I knew Germany was going to be hard to live in on my very first day in Berlin. It wasn’t the overly-chilly weather, nor was it the uninviting faces or fast-pacing Berliners. Honestly, it wasn’t the language barrier either, I eventually learned conversational German - enough to get around and ask for a cup of coffee – which is everything you need to know.
The first below 5 degree Celsius evening I spent in Berlin taught me the most important lesson: do not ask for ice coffee in Berlin, unless of course you're okay with judgey looks and giving Berliners another chance to say “no” to you in a passive aggressive manner. I was about as enthusiastic as any other coffee-addict, especially since Germany is the apparent coffee “hub” [sources reveal].
Growing up in India, coffee was never a big part of my life. The closest I had gotten to drinking coffee was the infamous Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino. 2 years later, I got began my journey at Indiana University and became what you a call a modern day caffeine-addict, now budding enthusiast. Caffeine takes more of my blood than water does at the moment. In fact, I even worked on-campus as a Starbucks barista. Of course, that meant my daily consumption of coffee increased two-fold. I read every article that there was to read concerning the level of coffee in Germany. Europeans are known for their coffee, and Berlin was known for its ‘hipster’ culture. One of Berlin’s unique selling points were the numerous coffee houses located all over Berlin. Most of my research showed statics of coffee houses in Berlin to be over 80. If a city has over 50 well-recognized coffee shops, it almost becomes a norm to sit and experience the high of caffeine that is so well-spoken about.
Regardless of having over 80 local coffee shops and coffee-chains, Berlin seems to miss the entire concept of “Ice Coffee”. Coffee shops brag about how their coffee comes from all over the world, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, India, Kenya and more (Einstein Kaffe). Despite having their coffee beans imported from all over the world and delving in the best of the finest that the world has to offer, they seriously fall back in offering a variety of drinks. Coffee isn’t just about where the beans come from, but it is about how it is made, and to what extent one is willing to experiment with coffee. Sometimes you need to let customers experiment, and sometimes you must adapt to different cultures.
Furious, and in desperate need of an iced-coffee, I decided to take a day off and explore Berlin from a different lens. I was on a mission, and it was more than finding a place that would serve my “American standardized needs”. I took a trip down Friedrechstraße and went into every coffee shop I came across and sat down with the barista working on the clock. Some conversations I had were quite interesting, they went as follows:
1. Coffee Bar & Media Shop
When approached about Ice Coffee, and the potential of me getting an Eiskaffee, the person on the counter was a little surprised at first, but then mentioned that they do serve ice coffee, however they do not promote it or display it on their menu as Berliners do not usually request for colder drinks during the winter season. He also mentioned that they would sell ice coffee, or any coffee that does not require to be blended or does not need ice cream.
2. Coffee Fellows
They don’t advertise their ice-based drinks either, their customers usually prefer hot coffee, and they do not have many tourists visiting. The tourists that do visit also do not ask for ice coffees, however once in a while they have a customer walk-in demanding an ice coffee, in which case they would make any iced coffee drink by adding ice cubes at no additional cost.
This coffee shop stood out to me, their interior was mainly green, and their baristas were wearing green aprons too. At first, I did not catch on why, but then the barista informed me that Gregory’s was a Greek chain of coffee shops, and because it was Greek-based, they served all kinds of drinks. Their menu consisted of iced and blended beverages, something no other coffee shop willingly promoted, especially in the winter. The reason for this was because a lot of Greek customers visited Gregory’s daily, and they did not have a preference of warmer coffee during colder seasons like German’s usually do. Their customers like and prefer to drink iced drinks at all times of the year.
4. Leckberback Café
This Barista was especially hard to communicate with, it’s a small local shop at the corner with bright red and yellow colors, not very hard to miss. However, the interior of the place is more of a bakery. They did not have the high-end expresso machines that most coffee shops usually do. Additionaly, the barista spoke very little English, so I had to whip out the basic german I had learned in the first 2 months and politely ask, “Ich mochte gern einen eiskaffe, bitte?”. He had the same appalled expression on his face as most of the other coffee shops I had visited in my first few months in Berlin. It was a slow progression of “are you serious?” to “It’s raining outside!” to “I pity you because you clearly do not understand seasons”. He politely refused, and said they don’t serve ice coffee right now, which I take to mean “now” as in for the next few months until it gets warm enough for an ice coffee to be acceptable.
