19 December 2018

A Speciality Coffee Tour of Kreuzberg and Neukölln, Berlin

For more Berlin speciality coffee recommendations, check out my coffee guide to Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg.

I last visited Berlin on a school history trip in 1998 and I've long been wanting to return. As my company has offices there, I've held out, hoping a work trip would materialise. Of course, when that finally happened, I had to fly out the day after returning from Amsterdam and only had one free day in the city. There wasn't much speciality coffee to be found near my hotel nearish Potsdamer Platz — although it sounds as though I will have at least one very good option next time I come if I'm staying in the same area. I used my day off wisely, however, catching the U1 U-Bahn from my hotel to Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg for a caffeinated walk through the laid-back, artsy neighbourhood and neighbouring Neukölln. You can also find a map of my speciality coffee recommendations in other Berlin neighbourhoods at the end of this post.

Nano Kaffee
I start my walk at Nano Kaffee, which is the closest speciality coffee shop on my list to Kottbusser Tor. Coincidentally, it was also the first speciality roaster to open up shop in Kreuzberg, more than four years ago. The small cafe–roastery is tucked away down a quiet side street but is well worth seeking out. It's a lovely space: simple but elegant, with a beautiful wooden coffee bar and a vibrant yellow painting on the wall.

It is quiet when I arrive, early on a cold but sunny morning. I order a piccolo — if there weren't already too many words for small, espresso-based drinks, I might say 'nano' — brewed with precision using a delightfully fruity Peruvian espresso. I chat for a while with Ramin, the friendly and passionate owner, about Nano Kaffee and the Berlin speciality coffee scene more generally. It wasn't my intention to buy beans at my first stop, but I'm so impressed with Nano Kaffee that I select a bag to take home as a gift for Brian.

Nano Kaffee is located at Dresdener Str. 14, Kreuzberg. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Bonanza Coffee Roasters
I head back onto the main drag, Adalbertstraße, and walk north a few blocks until I reach my next destination. A small 'Bonanza' sign indicates that I have arrived, but I have to walk around the back to the large yard, with its characterful red-brick buildings, before I find the entrance. Several fellow coffee-lovers, including Tom, recommended this beautiful, spacious speciality coffee spot. Inside, the décor is minimalist, with a few tall plants providing colour, and the clever use of mirrors making the high-ceilinged cafe appear even larger. The roastery is visible through the 'windows' in the wall behind the counter.

I don't notice that the menu is written high up on one of the mirrors and thus don't realise that they offer a filter coffee flight. This is unfortunate because all three of the small-batch filter coffees on offer sound delicious. Regular readers will know that I'm a sucker for lavender in flavour profiles (or cocktails, chocolate...pretty much anything, really), so I opt for the Ethiopian Israel Degfa–Uraga. Although the citrus and melon come through more strongly, I can taste the lavender too. It's a complex, delicate coffee but very well brewed. This is also a good spot for a sweet treat: the salted caramel pastries look divine. It's also a good place to shop for beans, but I have already run out of space in my bag. Next time, I must come with a bigger — or emptier — bag.

Bonanza is located at Adalbertstraße 70, Kreuzberg. WebsiteTwitterInstagram.

Populus Coffee
I retrace my steps and walk past Kottbusser Tor, crossing over the Landwehr Canal into the Neukölln neighbourhood to the south. Bearing east along the canal, I weave through the busy market on Maybachufer and stop for a vegan salted camel–pecan doughnut at Brammibal's. I notice that they serve Populus Coffee (with oat milk), but they don't offer pourovers or white espresso-based drinks smaller than a flat white so I continue on to Populus's bustling coffee shop, a short walk to the east.

At Populus, I order a cortado, which is brewed using a house-rousted Kenyan Karimikui PB coffee, which tastes great and which isn't too milky. The baristas notice me scouring their retail bags of beans and hurry over to offer advice. Next time, I must not only come with an empty bag, but also have empty hoppers and cupboards at home; I want all the coffee souvenirs!

