A few years ago I stumbled on the quote “Coffee is the best thing to douse the sunrise with” on one of those dorky inspiration pages on the internet. As cheesy as it sounds, it has stuck with me, since, as a caffeine devotee, there really is no feeling that compares to that first sip of coffee to pass through my lips first thing in the morning. Without it, I simply cannot function. Thankfully, my fix is within arm’s reach as I pass Bonanza Coffee Heroes on my way to work every day.
With a shopfront that looks like a designer’s daydream, the baby blue façade is offset by a striking neon sign in a retro cursive font. Inside, Bonanza is warm and inviting in an old-world factory kind of way. As you walk in, you see a beautiful brass-coloured roasting machine and coffee syphon and you immediately know that this is a masters’ laboratory (and not in the Berghain‘s basement kind of sense) where coffee means serious business.
You may not know, but the folks behind Bonanza were the first to bring the legendary Third Wave coffee movement to Berlin (check out our guide here). From what I understand, many people are still left scratching their heads when they hear this mysterious term. No, it is not just a name that a group of hipsters coined to differentiate between the cool and not-so-cool places to sip their java. It goes much, much deeper than that.
Yumi Choi, one half of the partnership behind Bonanza has graciously answered a few questions that have been hot on our lips for a while.
Can you tell us a little about this ‘Third wave coffee’ movement? Is this a label you always wanted to be associated and involved with?
Third wave coffee is a term the soon-to-be-wed Trish Rothgeb and Nick Cho coined in 2002 and 2005. They are two very influential, funny and trailblazing coffee personalities. Third Wave describes best what was and what still is very much going on in the high-end coffee world. It defines the paradigm shift in what coffee has become for customers, baristas, farmers and roasters. Being the first one in Germany we were just thankful to have any frame of reference.
Have you had to educate and train people to appreciate good coffee or is this something that has progressed naturally?
It was funny because at the very beginning, we attracted mostly artists, entrepreneurs, and those in the creative industry; people who by profession are daring, curious, and open to new experiences. They loved the coffee instantly! When word travelled, and people came to taste a coffee that was “different but good” we found ourselves having to explain the process as we were just too far removed from what their expectation of “good” coffee was. Humans tend to reject new things; this is quite normal and it is just how we are wired. It has definitely been a fun experience expanding people’s realities through something so “ordinary” as coffee.
It is not easy to talk about taste and flavour; we were never educated in school to express ourselves in what we experience when we eat and drink, so we tend to lack the words. Depending on our cultural backgrounds, we also have highly subjective flavour and aroma memories. Being in the business, we can explain where certain flavours come from, that might be due to the varietal of the coffee bean, the processing method after harvesting, the freshness, the roast style, the brewing, etc. But on the same token, we are still discovering, a lot has happened in the last few years and we are curious as to what will come next.
Can you tell us a little about the history of Bonanza Coffee Heroes?
Kiduk, my business partner, always wanted to call his first company Bonanza, which means ‘something that produces very good results for someone or something’. We started Bonanza in 2007 being really naive, idealistic, and stubborn. We are not trained in gastronomy; we were artists and designers. We were fascinated by coffee and we wanted to break the mold of what coffee could be.
Can you elaborate on the ‘fair trade discrepancy’ as outlined in the values statement on your website?
There is a difference between the concept of reacting to social injustice and rewarding people for their excellence. To buy because of excellence means to meet the producers as partners eye to eye. I personally think the Fair Trade concept is very interesting and important, but it doesn’t say anything about the quality of the coffee; it doesn’t make the producers proud of the very thing they deal with every day. If you travel to where the coffee is grown, you will experience the complexity and richness of proud people, old culture,s and human values. I understand for that for some, buying Fair Trade coffee comes with a feeling of guilt relief. From our perspective, we think it is better to invest in somebody because he or she is producing an excellent product that you can taste in the cup. I understand this statement will be met with criticism, but for us this is much more inspiring and worth working for.
It is for these reasons that Bonanza Coffee is bursting at the seams on a Sunday with Mauerpark’s weekly flea market just a stone’s throw away. As for the other six days? Well, they are only marginally quieter. It seems the appreciation for good coffee stretches far beyond the reaches of Prenzlauer Berg, with people commuting from all over Berlin to savour the flavour of a coffee from Bonanza. When you find a spot, check out their incredibly good selection of independent magazines to read while you treat yourself to a latte and a homemade cookie or two.
If you want go to one step further than just choosing your beans from the variety available in store, you can head to their roastery in Wedding on Tuesdays and Wednesdays if you are curious to see exactly how your coffee is produced and bagged before it ends up in your cup.