5. Starbucks Coffee
I know, this is as mainstream as one can get, but I had to go check the German Starbucks, especially since I was in Berlin. I went in not knowing what to expect, I wasn’t sure if Starbucks would follow along with the German tradition of no ice coffee or continue advertising their products like they do in the States. When I approached the Barista, I couldn’t help but notice that their menu did not include any iced beverages, or their usual “3 seasonal Frappuccinos” either. Clearly, Starbucks was adapting to the German culture. However, the Barista nodded his head yes when I asked for an ice coffee. I was a bit confused as to why it wasn’t on the menu, and he told me that we make everything on the menu both steaming hot, and icy cold. I was surprised, and further questioned if they have their ice-blends available, and he nodded yes. Starbucks was essentially the same as you would find anywhere else, except they did not exceptionally advertise their personal blends, and stuck to standardized coffees on the menu. The Barista also added “we make everything, hot and cold. If someone wants it, why shouldn’t we give it to them?”.
6. Einstein Kaffe
I saved this one for the last because on my little trip, I came across 3 Einstein Kaffes, and each of them served a different selection of drinks. The first coffee shop I walked into was empty and the barista was preparing to shut the place down. She sat down and spoke to me for a couple minutes as we discussed their iced beverages. Through our conversation, she mentioned that technically, they are supposed to sell ice coffee at this location because 1. It is on their menu, and 2. It’s a franchise, and every store needs to sell the same product. However, during the winter season, they usually turn off their ice machine, and refuse the customers if they ask for iced beverages. The reason they do this is because the demand is limited to one customer per week asking for an iced coffee and cleaning the ice machine takes a lot of time. Instead they just prefer to turn the ice machine off. To check whether it was only this specific Einstein Kaffee that followed this procedure, I went to 2 more. The second barista was happy to serve my ice coffee needs and told me that he’s been working under this franchise for a long time. 2 years ago, an Einstein Kaffee wouldn’t be able to serve a customer iced drinks during the winter, but because they did not want to spend time changing their menu every season, they created a more standardized menu that allowed drinks to be available in every season. They do not usually promote iced beverages during winter, but they serve them when a customer asks. The third Einstein Kaffee I went to, had the same standardized menu, and also served ice coffee, but mentioned that they were out of ice cubes at the moment. I’m not entirely sure if they ran out, or they avoided serving iced beverages to customers by shutting off the ice machine early on like the baristas did in the first shop.
The reason I visited more localized or franchise owned coffee shops was because third-wave coffee shops, the ‘actual deals’ are too stubborn to adapt to a more International culture. The reason these third-wave coffee shops do so well is due to its authentic products, and its process of making coffee along with the vibe that their locations offer. The coffee shops mentioned above might serve iced coffees in the winter but are nothing compared to the vibe that a third-wave coffee shop like Distrikt, or BARN might offer. They reason those places stand out are because of their stubbornness, and their need to deny the customers of a personalized beverage. For instance, as it is predominantly known, Barn does not have sugar in their drinks, or even allow you to purchase a packet of sugar separately. However, it is still the most infamous coffee shop in town. Coffee is a blend of experience and beans; you need to have both in order to truly enjoy a cup of coffee. Personally, where the beans come from do not matter to me as much as what the coffee shop does with it matters. I like to have my coffee mildly sweet, with a few ice cubes. Would BARN serve me an ice-cold drink with half a spoon of sugar in the winter?
The answer is no.
In this scenario, coffee-experts would probably critic me for not understanding the taste of coffee beans without sugar and processed in a natural way. However, it is not about the authenticity of the coffee, it is about what I like. We ask for a coffee by saying
“Ich möchte gern…” It is a personal choice that should be allowed to explore.
In conclusion, I believe that ice coffee may not be a huge deal to most Berliners, but before it was to me. I did not want to change the way I drink my coffee after getting used to it. Coffee brewed and made the way I like it was always a reliever. Had I known the places to go to where I would easily find an iced coffee (in winter) or even a personalized coffee, I wouldn’t have spent the first few weeks stressing out. I would have avoided the surprised expression on every other baristas face when I asked for an ice coffee.
Ryandennis. “The German Coffee Drinker's Guide: How to Order a Cup of Joe in German.” FluentU German, 14 Mar. 2019, www.fluentu.com/blog/german/how-to-order-coffee-in-german/.
Scherpe, Mary. “Berlin's Best Coffee Guide – Stil in Berlin.” Stil in Berlin, 3 Sept. 2017, www.stilinberlin.de/2016/08/berlins-best-coffee-guide-2016.html.
“The Coffee Experience for Your Home | Drupal.” Onlineshop – Drupal, www.einstein-kaffee.de/en/onlineshop.