Populus Coffee is located at Maybachufer 20, Neukölln. WebsiteInstagram.

The Barn

Just around the corner is the newest cafe — for now — of well-established Berlin roaster The Barn, which opened in October. A large portion of the small coffee shop is taken up with a huge round table. Lancelot and Arthur must have the day off but there is a copy of the Süddeutsche Zeitung for me to scan. (I studied German for a year at school but, ever the linguist, I've studied enough of the history of English and other European languages that I can get the gist.)

The coffee menu is the most exciting I've seen on this trip, with signature drinks (a beetroot flat white and a Rooibos spiced flat white; interesting but not my taste) and three hand-brewed filter coffees to choose from. The Brazilian Christmas coffee sounds nice but not quite what I'm after. The barista recommends the Los Chorros coffee from Honduras — the head roaster's choice. She asks how long I'll be in town for as the head roaster is giving a talk a couple of days later, but sadly, I'll be back in London by then.

The coffee is served in a glass jug with a tactile white tumbler. It comes with a card that provides details of the coffee's farm, farmer and origin, as well as the tasting notes. I enjoy my coffee a lot, its grape and vanilla notes really singing as it cools, just as the barista advised. They take their coffee seriously at The Barn but the atmosphere remains very welcoming. I'm much too early but two blocks south is a dessert bar called CODA, which I hope to visit another time.

The Barn is located at Friedelstraße 27, Neukölln (and other locations). WebsiteTwitterInstagram.

Five Elephant
Crossing back over the Landwehr, I return to Kreuzberg where, by happy coincidence, my fifth speciality coffee stop is Five Elephant, another celebrated Berlin roaster. It's lunchtime when I arrive and the cafe, which occupies several small rooms, is packed. I manage to find a stool at which to perch and then join the queue at the counter.

There are hand-brewed filter coffees on offer, but it's very busy so I order a cortado with the Guatemalan Buena Vista espresso. It arrives promptly and I drink it underneath one of the vintage maps that hang on the walls, trying not to take too much inspiration from my close proximity to Antarctica. As for the coffee, it is excellent. I've tried Five Elephant's coffee back home in the UK before, of course, but it is always nice to sample it closer to the source.

Five Elephant is located at Reichenberger Str. 101, Kreuzberg (there's a second Mitte cafe). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

After all that coffee, I am in need of sustenance and I walk a few blocks north to Burgermeister, a burger bar inside a former public loo under the train tracks near the River Spree. It's cash-only but I manage to break the €50 note the ATM in Amsterdam unhelpfully provided. Revitalised by the cheap but tasty cheeseburger, I cross over the Spree and walk along the East Side Gallery, a mile-long remnant of the Berlin Wall now painted with (mostly political) murals. It's a colourful and thought-provoking place to visit.

I stroll back towards the city centre and take a few photos of the Brandenburg Gate, which has a menorah and a Christmas tree in front of it. Other than the museums and historical sites, I remembered little from my 1998 trip, but somehow, ambling down the Unter den Linden brings it all back.

Later, my colleague and I dine at the mainly veggie BRLO Brwhouse, which is near our hotel. You can order a BBQ meat dish if you wish, but we stick to their 'statement vegetable' formules: one veggie main with a side and an 'on top' for €18. We both get the cauliflower, which comes with a vadouvan rub, BRLO pale ale glaze, juiced and dehydrated red cabbage, fermented Granny Smith apple and nut butter crumble. It's absolutely delicious. Of course, I go for an Old Fashioned rather than sampling the beer.

After dinner, we take the free self-guided audio tour of the Reichstag Dome. We had to book in advance, but it's worth doing if you fancy a little bit of architectural and historical information while enjoying some great views of the city. Yes, it has been a short stay in Berlin but it's been fun, interesting and very caffeinated.

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