Brian’s Travel Spot: Berlin to Köln by ICE

The front driving cab of the first set of two ICE 4 trains forming the 15:46 service to Düsseldorf/Köln, arriving at Berlin Hauptbahnhof.Welcome to the first instalment of my new Travel Spot series, covering my return by train from Berlin to the UK. While this saw me retrace my steps from the journey out (as far as London St Pancras), rather than doing everything in one day, I broke my journey at Köln, where I spent a few days before carrying on to the UK.

On my way out, because I needed to get all the way to Berlin in a single day, everything was very tightly planned, with reservations on all the various legs of the journey (Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels, ICE 3 from Brussels to Köln and ICE 1 from Köln to Berlin). On the way back, I could afford to be more flexible, particularly as the journey from Berlin to Köln is just over four hours, with hourly departures from Berlin.

In theory I could have done this by buying individual tickets for each leg, but since I was travelling on a Eurail pass, I could use any ICE train. This meant I was able to leave my decision as to which train to catch right up until the last minute, which is exactly what I did.

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Coffee Circle Café – Mitte

A flat white, served in a classic white cup but on an off-centre, non-circular saucer, at Coffee Circle Café – Mitte in Berlin.I didn’t know much about Coffee Circle before travelling to Berlin at the start of May. However, enough people recommended Coffee Circle to me once I arrived that I added it to my list. Coffee Circle began as a roastery specialising in direct trade in 2010, only opening its first café three years ago (in Wedding, Berlin, in the same building complex as the roastery). Since then, there have been two more, one on Bergmannstraße near Tempelhof and the other, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße in the heart of Mitte.

From the street, there isn’t much to Coffee Circle, but inside, the café goes a long way back, all the way to the rear of the building, where windows look into a modern courtyard. There’s space for 12 people at tables outside on the pavement, while there’s plenty more seating in the spacious interior. A very limited (and entirely vegetarian) snack menu is joined by a selection of cake, but the real draw is the coffee, all roasted in-house, with the Cerrado, a naturally-processed Brazilian coffee, on espresso, joined by a regularly-changing second single-origin option, along with another single-origin on batch brew and two more on pour-over.

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Ben Rahim, Berlin

The Ben Rahim logo, a stylised two-dimensional drawing of a tree with the words "BEN RAHIM" underneath.Ben Rahim, one of Berlin’s lesser-known speciality coffee names (outside of Berlin that is), came highly recommended by various people, both online and in other Berlin speciality coffee shops that I visited. It also features in the Double Skinny Macchiato guide to Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. Ben Rahim is unusual in that its owner is from Tunisia and, having recently opened a shop in Tunis, it’s technically an international coffee shop chain (of two).

Ben Rahim opened in 2015, occupying a small shop on an alleyway leading into the famous Hackesche Höfe in Mitte in the heart of Berlin. Towards the end of 2019, Ben Rahim expanded into the adjacent space, now its current home, when the previous tenants, a clothes shop, moved out. All the coffee is roasted in Berlin on behalf of Ben Rahim, with a blend, a single-origin and decaf on espresso, backed up by a blend and two more single-origins on filter via the Clever Dripper. True to its Tunisian origins, these two single-origins are also offered via the ibrik, along with a range of signature drinks and a small selection tea, all backed up by a small range of cakes, pastries and filled croissants.

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Filter Tasting Flight at Bonanza Coffee

One of the three filter coffees in the filter tasting flight at the Bonanza Coffee roastery in Kreuzberg, served in a glass carafe with the cup placed on top as a lid.When I was in Berlin last month, one of the highlights of my weekend exploration of the city’s speciality coffee scene was Bonanza Coffee Gendarmenmarkt. I spent the following day, a Sunday, strolling around Kreuzberg, arguably the birthplace of Berlin’s speciality coffee scene, where I popped by the Bonanza Coffee Roastery, which doubles as a lovely coffee shop. Well, I say “popped by”, but that understates the deliberate nature of my visit. Tucked away in a large courtyard, accessed down a long road from Adalbertstraße, the Bonanza Roastery is not somewhere you’d stumble across, or, indeed “pop by”, unless you already knew it was there.

