30 January 2017

The Cologne Caffeine Chronicles: The Coffee Gang

I am a serial travel over-planner: I hate the thought of missing out on something great in a new city due to lack of research. Sometimes, though, life has other ideas and on Thursday lunchtime, I found out that I would need to catch a plane to Cologne four hours later to take the place of a colleague at a workshop the following day. Luckily, I keep a bag packed with most of my travel essentials, so I made it home and up to Stansted with a few precious minutes to spare before my flight.

I haven't been to Germany since a school trip to Berlin in 1998, although I've been meaning to return to the capital to check out its speciality coffee scene. Cologne hadn't really been on my to-visit list, though, and I had almost no free time to spend in the city, anyway, as dinner (at the riverfront 'beach club' Die Rheinterrassen) was pre-organised and I had to head back to the airport straight after my workshop finished on Friday.

As I didn't get to choose my hotel, I ended up staying in a functional but unlovely hotel in the touristy old town, which was at least a one-mile walk from all of the speciality coffee shops I identified while waiting for my flight. Determined to go to one of them, I got up very early and made the brisk 1.5-mile walk to The Coffee Gang, which looked like the most promising option and which was also the closest both to my hotel and my meeting location. A colleague joined me, so the pressure was on (I don't mind walking 25 minutes out of my way for a good coffee, but others are less exacting in their breakfast needs), but we arrived just after The Coffee Gang opened at 8 am and I could see that I had made the right call.

The Coffee Gang is located on Hohenstaufenring, on the Cologne Ring, in an area sandwiched between the old town and the university. There are a dozen or so small, wooden tables inside and a couple of benches outside for warmer days. The décor is rustic and cosy; I particularly liked the display of window frames on the back wall and the sugar jar bearing the message, 'please try [your coffee] without sugar'.

I started with a piccolo (a bargainous €2.20) and a delicious slice of toasted banana bread, while my colleague, who is doing Veganuary, was pleased to find that she could have a slice of vegan carrot cake with her cappuccino. The espresso-based drinks are made with The Coffee Gang's Homeblend (a mix of Brazilian and Ethiopian varieties) and my piccolo was very good indeed: smooth, rich and with excellent latte art that lasted all the way to the bottom of the glass.

The quality of my piccolo convinced me to try a filter coffee too and, following the recommendation of the friendly, welcoming barista, I selected the Kenyan Ndaroini AA coffee (€3.50) from the brew bar menu. There were two other coffees on offer brewed through the Aeropress, all from German roaster JB Kaffee. I really enjoyed my Aeropress — the Ndaroini was a subtle brew, whose fruity flavour notes came through very nicely as the coffee cooled. The extensive coffee menu also included cold brew, black tonic and warm cascara, so The Coffee Gang is a good place for a little experimentation if you have more time than me. As well as the cakes, there were some tasty-looking sandwiches on offer.

There is an assortment of coffee accessories for sale (including some colourful milk jugs) and various retail bags of coffee beans, including The Coffee Gang's own espresso blend and several coffees from JB Kaffee and Cologne-based roaster Ernst. I would have liked to buy some Ernst beans but it turned out that credit cards aren't widely accepted in Cologne and I didn't have enough cash.

The Ernst coffee bar was only a 15-minute walk from the place where I had my meeting but in the wrong direction and after the workshop was finished, I had to rush back to the train station, pausing only briefly to admire the impressive gothic cathedral. If you have a little more time than I did in Cologne, the other promising-looking coffee bars and roasteries I identified were: Heilandt, Van Dyck and Schamong Kaffee. Cologne itself — what I saw of it — seemed like a pretty and fun place to visit. I would definitely like to return for a longer visit; if you are planning a trip, check out Lloyd and Yaya's guide at Hand Luggage Only.

The Coffee Gang. Hohenstaufenring 19, Köln, Germany (Barbarossaplatz is the nearest Stadtbahn station). Website. Instagram.

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