Amazing female baristas, roasters and entrepreneurs of Berlin - Tansel Özbek

Tansel is a born Berliner, co-owner of Refinery High End Coffee and specialty coffee enthusiast. I talked to her about changing careers, Refinery's unique philosophy and fostering equality in the specialty coffee industry.

Tansel Özbek Refinery Coffee Berlin

Tansel, what triggered your career in coffee?

My professional and personal path changed over time and so did my goals and visions for the future. I started out with a more traditional education route and obtained university degrees in economics with a focus on management and team work. It wasn’t until later in life that my passion for coffee was born! First, I worked several years as a coach and counsellor at the German employment agency. It was my mission to motivate young people to do something they really care about, which ultimately inspired me to start over and do something I’m passionate about. I’ve always had an interest in hospitality in a broad sense which later bundled with a passion for high quality specialty coffee and gastronomy. When the idea to start a coffee business was born, I knew I wanted to be part of the third wave movement. I have high expectations for myself and am a perfectionist. Therefore, it wasn't going to be just any coffee shop, but rather one that aligns with my values, a place where guests know they are in good hands. I see a great link between coffee, connecting people and practicing rituals in daily life. The process of preparing and serving the perfect coffee of the day – extremely refined and polished – was what motivated me to become part of the specialty coffee scene and I was determined to bring coffee to the next level.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your role at Refinery?

I am one of two co-founders of Refinery High End Coffee and that means I’m always multitasking. Every day brings many new discoveries, lessons and knowledge to learn while we develop our team, products and service. I endlessly share my caffeine filled routine with my team and consciously try to melt the hierarchy or cliché attitude about precise roles. My favourite part of day is when I serve coffee to our guests, have a chat with them and together we create a great atmosphere at Refinery.
refinery specialty coffee shop berlin

What makes Refinery unique? What is the philosophy behind it?

Refinery High End Coffee stands for the highest standards within the specialty coffee scene. We collaborate with local and international roasters who have established a very close connection with the farmers, support the community and bring out the positive impact on the society. Transparency, sustainability and knowing the origins are values that drive Refinery. We are thrilled to currently serve beans roasted by Norway’s famous Tim Wendelboe, which is a novelty in Berlin’s third wave coffee scene. One of the most exciting developments is our unique approach aiming towards innovating specialty coffee retail. We want to bring specialty coffee closer to the people, into their homes, so they only have the best coffee and they know how to prepare it themselves. We do believe in consciousness and awareness of what is purchased and consumed, which requires a consideration of the origins, where the coffee came from, who cultivated it and how the local communities are set up.

Our focus on quality also extends to the tools we use for brewing and serving coffee. Espresso is prepared on a three-group Keys van der Westen Spirit, selected for its accurate temperature control and pressure profiling per group head. A set of Mazzer Robur grinders preps coffee for the Spirit while a Mahlkönig EK 43 provides the perfect grind for a line of Hario V60s.

Is there somebody in the coffee industry you look up to? If so, why?

The Swedish barista champion Anne Lunell, co-founder of Koppi Fine Coffee is extremely ambitious and I think it’s great how she built up her business. She is a great example for a woman with a strong focus on goals and future achievements. Joanna Alm and Stephen Leighton, coffee entrepreneurs and owners of Drop Coffee, constantly highlight the transparency and sustainability importance in specialty coffee while crafting to perfection their preferred taste profile. They are great travelers also and that is always very inspiring!

You’ve mentioned the barista champion Anne Lunell, who has both competed and judged in coffee competitions. That brings me to a topic that is often discussed in the specialty coffee industry: the equal representation of gender in competitions. Any thoughts on why we see more men competing than women?

Leadership, entrepreneurship and business development are commonly perceived as male dominated fields, however, I am gratefully excited to see, hear and experience that this is changing. Berlin is a great place to reverse stereotypes, have challenging discussions around gender issues and encourage a redefinition of discourses. Looking at the future of women in the specialty coffee scene more particularly, I am certain that surfacing achievements by all members of the specialty coffee industry will support a change in paradigm sooner or later.  

tansel özbek refinery coffee berlin

In terms of creating an equal work environment in the specialty coffee industry, how could it be achieved or what could be improved?

Achieving equality in any society starts from the individual: it takes self-reflection, personal and interpersonal analysis and strong values in both personal and professional fields. Although one person alone cannot create change, he or she can inspire others to contribute to it. As a result, exposure to public discussions, debates and open storytelling about personal experiences is key. People are stronger together, so if we want to drive change it takes encouragement of people to share their aspirations and thoughts freely and openly.

For my part, I’d love to work together with women more and sometimes it is just a lack of confidence that stands between them and their goals. What matters most to me as an employer is the motivation to do a great job, regardless of the experience one has. Therefore, we offer all staff to learn on the job and to take part in training. We are working on an extensive training module that brings all team members to the same level and gives them the opportunity to constantly develop and become great baristas. This is one example for how we ensure equality in the work place.

What are your aspirations for the future?

The future is now and we’ll bring to life a new specialty coffee retail concept in less than a month! We are extremely excited to invite the third wave coffee community and all coffee enthusiasts to experience our second Refinery location, which is a result of passion, hard work, creativity and bravery to innovate and make some buzz in Berlin’s coffee scene. Something else we look forward to are upcoming cooperations with Refinery friends, like Made.com and Mindspace. We bring people together who are equally excited about creating something new, innovative and contemporary.

I see great relationships being built between farmers, roasters, coffee shops and customers in the specialty coffee community. Our main stimulant for the future is tightly connected to the community’s shared values, such as social responsibility and quality standards, which is why one project will be to visit places of origins with our team in the near future.

What’s your favorite kind of coffee and brewing method?

Filter is one of the best ways to experience a good coffee. My favourites are Kenyan or Ethiopian coffee which offer an excellent balance of citric flavor, acidity and body. If I have a choice, I always go for a V60 hand brew.

Thank you, Tansel!

Check out my guide to Berlin specialty coffee shops here.