“Komm, lass uns einen Kaffee trinken” is a phrase you’ll often hear in Germany, meaning “Come, let’s have a coffee”. Coffee culture in Germany is rich and thriving, tracing its roots back hundreds of years. But what do we mean when we say “German coffee”? After all, no coffee is grown in Germany and has to be imported. Coffee in German culture then is more about roasting, flavor preferences, and unique ways to consume this amazing drink.
History of Coffee in Germany
The first German coffeehouses were established in the North Sea ports in the mid- to late 17th century. Interestingly, the drink was first referred to by its English name ‘coffee’ until the Germans adopted the French ‘café’ to become the German ‘kaffee’ which is still used today. The popularity of coffee in Germany soared in the 18th century and was widespread among the upper classes.
Perhaps the biggest contribution from Germany to the coffee world was the invention of the humble paper filter. The first disposable paper filters were made and sold by a German woman named Melitta Bentz from Dresden in the early 20th century. The story goes that she was sick and tired of coffee grounds in her cup (understandably, not many like ‘gritty’ coffee) and grabbed blotter paper from her son’s schoolbooks lying nearby. She strained her boiled coffee through this, and the rest is history. The business, named Melitta after her, remains in the family to this day and employs over 4000 people, generating close to USD 2 billion in revenue.
The electric drip brewer was also invented by a German, named Gottlob Widmann in 1954. Clearly, Germany has played an important role in shaping brewing and roasting techniques over the centuries.
Germany Coffee Culture
Every country and region has its own relationship with coffee and Germany is no exception. So, what does it mean to drink coffee German-style?
The first thing you need to know is that German tastes tend to be mild, and this extends to their coffee as well. German roasts tend to be lighter than a French or Vienna roast, and this is probably why people can consume so much coffee in one day. Germany is one of the largest consumers of coffee in Europe and is the largest importer of coffee in the EU. Kaffeeklatsch is a treasured tradition of catching up with friends for snacks and coffee.
The most popular German coffee brand is Dallmayr, which produces mild and understated Arabica coffee. Their roasting palette appeals to German sensibilities, and they are known for their consistency from bag to bag.
The Coffee Industry in Germany
Germany is a key hub for coffee imports and re-export in Europe, controlling up to 50% of green coffee re-exports in 2019. The biggest markets for re-export from Germany are Poland, the United States, and Spain. The Netherlands, France, and the Czech Republic are significant markets as well. In addition to this, Germany is also heavily invested in exporting roasted coffee. They are the second-largest exporters of roasted coffee beans in Europe.
Judging by their massive exports of roasted coffee, it’s no surprise that Germany has the largest coffee roasting industry in Europe. Major roasters include the aforementioned Dallmayr and Melitta, along with Tchibo, Jacobs, and Nestle.
How to Order Coffee in German
Deciding what you want on a café menu can be daunting for many, especially in a foreign language. If you find yourself in a German café or Bäckerei, here are a few useful coffee terms you should know in German:
- Schwarzkaffee/Americano (black coffee)- this is your classic black drip filter coffee, and you can add cream or sugar as you wish.
- Milchkaffee (coffee with hot milk)- if you want something mild, go for a milk coffee made with black drip coffee and milk.
- Latte Macchiato (latte macchiato)- a creamy milk coffee.
- Cappuccino (cappuccino)- coffee with equal parts milk, foam, and espresso.
- Tee (tea)- popular in many parts of Germany, particularly in the northern regions
- heiße Schokolade (hot chocolate)- a favorite for the cold months.
Some German cafés double up as pubs so you may also see wein (wine) and bier (beer) on the menu. Coffee is customarily accompanied by pastries or cake. German café culture is understated, much like their roasts. They prefer quick, uncomplicated coffee without too much fuss and fanfare. Of course, this doesn’t mean you won’t find people lounging in cafés on a slow afternoon, but simply that coffee is viewed as a much more utilitarian drink.
Popular German Coffee Recipes
By now you may be thinking that German coffee is just bitter, dark coffee gulped down quickly. But there’s always more to coffee culture than just that. Here are three fun German coffee recipes you can try right at home:
If you need something cold, sweet, and delicious on a hot summer day, then whip up some Eiskaffee. All you need is a cold coffee, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and cocoa powder for garnishing. Brew your coffee (remember, a mild roast is preferred), let it cool down, then add it to a tall glass with the vanilla ice cream. Top with whipped cream and cocoa powder, and that’s it- your summer treat is ready!
2. Café Crème
This is a classic German coffee, popular in most local coffee shops. To make café crème, you’d need a special espresso machine with a dual filter-holder. The result is a long coffee, similar to an Americano.
3. Pharisäer Kaffee
Finally, we have the legendary German Pharisäer kaffee. This coffee traces its origin back to an ancient legend telling of Gustav Beyer, a protestant preacher from the Frisia region in north Germany. Gustav was a strict preacher who often chastised his congregation for their excessive drinking. Once during a festival, he was served coffee with whipped cream while the congregation drank shots of rum. Realizing the trickery, he exclaimed “Ihr Pharisäer!”, meaning “Pharisees!”, as a reference to the hypocrisy of Pharisees in the Bible.
Now, Pharisäer kaffee combines ground coffee, rum, sugar, whipped cream, and cocoa powder for dusting. Brew the coffee, add sugar and rum, then top with whipped cream and cocoa before drinking. Traditionally, the drink shouldn’t be stirred but has to be drunk as it is.
Beer isn’t the only good brew in Germany- coffee is an active and thriving market with its own unique culture and history. If you want to try milder roasts and value consistency in your coffee, then you can’t go wrong with some German coffee. Go in with curiosity and prepare to be surprised by the richness of German-style coffee!