It’s a lovely spot, quiet and sheltered, with plenty of outdoor seating and even more inside, where the coffee shop, at the front, shares the space with the roastery at the back. It was also incredibly popular and my original plan, which had been to write it up as a Coffee Spot, went out of the window almost immediately. However, I noticed something that I always love to see on the menu: a filter tasting flight. That, I thought, will make an excellent subject for a Saturday Supplement. And you know what? I was right!

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Ernst Kaffeeröster, Bonner Straße

A fine flat white, made with the house blend and served in a classic black cup at Ernst Kaffeeröster on Bonner Straße in Köln.When it comes to speciality coffee in Köln, Ernst Kaffeeröster is one of the city’s pioneers, having first opened in 2014 on Bonner Straße, in the new town south of the centre. In true German fashion, Ernst Kaffeeröster is both coffee shop and roaster, and you can still see the original roaster, a 5 kg Diedrich, behind the counter at Bonner Straße, although these days it’s only used to roast some of the single-origins. Instead, there’s a 20 kg roaster in a dedicated facility, which opened in 2016, while in April, a month before my visit, a second coffee shop was opened on Weyertal, near the university.

The original Ernst Kaffeeröster is a modest spot, offering a handful of tables inside, plus two more outside on the pavement, along with a solitary bench. The draw is the coffee, with a blend and single-origin on espresso, along with batch brew, AeroPress and Kalita Wave if you prefer filter coffee. The single-origin espresso changes every month, while for AeroPress and Kalita Wave, you can have any of Ernst Kaffeeröster’s filter coffees. There’s also tea, hot chocolate, various cold coffee options and, if you’re hungry, a selection of pastries, cakes, baguettes and granola.

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Father Carpenter

The name board for Father Carpenter, Coffee Brewers, in Berlin.In a city where coffee and cake is the business model for the majority of speciality coffee shops, Berlin’s Father Carpenter stands out for its coffee and brunch approach, no doubt influenced by its Australian owner. Since 2015, Father Carpenter has been serving excellent coffee and fantastic brunches from an amazing courtyard just off Münzstraße in the heart of Mitte, where you can sit outside in the courtyard or be shown to a table in the spacious dining room (Father Carpenter has table service).

Its secluded setting makes Father Carpenter the perfect escape from the hustle of the Mitte’s busy streets, although be aware that it’s very busy itself, often with a wait for a table. I popped by on three separate occasions (four if you count Friday evening, when it was closed) and it was only on my last visit that I was able to get a table without a wait.

Father Carpenter has a concise but interesting brunch menu, along with a small selection of baguettes and pastries. There’s a standard espresso-based menu with non-dairy alternatives and decaf, along with two filter options: regular or exotic, plus loose leaf tea, various iced options and a selection of soft drinks.

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The Coffee Gang, Hohenstaufenring

A lovely flat white, made with The Coffee Gang's bespoke house blend, and served in a glass at the original coffee shop on Hohenstaufenring.On my way back from my recent visit to Berlin, I stopped in Köln for a few days, a city I’d previously only passed through. With just a couple of days to explore, I found a vibrant (albeit small but growing) speciality coffee scene, starting with The Coffee Gang, conveniently located around the corner from my hotel (which might have influenced my choice of lodging). In all, I visited three times, twice for breakfast, once for coffee and cake.

The Coffee Gang, which recently opened a second location north of the centre, has been serving up excellent coffee to the good folks of Köln since 2014. Located just north of the major interchange of Barbarossaplatz on the eastern side of the broad Hohenstaufenring, The Coffee Gang offers a bespoke espresso blend through a standard menu, plus two single-origins (all roasted by Munich’s JB Kaffee) on either batch brew or AeroPress. There’s also limited breakfast and lunch menus, plus various cakes. You can either sit outside, where six tables occupy the broad pavement in front of The Coffee Gang, or inside, where you have a choice of any of the 15 hexagonal tables which are mostly down the right-hand side.

