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Mark Espiner

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Espiner's Berlin: On finding good coffee in Berlin

I’m not a tea lover. Forget the British stereotype. The leaf is not my brew. It’s the bean. And I’m very fussy about it.

In London, there are only a few places that deliver a really good cup of coffee. There’s Monmouth in Borough Market, Bullet in Covent Garden and the Milk Bar in Soho. When I arrived here in Berlin I was seriously worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a coffee to my particular taste.

You see, I don’t drink espresso, cappuccino or latte macchiato. My preferred cup is the “flat white”. It originated in New Zealand and it’s all the rage in London. In brief, it’s a ristretto shot - fuller flavour and more oily than the watery espresso - and with a layer of foam less than 1cm.

Whenever I asked in Berlin for a flat white, I was simply served a latte macchiatto. Yuck. This was an offence to me. Overly milky, often too weak, more foam than caffeine and usually too expensive. You Germans seem to love foam on your coffee as much as on your beer.

In the end, I decided to just order a double espresso and a small jug of hot milk on the side. That way I could at least try to mix it myself.

This week I decided “No More”! I went on a hunt to find the best coffee in Berlin - and that elusive flat white.

My journey started at about 11am - perfect coffee time - at Barcomi’s [ http://bit.ly/14Q6CN ] in Sophienstrasse. There was no flat white on the menu, but the coffee they brought me was quite good. Guatemalan beans. I asked the leading barista, Marcel, if he could do me a flat white. No, he said, it wasn’t possible there. But he took pity. There were, he said, some good coffee places and he sent me on my way to Prenzlauer Berg, to Godshot.

A caffeine hit at Godshot. 12.00 and I had found heaven in a cup. The man behind the grinder was Kai-Uwe - an enthusiast who before he opened this cafe had a professional espresso machine at home. His coffee love is exemplary. He’s the sole importer of Black Cat coffee beans from America in Europe. I won’t go on about it, because you can do your own research by clicking here. And he mixed perhaps the best flat white I’ve ever had. Strong. Dark. Creamy. Minimal froth. He also serves espresso cups in takeaway, yes takeaway, porcelain beakers (he calls them “spro to go”) and grinds every cup fresh.

Meanwhile on twitter, @BettinaAntonina tipped me that Bonanza Coffee Heroes on Oderberger Straße was worth a shot. So I hotfooted it there for another flat white courtesy of Alexej. The bookshelf behind him and the smart machine (it’s computer controlled apparently and there are only two of that kind in the whole of Germany) sported titles like A History of Coffee In Guatemala and Coffee Technology. He made a damn fine coffee - but wouldn’t tell me where Bonanza roasts its beans. Trade secret, he said. He did tell me to check out No Fire, No Glory in Friedrichshain, though.

So there I was on my fourth great coffee in Berlin - realising that all these grinders are located in the former East. No Fire, No Glory get their beans dispatched from Copenhagen’s hip Coffee Collective [ www.coffeecollective.dk ]. It set my pulse racing.

Oliver the barista was almost evangelical. He said the aim of cafes like No Fire, No Glory was to spark a cultural revolution in Berlin “to change the coffee scene”. He was from the former East, but couldn’t remember much of it (too young). Twenty years on and isn’t politics that fuels a revolution here, but beans.

He did say, though, that DDR coffee was even worse than the latte macchiatos I so despised. Just look at these documentaries to learn about it.

But where to go in the west? Double Eye, he said, in Schöneberg.

Arno Schmeil’s outfit roasts its own. He gets the beans straight off the boat in Hamburg - and uses this in-store roaster to perfect the taste. After roasting he lets the beans “relax” for a bit to let the oil out. The baristas there, though, couldn’t do me a flat white. They didn’t know what it was. Instead they did what they called a galao (a Portuguese version, apparently).

Four p.m and I had enough caffeine in my veins to fly home, but I took the U-Bahn. OK, so I was shaking for the rest of the day, but the caffeine overdose was worth it. I’d found coffee paradise in Berlin’s aficionado cafe scene.

I’ve been trying to walk off the jitters and have just past by the new Humboldt Box’s Aussichtsterrasse  and it’s given me an idea. I’m now on the hunt for the best viewpoints of Berlin. I know it’s flat and without hills, but if you’ve got a good suggestion - whether it’s through a hole in a wall or from a rooftop - then tweet, email or leave a suggestion below, I’ll keep a lookout.

Sie können Mark emailen unter mark@espiner.com mit Ihren Tipps und ihm auf Twitter @DeutschMarkUK folgen.

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