Being originally from a coffee producing and to a much lesser extent, coffee-drinking country, I first discovered coffee -ironically- when I had already left Colombia. Luckily for me, the praises people would sing about it, made me yearn for it soon after I had left. I had always loved the concept of coffee, but by then, had not yet gone beyond gigantic pots of filtered coffee that would last throughout the entire day and eventually become so bitter; one would wonder whether it was ‘premium café de exportación’ in the first place.
By this time, I was already in The Netherlands, where the Dutch sip an amazing 8,4kg of coffee in a year (compare that to the 1,8kg Colombians consume over the same period). Being surrounded by proper coffee drinkers –and makers-, I then began to pay attention to the way baristas would prepare their brews in local cafés to the point of being fascinated by the machines, the beans and mostly, the smell of the entire process: from roasting to actually tasting it. It was all something so accurate that it seemed impossible to achieve, let alone recreate with the machinery I had at home.
Eventually, I got myself a fancy second-hand espresso machine and started experimenting at home and even though I had shifted my focus on quality above quantity, the brew I was making, never seemed to even simulate those gorgeous coffees I was romanticizing about so badly. Apparently, the machine never worked properly and I was spending money on way-too-expensive beans for a worthless machine. Sigh. By this time I realized I didn’t need a fancy nor expensive machine to make decent coffee at home; while I still adored a perfectly brewed cup of espresso and I still ‘counted time in coffee spoons’, I had tasted so many different varieties and had experimented so much at home, I figured that I enjoyed a cup of filtered, medium to fully roasted and accurately made coffee the most.
Snobbery? romanticism? Or mere enthusiasm?
One of the many reasons I decided to move to Berlin, was it’s emerging and constantly growing coffee culture, with its thousand and one roasteries, cafés and fancy coffee shops scattered all over the city. Coffee making in this city can be taken to such levels, the words ‘snobbism’ and ‘cult’ immediately pop in my mind when I pass by certain of these cafés. Places sometimes look more like science labs with glossy magazines instead of regular coffee bars. The seriousness of coffee drinking takes over with rules such as ‘no sugar, no laptops, no baby strollers’ which are of no surprise in coffee shops where coffee brewing is more of a ceremony rather than a business.
Mind me and my passion for the brew, I often find myself talking for long periods of time with café owners and baristas and my conversations sound more full of enthusiasm and curiosity than mere snobbism and smugness. Indeed, I am on the one hand fascinated by the passion and romanticism people have when brewing a ‘cuppa’, yet on the other I often asked myself: ‘is this really necessary?’; am I supposed to taste the blueberries and dark chocolate in this €2,8 Americano? Maybe, maybe not. It is noteworthy though, that when coffee is roasted carefully and brewed correctly, you can taste, perhaps not the wild cherries or Belgian chocolates, but you can definitely taste the difference. So, yeah, go ahead, call me a snob or a coffee geek, I like to call myself an enthusiastic coffee aficionado: a connoisseur. Right, Lars?
At any rate, I stopped trying to find exotic fruits in my cups and chose to rather enjoy the experience of coffee and the coffee shop as a whole; after all, the choices when it comes to coffee (and good one) are endless in Berlin. Call it snobbery, sophistication or coffee evolution, what can rightly be said about Berlin is that it is going through a profound "Coffeeshopification*", something you shall never hear me complain about.
*Coffeeshopification is a term used by Dominique Browning in The Alpine Review's first issue that describes the process of turning institutions and working places into 'coffee shops'. I shall come back to this term shortly.