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Nano Kaffee

A flat white in classic white cup, with some complex latte art, made with Nano Kaffee's naturally-processed O Pássaro single-origin espresso from Brazil.I am indebted to my friend and fellow coffee blogger Bex, of Double Skinny Macchiato fame for bringing Nano Kaffee to my attention. Bex visited Berlin in December 2018, and her first stop was Nano Kaffee, where she very kindly bought me a bag of the Kikirima, a single-origin from Kenyan which I enjoyed through my V60. Naturally, when I decided to go on a mini-tour of Kreuzberg on my last Sunday in Berlin, I too had to start with a visit to Nano Kaffee.

Nano Kaffee is on Dresdener Straße, a quiet street that connects Oranienplatz with Kottbusser Tor, where there’s a convenient U-Bahn station. Like almost all of the speciality coffee shops that I visited in Germany, Nano Kaffee, which opened in 2014, is both a roaster and a coffee shop, although unlike many of its contemporaries (such as Bonanza, The Barn, Five Elephant and 19grams), it only has a single coffee shop (although a second hasn’t been ruled out).

Nano Kaffee is a delightful spot, with a simple, open layout and plenty of outdoor seating on the quiet street. There’s a very concise espresso-based menu, plus batch brew filter, tea, hot chocolate and a small selection of cake.

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Bonanza Gendarmenmarkt

My espresso, the Sasaba, a naturally-processed single-origin from Ethiopia, seen from above, along with a glass of water and a piece of shortbread, all enjoyed while sitting out in the courtyard at Bonanza Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin.Exactly two weeks ago today, I left Berlin after a whirlwind couple of weekends exploring the city’s excellent speciality coffee scene. Along the way, I hit up some legendary names whose fame has spread far beyond Germany, including The Barn, Five Elephant and Bonanza Coffee. Another coffee shop chain with a roastery in Kreuzberg, Bonanza is fairly small, just two coffee shops in addition to the original roastery/coffee shop. It’s also venerable (in speciality coffee terms), founded in 2006.

The subject of today’s Coffee Spot is something of a rarity: a Berlin speciality coffee shop in a mainstream tourist setting. Located on Jägerstraße, just south of the famous Unter den Linden, Bonanza Coffee is right next to Gendarmenmarkt, one of Berlin’s most picture-perfect squares. Bonanza occupies an interesting series of spaces, with a handful of tables outside on the pavement and more seating in a lovely interior courtyard. And then there’s the coffee, with two choices on espresso (a blend for milk-based drinks and a single-origin for espressos/Americanos) plus two single-origins on batch-brew. These are all roasted in Kreuzberg, with even more beans available in retail bags. If you’re hungry, there’s a selection of cakes to go with your coffee.

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The Visit Coffee & Eatery, Nürnbergerstraße

A espresso in a wide-brimmed white cup with a V on the front (for The Visit).Just two weeks ago I was in Berlin, at my first face-to-face work meeting since early 2020. It was also my first to Berlin in the Coffee Spot era. My initial research suggested that speciality coffee was to be found in the east, in Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg, whereas I was in a hotel in the heart of old West Berlin, just to the south of the Zoological Garden, an area where speciality coffee was in short supply.

Fortunately, this proved to be an overstatement, with both Five Elephant and The Barn having locations within easy walking distance. Unfortunately, they didn’t open until 11:00, which is where The Visit Coffee & Eater came in. Literally down the street from my hotel, and opening at 07:30, I could walk over, grab a flat white and make it back before the start of my meeting.

As well as some excellent coffee on espresso, batch brew and pour-over, as the name suggests, The Visit is one of those rare Berlin coffee shops that also does food, with an interesting brunch menu, plus a range of bagels, cakes and pastries. There’s plenty of seating outside on the pavement, as well more tables inside.

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