Most fathers want to pass life lessons onto their sons. In Fabian Berndt’s case one most of these lessons involved coffee. ‘I wasn’t so into coffee before,’ he admits. ‘In fact, I didn’t really drink it at all. But as my expertise has grown … well, now I drink about half a litre a day.’
Berndt’s father, Andreas, is the founder of Hannoversche Kaffeemanufaktur (Hanover Coffee), a young business that is helping to educate the city’s citizens and cultivate a finer appreciation of quality beans. Andreas was a manager at various big companies before he began to roast coffee beans as a hobby – three years ago the hobby became a business. ‘He thought it would still be more of a hobby and offer a laid-back life,’ says Fabian, the company’s spokesman. ‘But business has picked up very quickly.’
All in the details
Indeed, this self-described micro-roaster now produces some 35 tonnes of ground coffee each year, with 20 different coffee types on offer, incorporating beans grown on some of the world’s premium estates in 13 countries including Ethiopia, Guatemala and India. And that is some achievement, given that a clean drum roasts just 15 kilogrammes at a time. But that is all part of Hanover Coffee’s quality control.
Mass-market roasters often roast beans at very high temperatures and at high speed, taking anywhere from five minutes to just 90 seconds per batch. In contrast, Hanover Coffee roasts at a much lower temperature over a longer period of time, all the better to remove the acids that can cause upset stomachs and to preserve the 1,000 or so different aroma compounds present in coffee.
‘That’s more than in wine,’ Fabian Berndt notes. ‘And it really does come down to the details. A batch roasted one morning might take 22 minutes, but the same batch could take 25 minutes in the afternoon, because atmospheric conditions are different. The only way you can make good coffee is by involving people who have a feel for the flavour, aroma and colour they’re after. You can’t do it by machine.’
A long tradition of coffee drinking
The process of educating customers also takes time. Germany had some 5,000 independent roasters 30 years ago, but most were slowly squeezed out by mass manufacturers. Now the country has around 1,000 and the industry is growing – Hanover Coffee has been very deliberately driving this point home by proudly naming itself after the city in which it was founded, and even using a local landmark in its logo.
‘It would have been very easy to have given the company a south Mediterranean, faux Italian-sounding name – but my family is from Hanover and we wanted to stress where the coffee was from,’ says Berndt. ‘That there is even an interest in coffee here in Germany surprises some people because, unlike, say, France and Italy with their love of espresso, Germany is not typically associated with coffee.’
As he points out, there is actually a long tradition of coffee drinking in both Germany and Austria, particularly in Vienna, where his father underwent some intensive training. ‘In fact, we now drink more coffee than either water or beer. And it’s easy to convert people back to good coffee if we can only get them to taste it.’
Cooked not burnt
Hanover Coffee specialises in a roast known as the Wiener roast; rather than the harder-hitting, sometimes ‘burnt’ flavour of the Italian roast, the Wiener, depending on the beans used, gives a lighter, more complex drink. People sometimes think the Italian method is the only way to prepare coffee, says Berndt. ‘But for us it’s like preparing meat – you don’t want that burnt either. You want it cooked.’
Attitudes to coffee are becoming more discerning all the time, he says – in line with a general shift towards the consumption of quality over quantity. ‘There was a time not long ago when most people in Germany would have thought of coffee chiefly as that dark liquid you drink to keep you awake,’ he says. ‘Now they understand that it can be enjoyed as a connoisseur product like any other – and one of our jobs is to get that message across.’
Those who have heard the message and make it to Hanover Coffee might be surprised to find that, unlike in other coffee houses, coffee is the only item on sale. And what would Berndt recommend? Try the Melange Hanovera – a blend of several different single origin coffees, blended after roasting. Or there is the Espresso Classico, ideal for those who use an espresso machine at home and like a good classic cappuccino – ‘because you get a good coffee taste through the milk, whereas often that flavour is lost,’ he explains. ‘And if you take this much trouble to get the roasting right, you don’t want to lose the flavour.’