It’s an aesthetic that’s consumed my Instagram feed over the last year: academic achievement that begins by studying in a cozy cafe with a croissant and artistically rendered cappuccino. According to Pinterest, Europe was going to be the realization of all my dark academic dreams. As is so often the case, Instagram’s dictation of reality turned out to be nothing more than a fantasy.
I haven’t found thousands of cafes that allow me to study without hindrance and finding coffee shops that have the kinds of strong coffee I love is way harder than I thought. Here are my observations about German coffee shops and coffee… and how I’m starting to love them.
Coffee Snobs be Warned
Let’s get my critiques out of the way: the selection of espresso-based drinks is comparatively limited here. There aren't long lists of complicated and thickly sweetened Frappuccinos, instead, the standard fare is pretty much limited to the most basic cappuccino and espresso shots. Anyone who is accustomed to their secret menu Starbucks order needs to be prepared to drop at least five euros on a coffee (which is ridiculous when you consider that most macchiato here cost 3.90).
Also, anyone who counts themselves a bit of a snob for particularly strong brews (as I do) is going to find themselves struggling. Germans seem to favor mild roasts with fruity flavors. They’re also all about drowning a bean in frothy milk as if they’re trying to obscure the taste. You can also pretty much forget about cold brews, they haven’t quite seemed to catch on.
And don’t even get me started on trying to find real ground espresso beans. There are entire aisles dedicated to coffee here but I can guarantee you most of the products will come in some form of instant coffee (needless to say, I’ve been desperately scouring Pinterest for decent instant coffee drink recipes in the past two months). If you do find real beans, they’re probably whole beans. I had to go to TJ Maxx at Alexanderplatz to find ground espresso beans. I’ve never felt more like an “Auslander” than I did that day.
Despite all my whining, I think Germany makes up for what it does not have in dark roasts in its pastries. I know France gets all the hype for baked goods but I sincerely believe that there are few things in this world that can beat a piece of rhubarb cake from a German bakery. They take their baking here seriously, and it absolutely shows in the quality of the goods. And really, I could get used to a double espresso in the mornings instead of my old dirty chia or honey cinnamon lattes. As long as I get a croissant to go with it.
Something lovely: Germany’s Coffee Culture
Germany’s coffee culture is not one Americans are accustomed to. Not only are flavored drinks less common but the way people spend their time in coffee shops is different too. Here, coffee isn’t necessarily the nectar of the sleep deprived and overworked. Cafes are not consumed with gentle music and the clack of keyboards. Here, grabbing a cup of coffee means a social gathering, not settling in a place to grind.
My experience of American Cafes has mostly involved watching people talk over the top of their computer screens if they talk at all. In Germany, it’s more common to see people hugging their mugs of coffee as they lean forward to talk. Old women gather in groups along long tables with cappuccinos and “Kuchen” to discuss the past week's events. Young people on Tinder dates fervently discuss their interests over large mugs. There are people on laptops gathered in the corners of the room, but they seem less prevalent.
This view of cafes as social venues isn’t simply socially accepted either. I’ve now been to several cafes that don’t offer public wifi (gasp, I know). I’ve also visited at least two cafes that had posted signs in their window declaring that no computers are allowed in the store on weekends, or sometimes ever. The grind culture I’m so accustomed to in America seems to have been lost somewhere at sea, allowing me for once to simply enjoy a cup of coffee, and, honestly, I’m not complaining.
More Blogs From This Author
Hello everyone! My name is Eliza DuBose and I'm from the area surrounding Boulder, Colorado. I'm a junior at American University studying Foreign Language and Communication Media, which is (very) basically a Journalism and German double major. This is my second time living in Germany and I am so thrilled to be studying in Berlin for the year. In my free time, I spend most of my time hiking, reading, writing, or consuming an inordinate amount of media.