Vanessa Remoquillo chats to Yumi Choi of Bonanza Coffee Roasters…
With her business partner Kiduk Reus, Yumi Choi started Bonanza Coffee Heroes in 2007. Hip yet serious, and competitively priced, the coffee outlet at the Mauerpark end of Prenzlauer Berg was quickly embraced by young, trendy, discriminating Berliners.
“This is the new Berlin”, a patron sweepingly remarks to friends sampling the coffee for the first time. Whatever that means, Bonanza is doing its bit representing this corner of Berlin, and is doing it very well indeed.
Bonanza Coffee Roasters (formerly Bonanza Coffee Heroes, as it still states on the sign outside) specialises in roasting but has a small, unpretentious café outlet on the side. Unlike many such hangouts in the city, it’s doubtful its adherents come here for the ambiance, since it has the appearance of an afterthought.
But its habitués genuinely don’t seem to mind the constant din of the two antique and sturdy Probat roasters, one from 1918 and another from 1950, both hard at work throughout the day; nor the sacks, crates, and plastic tubs of beans that are piled high and take up most of the floor space.
Because here it’s not the clientele or the small selection of cake and cookies that’s the draw, but the coffee. Whether in a bag or in a cup, one does not need to be a connoisseur to recognise that it’s a cut above the competition in a city literally teeming with coffee purveyors.
While Berlin has always had a coffee culture, the quality has often left much to be desired. Native Berlinerin Yumi muses: “Before, we drank garbage. Berlin was enclosed. Germans did not have a culture of indulgence. The city was not known for gourmet things. It changed through the people who moved to Berlin, as the city became more international.”
She credits a visit to London for her coffee epiphany, specifically a sample from Monmouth, known for sourcing directly from farms and cooperatives. “After that experience I couldn’t drink just any coffee,” she recalls. “It was as if I was blind and now could see. I could not go back. It was a journey of awareness of the different aspects of this everyday product.”
The result has been nothing short of a shaking-up of Berlin’s coffee scene. Bonanza roasts for, and supplies to Mitte’s Oliv Café, Prenzlauer Berg’s No Fire No Glory, and Katie’s Blue Cat down in Kreuzberg, to name a few.
“Bonanza is really small in the quantity of coffee that we move. But in terms of inspiration, we started this way of making coffee in Berlin,” asserts Yumi. “We have inspired others and also inspired innovation in the coffee business in the city.”
Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, the people behind Bonanza come from creative backgrounds. Yumi studied art, while Kiduk is a designer and a filmmaker. Outside of Bonanza, the baristas tend to be musicians, dancers, and artists.
Who walks through Bonanza’s doors? A typical customer, reckons Yumi, is “a professional, a creative, a world citizen…cosmopolitan, often multilingual, aware of food, music, and fashion; friendly and open.”
The attraction, always, remains the beans, the smell of which lures customers in from the other side of the street. Bonanza’s progressive, gentle roasting methods, lasting about five times longer than the usual, delve into the intricacies of the coffee’s flavor and draws them out. It uses boutique coffee beans that account for less than 1% of the world’s produce, for which, Yumi maintains, they pay a significantly higher premium than fair trade prices.
While the search for coffee that fits the desired flavor profile brings samples from all over the world, the mainstays are from Brazil, Ethiopia, El Salvador, and Indonesia. As of December 2011, customers can now also find single-origin filter coffees on the menu, featuring a whole range of flavors and served in special tasting cups.
While Yumi hints at expansion, she adds that the Bonanza team tends to do things in an unhurried, deliberate way. “We grow slow, but that is due to authentic self-expression. We learn a lot in the process. I would be happy if, as a company, Bonanza stays innovative and remains avant-garde, but also serves more people.”
Oderberger Strasse 35
Mon – Fri 8.30 – 19.00
Sat – Sun 10.00 – 19.00