Coffee in Cologne: From a simple pick-me-up to precision engineering
Cult coffee and cold brewing
For many years, the local Italian was the only place people could get an alternative to filter coffee. Over time, however, coffee has become a luxury product, precision-engineered from the roasting to the brewing stage. In Cologne there’s a sworn community of coffee crafters systematically working to improve the quality of their product. I took a closer look at some of the city’s cafés.
Cologne is a coffee city, with numerous roasting houses and owner-managed cafés. The transition from industrially manufactured filter coffee to high-quality speciality coffees took quite some time. But long gone are the days when the Italians with their espresso macchiato were the ones who showed how it’s done. Today, baristas can be found passionately experimenting with coffee beans, water and all the necessary apparatus in lab-like set-ups. All of them aiming to produce the perfect formula for a micro-foam latte macchiato or a cold brew. Having said that, filter coffee, which, made in the right way, needn’t leave your stomach reeling, is making something of a comeback too.
Gliss Caffee Contor
One of the pioneers of today’s coffee cult is Michael Gliss. In 2001, he became the first German to receive a certificate from a Vienna academy, declaring him a “coffee sommelier”. That same year, the trained chef opened a small shop on Sankt-Apern-Straße in Cologne, the city of his birth, where he sells high-quality, self-roasted coffee. As well as running his business, Gliss is an ambassador for #culinarycologne.
In both roles, Gliss takes a favourable view of the current coffee craze – after all, the growing interest in coffee is another sign that people in Cologne are becoming more aware of the significance of good food and drink. He does, however, attribute the origins of this trend at the beginning of the 21st century to a beverage behemoth: “Like it or not, it all started with Starbucks”, says Gliss.
However, he adds that much had already changed before then. “First”, he explains, “we lost the traditional coffee houses.” Only a few from a time long gone have survived to the present day, one of which is Café Wahlen. However, with coffee being Germany’s favourite drink, the vacuum has been filled by new places, he says: “This huge coffee wave suddenly appeared and we were able to ride atop it.”
When he says “we”, Gliss means the Cologne coffee community, which has consistently grown in size and diversity over the past few years. One prominent member is Heribert Schamong. Though his firm’s location, in the northern part of the trendy Ehrenfeld district, might make you think it’s a hip start-up, the opposite is actually true. Schamong is the proud holder of the title of “Cologne’s oldest coffee-roasting house”. The premium-quality beans are roasted in-house, in front of the customers.
Schamong explains that it was his grandfather, Josef, who opened a café in Ehrenfeld. Back then, in 1949, it was a branch of another company but the family took it over in 1960. Schamong has thus witnessed the growth of an entire district, first-hand. “Even today, people still come in and tell us that their grandmother used to shop here”, says Schamong.
Then, as today, the beans, imported from a variety of regions, were roasted by specialists using a cast-iron Probat machine. Yet, the continuation of this tradition certainly doesn’t mean time has stood still at Schamong. In fact, every new-style coffee speciality you can think of is available in the café.
To keep things that way, Schamong recruited the assistance of specialist Carlo Graf Bülow. The 32-year-old (from nearby Bonn) won the “Latte art” category in the 2018 German Barista Championship in recognition of his top-quality, creative foam work, which Schamong’s customers get to enjoy day in, day out.
Van Dyck Espressobar
A good ten years ago, Schamong was forced to watch on as a new competitor appeared on the scene in Ehrenfeld. Monika Linden and Martin Keß set up their own business, under the name “Van Dyck Kaffee”, in a former hairdressing salon on Körnerstraße. But Linden, who had spent many years running nearby Café Sehnsucht, says that instead of a hostile welcome, there was actually a present from the local top dog when they moved in. “We’ve been on first-name terms ever since and help each other out”, he explains. After all, they have a common foe: industrial coffee.
The company’s name comes from that of Flemish baroque artist Anthonis Van Dyck, who was famous for his coffee-coloured paintings. Newcomers to the coffee trade, Linden and Keß decided right from the start that organic and fair-trade products combined with first-class quality was the way to go.
Today, the Cologne duo’s coffee is served in restaurants all over Germany – not just in Cologne. Due to increased demand, the roasting facility moved to Schanzenstraße in the city’s Mühlheim district in 2016, where the rough charm of the area’s industrial past is ever present. The back rooms of this second Van-Dyck café house the company’s drum roaster, which, like Schamong’s, was made by Probat.
As Martin Keß explains, the different types of bean are slow-roasted, removing the majority of the tannins and bitterness, which often go hand in hand with mass production. But bean quality alone is not enough for the Van Dyck team. “Our young employees”, says Keß, “are total coffee freaks”. They’re always trying out new equipment and methods to raise the standard even further.
Van Dyck Espressobar
Körnerstraße 43, 50823 Cologne
Van Dyck Rösterei und Café
Schanzenstraße 36, 51063 Cologne
Other recommended roasting houses in Cologne:
Dürener Straße 123, 50931 Cologne
Web: www.koelner-kaffee.de | www.facebook.com/Kölner-Kaffeemanufaktur-1451194985182787