For American ex-pat Kris Schackman and his Austrian partner Sophie Weigensamer, coffee is a serious business. For their hugely successful Berlin café Five Elephant Coffee they source directly from farmers, roast the beans themselves on-site and meticulously measure water filtration to achieve the perfect brew. Since opening Five Elephant in 2010, the duo have […]
For American ex-pat Kris Schackman and his Austrian partner Sophie Weigensamer, coffee is a serious business. For their hugely successful Berlin café Five Elephant Coffee they source directly from farmers, roast the beans themselves on-site and meticulously measure water filtration to achieve the perfect brew. Since opening Five Elephant in 2010, the duo have become part of a dynamic coffee scene in Berlin, and now sell their coffee to several other cafés in the city, not to mention they can boast another outpost of their own in the recently opened 25Hours Bikini Berlin Hotel. And it’s not just the coffee that draws customers back again and again. Their Philadelphia-style cheesecake has become so highly sought after that non-locals flock to the neighborhood of Kreuzberg just for a taste of this creamy wedge of joy. ANDIE CUSICK
Kris and Sophie, could you tell us about coffee in Berlin?
It’s so exciting to see quality coffee catch on here in Germany and Europe. When we opened in 2010, I could count the roasteries on one hand that were roasting coffee we really liked. Today there are so many more who are focusing intensely on quality. It’s nice to see it start to mature and for us all to now be able to have a common dialogue with our customers about coffee.
Tell me about yourselves and how Five Elephant came about.
Sophie: Kris is originally from Massachusetts. After studying communication in film at UMASS, he moved to New York City where he worked as a location manager and director for movies and commercials.In 2008 he moved to Berlin, where he produced and directed a comedy show before we decided to open Five Elephant together in December 2010.I grew up in Vienna, Austria, and started to work as a stylist and makeup artist for fashion and commercial photography after school. In 2003 I decided to move to Berlin where I kept working as a makeup artist for music videos and TV commercials.Around 2006 I started to bake homemade cakes for two cafés in Berlin. After a few years the request for cakes got so high that we decided to combine it with roasting coffee, starting Five Elephant.
Where in Berlin do you live and work?
Kris: Sophie and I live three blocks from the cafe/roaster in the Kreuzberg area of Berlin. Sophie has been here for about 10 years and me for six. It’s in the corner of the old West Berlin, basically surrounded by the former East. The people here are great and we have a truly diverse customer base and neighbors.
What do you look for when sourcing beans?
Our philosophy leads us to work with producers on a continual basis, year after year, when we can.What this allows us to do is to understand the region and microclimates of a producer’s farms. We look for a clarity of terroir, much like you would with wine. Each origin offers a remarkably different flavor characteristic. For example, over-fermented and pulped flavors can give off an ammonia-like cherry ferment flavor that is pungent and too fruity. At the moment we are very much into crisp, clean, and transparent flavors… clean and complex in more subtle ways. That is not to say that this is what we will always looks for—as with wine, there are constantly new ways of production and experiencing coffee and for that we like to keep an open mind.
Could you tell us about some of the coffee farms you work with?
We have close relationships with a collective in Brazil called Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, which is led by Marcos Croce and his two sons Daniel and Felipe. Marcos’ wife Silvia Barretto owns the farm and is working hard on organic coffee processes there. One of the members of this collective, Joao Hamilton and Ivan Dos Santos own a small farm called Sítio Canaã, which has been producing remarkable naturally processed coffee; we are leaving this week for São Paulo to visit the farm again and cup this year’s harvest for our selections.
In Ethiopia we have been buying coffees called Bifdu Gudina and Wote. They are a blend of hundreds of farmer’s small lots of coffees and we work with a green coffee buyer who has someone tasting all the coffee coming out of the cooperatives or private mills so we can consistently secure great coffee, which is difficult to do in Ethiopia.
In El Salvador we work with the mill Las Cruces, which is owned by Jose Antonio Salaverria and run by his two sons Andres and Jose Antonio Jr; they are producing some of the best quality coffee in the region. Also in El Salvador we work with Guillermo “Epe” Alvarez and his farm Malacara; he never had coffee for us until this year, when he sent us some rare African variety he has been growing in El Salvador.
Besides these farms, we have also been buying from Burundi, Kenya and from Costa Rica.
How do you recommend drinking coffee—from grinding beans, press/brew options through to serving?
Kris: Almost room temperature filter coffee, prepared with a Hario or Kalita, is the best for me although both Sophie and I enjoy cappuccinos in the morning sometimes. We have been using an EK43 grinder in the shop for filter coffee and some espresso shots and with this grinder you can extract a lot more of the coffee and it tastes really great. With the same extraction on another grinder, it would suffer. Coffee is like that: You experiment and see what works by how it tastes.
Now about that cheesecake: why cheesecake and where did this recipe stem from?
Sophie: Cheesecake… Kris’ mother gave us this recipe shortly after we opened in 2010. It was from Kris’ grandmother who used to bake the cake when he visited Philadelphia growing up. She used to make it twice a thick as my adjusted recipe. It’s a Philadelphia regional style, which is much fluffier than the New York style.The cake kinda got out of control in popularity; we are all still surprised to see how many people come in and take photos of themselves eating it!
What are your favorite places to go to in Berlin when you’re not working?
Kris: We both like it out at Grunewaldsee; we walk around and look at what we like to call Doggie Heaven. There are a lot of dogs there and it’s just relaxing to watch them. We also like jogging around the amusement park at Treptower Park. But our favorite thing in the summer is to go to a lake about 45 minutes north of Berlin that has some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. There’s lots of swimming there and it’s in the forest, so it sort of reminds me of home in Massachusetts.
And what’s next for Five Elephant?
We just expanded our roastery with the addition of our CR25 Diedrich roaster, so our capacity has grown quite a lot. And with quite low international shipping costs our sales have grown… we are amazed to see where people are buying our coffee from! In the past week alone, we have printed out postage for Taiwan, Turkey, Panama… people are all somehow finding us.
For more information and to order Five Elephant coffee, see fiveelephant.com