I am always curious how people start their adventure with coffee.
I would say it was very incidental. I was a big coffee drinker, just like some of my employees who used to be customers. I used to live in London, near Borough Market. And it was always a quest at the time to find good bread and good coffee. Slow food famers markets started so I was really lucky. My daily coffee joint was Monmouth at Borough Market. I really liked their ethos of sourcing directly from coffee farms.
So what brought you back to Berlin?
After losing my job in finance, I thought it was a great opportunity to do something different and try out new things. I went to drama school in London but lost interest after being stereotyped for too long. After my adventure with acting, I moved to Berlin but wasn’t sure what to do next. I met my boyfriend who is running a Delikatessen with fresh regional food. He asked me to bake for him and help him out in his business. I’m from a big family, from the countryside near Holland. My mother baked and cooked a lot with ingredients from our garden. Our kitchen would be at heart of all family activities. I fully enjoyed baking and working in hospitality.
What was important to you when opening your own space?
I feel very strongly about being a specialist and having a clear identity about everything we do at THE BARN. There is already enough average out there so we push the envelope further and further in terms of quality. Always focusing on making our coffees better and better. From a very early stage, we did community events and focused on teaching and sharing knowledge. You don’t need to have a moustache and tattoos to enjoy coffee. Taste goes through all social ranks and ages. We spend a lot of time teaching our staff how to share information and “read” customers. That’s gastronomy, you want to clarify, navigate people and be friendly and helpful. People are not afraid of trying new things but sometimes they just need some guidelines. If somebody wants to get coffee with almond milk, we explain that we don’t do that as it can overpower the flavour of coffee and we suggest milk from happy cows outside Berlin.
What makes you excited about coffee?
It’s super exciting to take people on a journey and for them to explore coffee. It’s part of our discovery process. Also, I appreciate when people have different opinions or tastes. It is very personal. It is also very important to respect other views. In that sense, we are very clear about our preferences at THE BARN – so people can read us better. The more businesses are focusing on what they are good at, the more interesting the market becomes. It’s all about having your own identity, which helps building a sustainable business.
You want the product to speak for itself. Many brands spend a lot of money on advertising to push the brand but they don’t seem to pay as much attention to their product and its story. What is your approach?
THE BARN never does big advertising unless we want to support something we really like such as Standart Magazine or the World of Coffee events. Generally, we want our customers to talk about their experiences with our product. It’s all about word of mouth. I think the success of THE BARN is related to transparency and honesty. What we write on the bag is what we put inside. There is no fakery. I believe the moment you visit a coffee farm and witness all that labour that goes into growing coffee, you get a whole new approach.
With the coffee scene growing daily and new technologies being introduced, how do you look to the future?
I think there’ve always been many roasters all around us. Now, we get a new generation of roasters and hopefully they use better quality coffees. And that is good for the market. People always have different quality levels and different visions for their businesses. For me, I really want to push quality as much as possible. That keeps me passionate about what I do. It also gives me a chance to travel around the world and visit other cities and countries such as Ireland. We love the Irish Coffee Scene and we are proud to be working with many beautiful coffee people here such as Joe’s Coffee and First Draft Coffee.
I strongly believe that we can only get quality beans if we support farmers to build a sustainable business. For that we need to build healthy, long term relationships and make sure that we are paying premium prices for premium qualities. As roasters, we can only create awareness for quality coffee if we don’t cut corners.
What is your advice for people opening a coffee shop?
Be authentic and truthful to who you are and why you’re different. We’re all different and you should own it. It’s an expression of individualism. Take my advice and open a shop in your own taste. Be an expert, do something very individual. Be clear and communicate with others. Be inviting, embrace the community, and share your knowledge. I think by doing that people don’t feel pushed in a certain direction. We need to make coffee easier. Speciality coffee doesn’t require being a high-skilled barista. For example, my mother-in-law is the queen of her nursing home because she uses coffee with great aroma and taste. Everyone else there has to buy commercial coffee from the supermarket which has only one taste: Burned Chocolate. Sharing knowledge with others is important. We have got different expectations from a fast food joint and a steak house. The same thing applies to coffee. You want to teach people that so that they understand what quality coffee means.
We use three words to describe coffee: Sweet, Juicy, Clean. It’s all about clean flavours, a pleasant mouthfeel and strong sweetness. I am looking for complexity, layers and texture in a cup. I enjoy it most in an environment where I can slow down and relax from a hectic city life.
Visiting Berling this year? Make sure to visit THE BARN to say hello to Ralf and his team, and try some of their amazing roasts. Find them at Schönhauser Allee 8, 10119 Berlin.