Germany is a country associated with many things, coffee not usually being one of them. However, with an average per capita consumption of around 5.6 kg, the Germans do like their beans.
Coffee here is like tea in the UK and indeed the tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake), is an almost direct equivalent of our (former) tradition of afternoon tea and cake. As a focal point in offices, a break from the cold, a pick-me-up with breakfast; however it is consumed, coffee is a big part of life in Germany.
But there’s the rub; as such an intrinsic part of daily life, the product is seen as a necessity rather than a luxury, and unsurprisingly prices and quality tend to reflect that. This, in addition to a national culture which upholds realising value for money as a bastion of personal integrity, is not an easy market for budding specialty coffee roasters.
Germany does not have a ‘to-go’ culture, and most coffee is consumed at home or at work, rather than out and about or nestled snugly behind a Mac in a coffee shop. To put this in perspective, the UK sells almost double the amount of coffees for the out-of-home market as Germany, a country almost 1.5 times its size and the largest importer of coffee in Europe.
But the times they are a-changin’, and despite an entrenched culture of paying some of the lowest prices for coffee in Europe, a small (but perfectly formed) specialty market is emerging.
Last month Stephen, Joanna and our man on the ground, bonafide German Heiko Heiden visited the opening of a very interesting coffee shop in the stately heart of Bavaria, Munich.
In the Nymphenburger part of the city, not far from the central train station, and strategically located in a business district currently underserved by superior coffee-drinking establishements is a brand new, architecturally designed coffee shop by the name of Mahlefitz.
The brainchild of former property developer Peter Schlögl-Ensafi and barista Sebastian Lösch, Mahlefitz brings together business and market knowledge with coffee expertise of the highest order. The space itself is the sort of high-quality attention-to-detail minimalism which would not be out of place in Oslo or Helsinki: leather, polished concrete, wood, rounded edges. In Munich, it’s refreshing, or ‘pioneering’, as the staff will delightedly tell you.
The opening night was the expected buzz of bubbles and felicitations among the great and the good of the fine city of Munich. Broadsheet write-ups and a shiny new website ensued, providing well deserved publicity and an online-purchase facility which will drive the new company’s sales.
Mahlefitz will occupy an interesting space in the market; one which appeal to those in search of quality, even if they have to pay for it.
Before the opening, we met with Johannes Bayer, the Schwabhausen-based specialty coffee stalwart, whose stubbornly uncompromising attitude to quality above all else is a breath of fresh air in a time of processing prejudices and farm-fame. Bayer is convinced that the market is out there, and is just in need of a little education.
Together we visited the East London style Bald Neu where his coffee was served by his café-entrepreneur brother. This popular hang-out is a sign of the times in Munich; such a coffee shop would not have existed five years ago. Perhaps now the city, often regarded as traditional and conservative, can be counted as a real coffee destination.
With Berlin ahead of the curve and now Frankfurt and Munich to offer, Germany is certainly not to be overlooked as an important specialty coffee market, and a fantastic place to visit.