Berlin’s Baristas: Shawn Barber


Berlin’s coffee scene has been exploding over the last few years. It’s fantastic! So I figured it’s time to go to some favorite baristas and ask them a few questions. Starting this mini series Berlin’s Baristas today is Shawn Barber, who (along with his partner in crime Chris Onton) kindly provides me with a delicious cup of flat white just about every day.


Companion Coffee logo


Tell us about yourself and your shop!

My name is Shawn Barber I am co-owner of Companion Coffee. I’ve been working with coffee for 10 years. Mostly in Canada where I first learnt about coffee and went on to help various businesses open cafes or to develop their current offering. I opened Companion in January of 2013 with long time friend and collaborator Chris Onton. We shared a lot of similar ideas about coffee, service and ethics. Tired of working for places we struggled to get behind ethically we wanted to branch out to do our own thing that we could be proud of. Companion is a Berlin based coffee and tea business with a focus on quality traceability. We offer training as well as our range of directly sourced tea to other cafes, catering for events, and operate a small cafe in Kreuzberg.


Chris hard at work providing coffee for a few hundred people at UIKonf 2014.


What brought you to Berlin?

I came to Berlin years ago as a tourist and ended up sticking around to help kick start the non-existent Berlin coffee scene. With my consulting background I was offered a gig to help local a business man realize his dream of owning a cafe. Once that was over and I was back in Canada I found myself missing Berlin and it’s laid back ways. When I got an email asking if I would consider returning to put together a coffee roaster I jumped at the opportunity. Shortly after returning I left that project to do Companion.

What is your signature drink?

I don’t know if I really have a signature drink… At the Cafe we offer a rotating selection of espresso from various roasters. I think over thirty high end roasters in the last year alone. So I guess I pride myself on a well extracted espresso.



Your current…

…favorite roast? I have a hard time picking a favourite roast or roaster. I will say that in the last few months Workshop from London and Square mile (also London) have been putting out some very consistent product. German based I like JB Kaffee and Five Elephant. I am also very excited about a Paris based roaster called Belleville who have been getting better and better ever since opening about ten months ago.


…favorite piece of kit? Well, I always like a good grinder. I think its the most important instrument in making good coffee. The new Nuova Simonelli grinder called Mythos 1 is brilliant.


…coffee at home? I do filter coffee at home. I use a Baratza grinder and a Hario V60 with a Bona Vita temp-controlled gooseneck kettle and naturally a set of scales.

I also drink a lot of tea at home. Something I have been really getting into the last year is quality tea. Not in a classic history based “let’s drink tea man” but in a more serious scales and thermometer sort of way. I really respect the process of tea and see it getting a lot more attention in the years to come as a culinary item.

A memorable experience with a customer?

I have to say at our shop we are very lucky to have a lot of great customers. We are not that easy to find and have a pretty limited offering. As a result most people who come do so for exactly what we do well. One great moment that pops to mind was on a consulting gig. We had helped them set up a coffee bar in their office about a month before and done a series of trainings. I went by to make a change to their grinder and ended up having one of the best espressos I’ve had all year made for me by one of the guys.

Any announcements or notes you’d like to share?

I don’t know if I really have any announcements… One thing I am really excited about is tea. We are waiting for new packaging to be designed for our tea and once it’s complete we will have six new teas on offer. These are teas I’m really pumped about and feel will mature and evolve our current offerings.


Learn more about Companion:

Visiting Berlin? Check out these restaurants.


For those visiting Berlin, here’s a few all time favorite restaurants of mine. Absolutely personal list, I don’t claim that this is complete by any means. Unless noted otherwise, they’re all pretty much down-to-earth, low-to-mid price restaurants with meal prices ranging from 8-20 Euros. Also, please note that it’s not uncommon for restaurants in Berlin not to accept credit cards, so make sure to bring cash.

