settled by parking on the sidewalk fronting the shop.

The view from my seat at Espressionist.

I haven't really been paying attention but at Espressionist they have two different types of macchiato. Maybe this is true for the rest of Germany or across Europe, but this is the only place I visited where there was any confusion. The girls offer a macchiato and a latte macchiato. My German is poor and their English was slightly better than my German but we were still unable to come to an understanding regarding the difference and I went with the latte macchiato.

Which turned out to be a basic Cafe Latte - espresso and steamed milk. Not that the drink was bar or poorly prepared, I just don't like drinking big lattes and it wasn't to my liking. I wanted a small, quick drink with greater coffee-to-milk ratio. The latte was nicely prepared and looked good in the tall glass but I wish they went with simple naming conventions instead of two types of macchiato when one will suffice. Perhaps it's to satiate the Starbucks educated crowd.

Hello, Latte Macchiato.

It was quiet when I visited, with only one or two other patrons coming in for a coffee. They offer a small selection of baked goods that looked pretty good and I enjoyed the few minutes I spent there before heading back out into the wilds of Frankfurt.

Kaffeewerk Espressionist
Europa Allee 29
60327 Frankfurt
+49 69 91316787

The Coffee Altar at Bonanza Coffee Heroes.

Bonanza Coffee Heroes - Berlin
My one and only stop in Berlin was delivered by the informative blog Cafe Kultur Berlin. Located in the old East Berlin in a Cold War era building (in fact part of the charm of the place is that it looks like it could have been part of the Cold War), I knew I was in a house of serious coffee people when: a)a guy was wearing a tie and vest, b)the guy had facial hair, c)he was wearing a hat, d)he was very intently brewing a pour over, e)he was weighing and measuring as he brewed, f)he took pictures of his brew and g)seemed mildly irritated by the fat guy in a blue Columbia news media jacket wearing a camera.

Ah, Third Wave thrives even in Germany. Lucky the world.

Bonanza: macchiato.

What I liked most about Bonanza was the interior of the building itself. Dilapidated concrete in need of patching gave a distinct Soviet Cold War feel to the place. I fantasized what it must have been like in 1980s walking along the streets and seeing what this space was during those times. Bleak, cold, dismal. Quite a difference from today.

Paired with the Cold War building was a collection of what looks to be 1950s era Probat roasters. Here, Bonanza roasts their own coffee with burlap bags stacked against a wall, little stools positioned about for guests to use and a monolithic steel altar to espresso-making, complete with the requisite Synesso espresso machine.

Bonanza's collection of roasters.

Granted, it was about half an hour to closing, so the place was quiet. The two guys there (one of them the owner) were busy either photographing the v60 brew, fiddling with the cash register, or preparing to go to a concert. I'm not one to tip my hat that I work in coffee, so I kept that to myself because I find it much more interesting to see how a place operates when they think you're just some schmoe. Though I did find it amusing to hear them talk trash about Counter Culture (the mustached guy is from the Southeast United States).

After the guys left, I chatted up the female barista about how things were and if I could have a coffee please. They had a couple of hand brew coffees available and asked her to select the one she was most excited about. She chose their El Salvador coffee. I don't know much else about the coffee because that's all the menu board read: "El Salvador."

Brewing with the V60.

Brewed in the Hario V60, Bonanza follows the style espoused by most baristas: fast. My coffee brewed in just over two minutes, which might have been attributable to the relatively new barista but that guy with the mustache shooting pictures of his brew did the same thing.

The coffee itself wasn't too bad (I liked my macchiato better), but the quick brew time resulted in a distinct underextracted sour tone to the coffee. Not terribly bad but nothing to savor and run home to tell momma either. The barista was pleasant enough and we chatted briefly about Berlin and some things to do in the city before I bid my adieu and headed off in search of the brauhaus.

My cup of El Salvador. Bright, but sour.

Bonanza Coffee Heroes
Oderberger Strasse 35
10435 Berlin
+49 176 61691 496