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Cologne’s specialty coffee pioneer Ernst is growing up

Cologne’s specialty coffee pioneer Ernst is growing up

Two years since the last feature, Ernst is back with elegant new packaging that pays hommage to its outstanding coffees.

There was a time when I regularly visited Cologne either to see my father who lived there for most of the last four decades, or my grandmother and aunt who live/d just outside of Germany’s fourth biggest city. I say live/d because my dear grandmother passed away last year at age 96. She was a remarkable human who always saw the good in people. Now, my father lives near Hamburg and my aunt is often travelling.

During those previous visits, I made it my mission to always stop at Ernst Kaffeeröster to either grab a coffee or to spend some time with Maren Ernst who founded the business back in 2014 at a time when specialty coffee was still largely a curiosity. In her previous jobs, she worked for large consumer goods companies including coffee behemoth Douwe Egberts. Coffee was practically already flowing through her veins, it just wasn’t the kind of coffee that sparks joy in us specialty coffee lovers.

Taking matters into her own hands was a risky move, especially since Cologne had practically no third wave coffee scene to speak of then. Only Berlin and, to some lesser extent, Hamburg had some specialty coffee companies that were shaking up the habitual. This did not deter Maren from jumping into the deep end and as her success has proven, being passionate, accessible and committed to the highest quality will eventually pay off.

Outside of Ernst’s new coffee bar in Sülz
Preparing delicious coffees

Over the years, Maren and I developed a close friendship and she has been a regular guest roaster in our Coffeevine boxes practically since the beginning. We last saw each other in person when she had just opened her second coffee shop in the Sülz neighbourhood, only a few kilometers away from the original on the Bonnerstrasse.

Much has happened since. The other day, I caught up with her via video call a few days after the madness of Carneval, which technically starts in November but culminates with the Rosenmontagsumzug, lots of alcohol, singing and candy being thrown at you from passing trucks. Maybe not surprisingly, Maren was feeling a bit under the weather.

I asked her if she loved the festivities to which she said: “Yes and no. I usually hate the run-up to it but then our friends from Munich come to town and for those days it’s always super fun. The aftermath is less enjoyable when everyone gets sick and you feel like you got runover by a truck.”

Opening the new coffee bar last year was a big step for Maren though she previously insisted on many occasions that she’d never open a second location. I still remember wandering around Cologne with her musing about the future and her assuring me that this was completely out of the question. And then, bam. When she was unexpectedly offered a space that was too good to be true, she simply couldn’t resist.

“Coffees that are super floral are exactly what we want to stand for.” – Maren Ernst

Compared to the first shop that also functioned as the roastery for many years, the second café has a completely different look and feel. It’s all custom-made stone features, warm colours, modern interiors and comes with a big terrace. “We’re still trying to get used to this situation,” Maren confessed. “You’d think people in the area would know who Ernst is but it turns out that this neighbourhood is completely different. Having this big terrace is such a massive change for us and we notice that whenever there is even the slightest hint of sunshine, we’re immediately running around like headless chickens.”

Maren took the opportunity of opening her new café to also update her packaging, giving her bags a more elegant and refined look and feel that now properly matches the coffees inside. She always wanted to work with the highest quality coffees she could find and remains undeterred in her quest to make specialty coffee accessible to more people and yet, she also had to deal with some locals suspecting Ernst of being elitist. That motivated Maren and her team to host cuppings and other events that are free for the public and that allows people to get a better understanding of what Ernst stands for.

She’s not usually someone to rush into things though the second café happened rather unexpectedly. It was only this year that Ernst sourced its first-ever Geisha, a carbonic macerated coffee from Diego Barraona at Los Pirineos. She had no idea how the public would respond and was surprised that the 24kg were instantly sold out. “Obviously people are keen to try new things with us and that’s really nice,” she mused.

When it comes to the coffee that Ernst will roast for our March 2023 Coffeevine box, this is an outstanding washed Rwandan coffee from Mahembe, a washing station that Ernst considers ‘state of the art’. Maren shared that this coffee was sourced via Nordic Approach and that she absolutely loves how clean, well-balanced and uniform the coffee is. “Coffees that are super floral are exactly what we want to stand for,” Maren iterated.

For us, it’s a great opportunity to show our subscribers how much Ernst has evolved over time and to give them access to this exquisite Rwandan coffee that has notes of rosehip, berries and rooibos.

Keen to get your hands on our outstanding selection for March? Make sure to visit our shop and choose your ideal Coffeevine box before 15.03. – Ships globally on 20.03

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