View Restaurants in Berlin in a larger map

Cocolo Top-notch ramen in Mitte. Never having been to Japan, Cocolo serves hands-down the best ramen I’ve ever had. I’m told it’s also an insider tipp for Japanese expats and travelers. It’s tiny, so expect to be standing in line for a while. Also, after you finished your meal, be fair to the others in the line and give up your table quickly. There’s very decent bars in the neighborhood. [Foursquare link]

Schwarzwaldstuben Quite popular with the tourist crowd but still great, Schwarzwaldstuben serve south German specialties. (Schwarzwald = Black Forest). I grew up in that region and vouch for authenticity. Strangely enough, recently they also started serving Bavarian beer in 1 liter beersteins. That shouldn’t stop you from going. For larger groups make sure to reserve a table. [Foursquare link]

3Schwestern Located in a former hospital-turned-squat-house-turned-art-space-turned-whatever it is it has turned into, and right on the spot where the annual Kreuzberg riots used to start, you’ll find a large restaurant that serves excellent meals – Pan-European maybe? French- or German-inspired? It really depends, but it’s always great. If you plan on spending lunch in a nice garden, or have dinner before going to see a movie in the open air theater next door, this is the place. They also cater to large groups easily. [Foursquare link]

Nansen Located right on the canal in Kreuzkölln (the hip northern tip of Neukölln that probes into Kreuzberg), Nansen serves German food on a high level and a strong focus on organic and vegetarian food. [Nansen]

Santa Maria/Santa Peligro Until just a few years ago, decent Mexican food was hard to find in this town. The Santa* Maria mini chain changed that and kicked off a whole wave of Mexican and Californian food. My two faves out of them: Santa Maria for lunch, Santa Peligro for dinner. Don’t miss the Margaritas. [Foursquare links: Santa Maria, Santa Peligro]
* Thanks for the hint, Parker!

Hot Spot Don’t be deceived by the generic name and awkward location. This place serves fantastic Szechuan food (numbing spice! yum!) and the staff can recommend the perfect German white wine to go with it. I once stumbled upon this place through a New York Times article and I promise: it’s worth the detour. [Foursquare link]

Cookies Cream A tad bit more prices and a lot more stylish, Cookies Cream is a vegetarian-only, absolutely delicious restaurant on top of Cookies, the famous Berlin club. Enter through a hotel backyard among trash cans, this is not a place you’d randomly stumble into. Ring the bell, find your way through the corridors. And you’ll be awarded with fantastic food and great service. [Foursquare link]

Kreuzburger There are many great burger places in Berlin. One of my favorites is Kreuzburger in the heart of Kreuzberg. Serving everything in regular or fair trade, burgers (make sure to add extra bacon, although veggie options are also available) is pretty much a greasy hole in the wall, but in the best sense of the word. It’s tiny, it’s always packed, and it’s yummy. The perfect way to kick of a long night of bar hopping in the hood. [Foursquare link]

Babanbe & Co Co Banh Mi, the Vietnamese flavor of sandwiches, have been going strong in Berlin for the better part of a year. The trend was probably kicked off by Co Co in Mitte, but Babanbe in Kreuzberg is also exquisite. Expect baguette bread with a yummy filling of beef, mushrooms or tofu, served with a variety of sauces. Sandwiches have never been better. [Foursquare links: Babanbe, Co Co]

Kimchi Princess We’ve had many good group dinners at this Korean BBQ place. Expect to leave hours later smelling like someone BBQ’d something in front of you (duh!), stuffed and with a happy, happy glow on your face. If you dare, venture through the fried chicken place next door after dinner (where during the day Angry Angry Chicken Wings are served) and go through the back door to find a well-hidden, slick Korean cocktail bar that transports you straight to the neon-lit back alleys of Seoul where you can indulge in Soju-based cocktails. [Foursquare link]

I missed your fave? Send me more in the comments! Also, any Indian or Sushi places not to be missed?

I’ll be updating and extending this list as I go along.

Update: Check out this fantastic list of the best coffee shops in Berlin by Parker.

Our company name: Third Wave


Bonanza Coffee Heroes

We thought long and hard about a name for our new company, and I think we found a good one – it certainly resonates with us, if that’s any indicator. The name is “Third Wave“. Why that name?

Third Wave

In coffee culture, Third Wave is the philosophy that says the very best coffee comes from focusing on simplicity, best ingredients and letting the coffee speak for itself.

We at Third Wave believe that great coffee and digital strategy have a lot in common. A good strategy is as pure as possible, based on in-depth knowledge, experience and craftsmanship. And in the end it should spark great conversations, just like coffee.

That is why we work closely with you to develop strategies for digital communication and beyond, provide trend scouting and research, and create inspirational events.

There are a number of other things referred to as “third wave” (Wikipedia). Our inspiration, though, was clearly third wave coffee, as it’s celebrated in spectacularly good coffee shops like Bonanza’s.

