When visiting Berlin, Daily Dose of Denim had the pleasure to have a chat with Ralf Rüller, owner of the specialty coffee bar and roastery The Barn. In a short period of time, Ralf has succeeded in creating a place dedicated to his passion and to educate Germans on the real taste of coffee. Read the interview to find out what the philosophy of The Barn is.
What is your background?
I grew up on the countryside, near the border with The Netherlands, with my mothers cake recipes and the comforting smell of coffee in the morning. My father was a postman, so he always got up early to make his first coffee of the day.
The first part of my professional life, I was in finance and I lived all over the world: Singapore, Japan, the South of Germany and London, near Borough Market. London for me was a real eye opener, as it was there where I got introduced to the concept of slow food and fresh coffee, which I found fantastic.
After my banking career, I took a shot at acting, but quickly decided it wasn’t for me, since my German accent got me type-cast a lot. One can only wear a German Armee uniform so many times :-).
So then I decided it was time for me to find something I could put my heart into and I moved to Berlin, where my boyfriend was running a delikatessen shop. I started baking, learning about hospitality from scratch. I felt like I didn’t want to compromise anymore and made the choice to start my own coffee bar, focusing on specialty coffee only. So that is how The Barn was born.
So tell me about The Barn’s philosophy.
We push for quality and we are not compromising. We want to offer the best specialty coffee around. A lot of people like it, some don’t. But we should be very clear on what we stand for and let people decide if they like it or not.
We work with farmers from all over the world and we are constantly looking for the best beans to buy. This means we are willing to pay more for premium beans. The personal contact with the farmers is extremely important to us. They should work slow and clean. For example, the beans should be covered at midday so that the sun doesn’t burn them and the farmers should pick the cherries selectively, as they are growing over 3 or 4 months and aren’t all ready to be picked at the same time.
Another thing that might be different from other roasteries is that we don’t blend our coffees, we want to offer the full flavour of a single origin bean. Our motto is ‘sweet, juicy and clean’.
This is our second shop in Berlin, we opened our first shop in Mitte and we now call it ‘The Baby Barn’. It is small and cosy and we offer a different menu there. We really want to adopt the neighbourhood we are located in. That is why The Barn (in Prenzlauer Berg) is spacious and quiet, there is no music playing. People come here to enjoy their coffee, to write, to have a meeting. Laptops can only be used in the Media Area so that the main part of the space is for customers to connect right there and not in cyber space.
The menu at The Barn is pure and reduced. You won’t find any lattes or cappuccinos on it, we only talk about the espresso and milk quantities. We try to serve black, to get the real taste of coffee. If people want milk to go with it, we can offer them full fat cow milk from a biodynamic farm just outside of Berlin.
How would you describe the coffee scene in Germany?
After the commercialisation of coffee in the 60ies and 70ies and the rise of espresso bars in the 90ies, there wasn’t much good coffee around. The introduction of Starbucks was helpful in many ways for coffee bars like The Barn. Thanks to Starbucks, people were willing to pay more for a decent cup of coffee.
However, Germans are not always very open to new things, they are sometimes hard to turn. In a lot of German cities, people like their coffee more ‘ashy’ than the coffee we are serving. We take pride in ‘educating’ people that are stopping by The Barn. At our brew bar, we take the time to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it this way. We noticed that Germany is slowly waking up.
The coffee community in Germany is also getting bigger and consists of people working on different levels. In general, it is a friendly community, but it also remains a business. However, we do share a lot of information to help people make better coffees.
Let’s talk beans.
Most of our beans are exported outside of Germany. We roast on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then ship the beans, so that people get it by Friday. We mainly export to Europe, but our beans are also sold in Vancouver, Hong Kong, New York,…
I have an amazing team of people for roasting and we all work on the same level. We are probably one of the only roasters who have such a strong affinity with the baristas. We ask them to taste, try, write everything down and give us feedback. That’s how we try to create one signature.
Do you have a favourite coffee country?
I love all my children, so that’s a tough question. I think maybe I love Kenya the most, as my first cup of ‘real’ coffee was made from Kenyan cherries. I remember the taste of cherries and hibiscus, it was a true revelation.