In its third year, the Berlin Coffee Festival is a celebration of coffee that extends all over the city and honors the specialty coffee movement.
BY ERIN MEISTER
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Leave it to the coffee industry of a truly international city like Berlin to throw what was essentially a nonstop four-day specialty-coffee party. And, of course, specialty-coffee people being specialty-coffee people, there was bound to be some educational and professional-development programs thrown in to the mix as well, because nerds like us actually consider that stuff “fun.”
Now in its third year, the Berlin Coffee Festival is a city-wide celebration of all things quality and caffeinated in the craft coffee scene of the moment. Starting with two days of “satellite programming” hosted at various cafes and roasteries around town, as well as myriad competitions and, of course, a raucous welcome party, the cherry on top of the festival is a two-day takeover of the Markthalle Neun, a kind of indoor food, beverage, and artisan marketplace where participating coffee companies set up booths and tables for a pair of exhibition days: one consumer-focused, and one targeted at the industry.
Among the pre-market festivities at this year’s event were various panel discussions, lectures, tastings, and workshops scattered around Berlin’s way-hip coffee community. The entire program had something for everyone: Importers like Ally, the Coffee Quest, Caravela, and my mates at Cafe Imports hosted cuppings of fresh-crop favorites; Ben Morrow, formerly of St. Ali and opening Rotterdam’s Manhattan Coffee Roasters, gave a special latte art presentation; and Michal Molcan of Standart Magazine discussed leveraging social media and marketing to help grow your coffee’s brand recognition. The Barn roastery held several different types of gatherings, including a green-coffee-sorting workshop, a panel discussion about sustainability in coffee, and one of the first night’s highlights: a brewing contest called the Comandante Cup (contestants could brew any which way as long as they used Comandante hand grinders), which went on well into a very caffeinated Friday night. Picking up the competition baton on Saturday was the roasting space of Five Elephant coffee, whose inside and outside spaces became almost a kind of block party for the German AeroPress Championships, sponsored by La Marzocco (who generously fired up the Linea grill), as well as Sander Tac, Brewista, Mahlkönig, Urnex, and Third Wave Coffee Source. Reigning German Barista Champion (and 2016 German AeroPress Champion) Chloe Nattrass took home the top honors and will go on to compete in the Worlds coming up in Seoul, South Korea, in November.
While of course the coffee pros were amped up for the market days, the general public also got to experience the treat of having dozens of fantastic specialty purveyors all under one beautiful glass-paned roof, handing out tastes of espresso and hand-crafted brews as well as selling T-shirts, equipment, and freshly roasted beans—all for a bargain entrance price of 5 Euros. The coffee booths were arranged around the Markthalle’s more permanent residents, including artisan bakers, a meatball stand, a restaurant serving handmade pasta, wine and beer stands, and kitchen-gift shops, which meant that locals and travelers alike could eat and drink their way around a virtual tour of Europe’s burgeoning specialty-coffee and craft-food scenes. At the large communal tables in the center of the hall, it was common to see visitors with a piece of wood-fired pizza in one hand, a cup of single-origin espresso in the other, and a scattering of empty cups, bottles, and plates in front of them as they laughed and met with friends and strangers. La Marzocco and Victoria Arduino had lovely open spaces in the middle of the floor as well, enticing home enthusiasts with their equipment, while their neighboring booth was the welcome diversion of a spirits company handing out samples of its Espresso Martini (delicious) and Coffee Negroni (even better).
After Sunday’s more public market—for which the lines at both entrances snaked well down the block from open to close—the industry day on Monday, September 4, was a little mellow, as everyone in town seemed to be coming down from a massive collective caffeine high. The booths featured some more “out there” coffees, like a natural process SL-28 from Costa Rica and various Geisha offerings, and there were more intensive and focused cuppings hosted by importers throughout the day. At the Café Imports booth, where I had a perfect view of most of the activity on the floor, I could see how the throngs of baristas, roasters, and other industry types gathered around each cupping, bouncing from one to the other (and, of course, often toting their own personalized spoons).
As an annual event, the Berlin Coffee Festival is a fantastic blend of everything you want in a city’s coffee scene: There was just enough insider information, shop talk, extraction geekery, shared knowledge, friendly competition, interesting tastings, and good old-fashioned drinking and debauchery to truly offer something for everyone. If you have had Berlin on your must-visit list, I definitely recommend going for the brats and beer and staying for the Coffee Festival next summer.
Visit the festival’s website for more information about this year’s event, and to find out details about 2018!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erin Meister (you can call her just Meister) has always led a kind of weird, caffeinated double life. As a coffee professional, she’s been a barista, retail manager, wholesale support representative, and educator; as a journalist, she’s written and/or edited work for The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Serious Eats, Saveur.com, and Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine, as well as the gem you’re reading right now. These days she can be found selling green coffee for Café Imports, riding her bike around the beautiful Twin Cities, and finally (finally!) taking a break from blogging. You can email her at email@example.com.