It’ll be a few weeks before we launch our website. Feel free to talk to any of us directly, though, if you’d like to work with us or bounce some ideas. You’ll find our email addresses on the temporary website or you can just ping me directly.

Notes on Copenhagen & Ersatz Reboot Conference


Ersatz Bike by Sten Jauer

So, no Reboot conference this year. However, a small team stepped up to organize Ersatz Conference for those who crave a shot of Copenhagen this time of the year. (Guilty as charged.) So Igor and I headed over to beautiful CPH and spent a few days there and took a short break from day-to-day work. Ersatz was just the excuse we had been looking for.

Just a few notes about the trip.

First of all: Thanks, thanks and thanks to Claus Dahl for spearheading the efforts to have Ersatz. Thanks also to the whole crew at Ersatz for switching to English during the conference to allow Igor and me to participate. (Along with Gernot Poetsch, we were the only non-locals.) Thanks to all participants for sharing their stories. Thanks to Steffen Christensen, Thomas Mygdal and Mark Jensen for giving us the tour of the new 23 offices and for Mark’s guided tour through the city – great fun!

The conference was an intimate, personal affair. Great stuff actually: Over BBQ and brunch there was plenty of time to share stories and insights, in workshops we could go more formal where needed. Igor and I gave a variation of the talk “Playful Cities” that Igor and Johannes had given before. And found out that quite a number of the projects we showed in the talk are already more or less implemented in Denmark, at least to some degree. I joked that Denmark might be living in the future already and nobody had noticed; in hindsight, I’m wondering if there’s more truth to it than I thought at the moment.

But Copenhagen has more to offer than conferences, and with a few days on our hands we went about finding the best third wave coffee in town. And boy, did we find good coffee. There are two places I’d like to highlight:

First, Ricco’s. Ricco’s is a mini chain, kind of a four-store franchise, and it’s just like an urban coffee shop should be: nice, relaxed atmosphere, intense and interested baristas who care to help you find the best you might want to have, and, well, delicious coffee. Great, absolutely fresh snacks, too. It’s a pleasure. I was only at one of the shops, but I’m sure they’re all great.

Second, Kaffe & Vinyl. This is an entirely different atmosphere, but just as great. In its tiny-ness it might even be more social. Kaffe & Vinyl, like the name indicates, is a coffee shop & vinyl store. You get to listen to and buy a small, but on first glance very decent selection of records – which are also the source of the music played in store, of course – and an even smaller but equally good selection of caffeinated products. The shop is clearly a labor of love, and it shows. Folks cue up and don’t mind waiting a few minutes to get a cuppa and then sit mostly outside in the sun as there is space for no more than a few inside at any time. While I was there I ended up chatting with a few folks, one of them claiming that besides Bonanza Coffee Heroes (my favorite Berlin coffee shop) and Coffee Collective, Kaffe & Vinyl might be the best coffee shop in Europe. Quite a claim, and there are too many coffee shops in Europe I haven’t checked out (yet), but it’s certainly not crazy to assume that there’s a spot at the top with Kaffe & Vinyl’s name on it. I didn’t make it to Coffee Collective this time, but hey, there’s always a next Reboot and thus a chance to check them out.

Anyway, long story short: Next time your in Copenhagen, make sure to grab a cup at each of those!

Image: Ersatz Bike by Sten Jauer

Likemind: Friday, 9am


It’s the 3rd Friday of the month, and that means: It’s Likemind time! Over free coffee (donated by a gracious, yet-to-be-determined sponsor) we’ll have great conversations and meet interesting folks who work for the internets & in the creative field.

Ever since Henrik Berggren and the Soundcloud Crew kickstarted Likemind in Berlin a few months ago, it’s been a great occasion to have a really good start into your Friday. (Thanks, guys!) Henrik moved back to Sweden, so Thomas Praus and I are stepping in. We’ll be organizing Likemind Berlin from now on, and I’d love to see you at the next Likemind. Which happens to be this Friday, starting at 9:00 (in the morning, that is).

See you Friday!

What: Free coffee & great conversations Where: St Oberholz Where exactly? Here. When: Friday, 20 March 2009 Can I connect any other way? Yes, you can. Here’s our Facebook group.

ps. If you’d like to sponsor this round (it’s really not a major expense), please drop me a line (peter at thewavingcat.com). You won’t regret it.