It's past closing time when I arrive at the rustic location that is home to The Barn in Schönhauser Allee. Sitting in the heart of Berlin, it is one of soon to be three coffee shops that Ralf opened up since starting out in 2010. He is sitting behind large, foggy windows and greets me with a massive smile as I enter. I know a passionate coffee person when I see one, and while talking to Ralf it was clear to me why The Barn became an indispensable part of the third wave movement in Germany and abroad. But first things first - let's see how it all started, shall we?
As part of a big family Ralf grew up in rural Germany. He tells me, that he was involved in the preparation of meals early on and his mother had always been concerned about quality food on the kitchen table. It was in his very home that he first learned about hospitality as big family gatherings were the norm. With an educational background in finance, Ralf moved to London for a few years and pursued a career in acting. Surely, his experiences in London played a big role in bringing him closer to opening a coffee business. Ralf was residing near Borough Market, London's most renowned food and drink market, hence a great opportunity to train taste buds and build ties with the local coffee community.
After London came Berlin and Ralf felt it was finally time to start something of his own. In 2010 the first The Barn coffee shop opened up in Berlin Auguststraße, providing freshly baked goods and quality coffee to the neighbourhood. It comes as no surprise, that London based Square Mile Coffee Roasters hit the grinders first, followed by the ingenious Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Two years and lots of research and learning later, Ralf started to roast coffee himself. The rest is history ;-)
Like it or not, the success of The Barn is build on certain values without which the brand wouldn't be what it is today. Ralf is aware of the fact, that his way of running the business certainly isn't for everyone. I personally always appreciated The Barn for daring and experimenting with flavours. The style is Nordic, the roasts are light, and the taste profiles are eccentric and unusual. With that, the Barn is filling a niche and while they want to be inclusive, they won't abandon their puristic roots to fit in. More concretely, this means no extra hot, no milk in filter coffee and sugar is hidden in the shame corner. The front bar is fully integrated and roast profiles are constantly adjusted according to the feedback and evaluation by skilled baristas working the counter. It is this persistence. the devotion to high quality and the pushing of boundaries that has made The Barn what it is today: an icon on the specialty coffee map.
I did mention that Ralf is someone who doesn't shy away from risk, right? He is taking that approach to a whole new level this year with the opening of a third The Barn location in West Berlin. Those who know a little bit about the specialty coffee scene in Berlin will be aware that most third wave coffee shops are located in Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. We've seen very little development in more untapped neighbourhoods, such as Charlottenburg, where tradition beats trend any day. Well, that's about to change, when The Barn will open up on 4th December in the Kranzler Eck right on Kurfürstendamm. This location will be more open to creatives on laptops and digital nomads such as myself, compared to The Barn in Schönhauser Allee, where the atmosphere is more relaxed and calls for living in the moment instead of living in cyberspace. It's important to break free from the notion of 'one brand - one concept' when making a judgement about The Barn, as every location is unique and has its own philosophy.
The future sure looks promising and I hope you stay tuned - a Berlin coffee guide is in the making and I can't wait to show you the looks of The Barn 3.0.