Our writer spent many years quenching her thirst for adventure as a travel blogger, and her adopted home town of Munich was somewhat relegated to a place of relaxation. This column gives her the chance to catch up on some of the things she missed. To our author, the café scene in a city is as essential as nightlife is to others, therefore she takes a close look at Munich's café concepts, meets young female owners and discovers very special coffee in this episode.
For me, the most important thing about sitting in a café is that it means I've arrived. Wherever that might be. I open a door, take a seat and stay for a while. I can step back and become an observer, or I can arrange to meet up with people and throw myself into social life. Visiting cafés gives me an authentic insight into the district I am in. Who are the regulars, what are people drinking, who knows whom and what are people eating? And most importantly: what does the coffee smell and taste like?
As someone who travels a lot, when I'm abroad I'm usually on the lookout for the cafés the locals frequent, and that are often undiscovered by tourists. But in Munich, I generally head for my regular favourites where the most important elements are the combination of excellent coffee with an unmistakeable feel-good vibe and authenticity. But with such a dynamic scene, it's always worth taking a look beyond your own coffee cup.
"Everyone drinks coffee in Iceland! In the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening and in the sauna."
The Munich coffee scene is colourful and diverse, and is really dynamic thanks to young and creative new blood coming in. There's the vintage-type cafés with their velvet-covered winged chairs and chandeliers on the ceiling – the teeny Café Franca in Schwabing is a wonderful example. There's the ones with an upmarket, minimalist atmosphere like Man vs. Machine in the Glockenbach district, and there's the niche cafés that are really well served – for example the Nordics represented by the Icelandic Café Blá (blá means 'blue' in Icelandic) run by Stephanie Bjarnason who, with her Nordic roots, serves up a taste of her homeland in southern Bavaria.
My fork glides through the light yoghurt cream before it hits the crumbly base. The Skyr cake tastes heavenly. I drink a mouthful of my cappuccino, lean back, and smile at the young woman sitting opposite me: Stephanie, who with Café Blá brought Icelandic culture to Munich in 2016. But what exactly does her concept entail?
"A culture that welcomes everyone. I still have fond memories of my childhood and travelling through a completely barren county until we came across a farmhouse. We'd knock on the door and be invited in for "10 drops", meaning: come in and have a coffee. And because few people associate this island in the far north with coffee, Stephanie adds: "Everyone drinks coffee in Iceland! In the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening and in the sauna."
Café Blá isn't in the district where I live, and it's not on any of my routes home either. Yet I keep finding myself back here because of its relaxed, cosmopolitan atmosphere. There'll always be someone at any of the tables who speaks English. "We have a great international mix of customers," says the owner, confirming my observation, and then goes on to explain what makes the coffee so special. It's because we use only light roasts, which means that the coffee bean is roasted in a manual and natural roasting drum process.
"The short roasting time of 10 to 20 minutes allows the fruity aromas to develop, and not the industrially common bitter compounds." The Munich coffee-roasting company Vits manages this process for the café, working closely with Stephanie, who has created her own hose brand and remains closely involved with the process.I ask her what her favourite thing on the menu is, and she replies: "Hand-filtered coffee, because I like it black with no milk or sugar. I can taste the natural aromas best that way."
I come here for a chat with Stephanie, with friends or to do some work, and often let my gaze wander over the café's simple yet unmistakeable design in shades of blue. "It's wonderful to see more and more people having the confidence to open their own café and so break through the franchise chains," says Stephanie. And I think to myself: It's wonderful here. And as for the aroma!
Café Blá, Lilienstraße 34
Also recommended: Standl 20, Café Erika, bean batter
Located in the heart of the Maxvorstadt district is Mary’s Coffee Club. Instagram's lounge, and mine as well now when I get writer's block at home and need a change of scene. Immediately noticeable are the seating areas in a powdered coral colour which, explains owner Maren Weiss with a wink, are reminiscent of an American diner. They sit in matching contrast with the hunter green wall tiles. The stylish décor not only creates a contemporary urban flair: much of what you see here is customised and hand-made, including the neon lights featuring the café's logo.
"A coffee shop 2.0 was needed, something of a balance between a café and a restaurant. A place where you can relax surrounded by a special vibe."
"The coffee cultures of New York, San Francisco and Melbourne were my biggest influences," answers Maren when I ask her what makes her café seem so cosmopolitan. You can also taste the international direction on the menu here. In the summer, there's a light Tel Aviv Bowl made up of mainly cold dishes such as fresh zucchini spaghetti and creamy hummus; when the temperatures drop, there's a tempting Indian-Pakistani masala curry on the menu. Firm favourites such as smashed avocado of course feature on the menu, and the banana bread, more of rarity on menus in Munich, is beyond delicious.
Maren Weiss wanted to close a very specific gap in the Munich café cosmos: "A coffee shop 2.0 was needed, something of a balance between a café and a restaurant. A place where you can relax, and with a special vibe." I can confirm her concept has been a success. Sitting around me are lots of young people working on their laptops, a couple of them are meeting for breakfast, and there's an upbeat atmosphere about the place. I get the feeling that the people who come here stay, and for longer than just to enjoy a quality espresso or velvety smooth flat white.
What does the young businesswoman, who also owns the Daddy Longlegs café around the corner, think of the city's café scene? "There are a lot of individual and owner-managed shops where you can buy home-made produce. A coffee culture is slowly building, and some operations now have their own roasters, for example."
The quiet and somewhat hidden location in the Amalienpassage sets Mary’s Coffee Club apart as much as its chic décor, the large terrace with awning and its house blend of coffee from a Munich roasting house. Most unusually, the breakfast menu is available all day. Which is precisely what Mary found when travelling to the big cities of the world before bringing the idea to Munich.
Mary’s Coffee Club, Türkenstraße 86A
Also recommended: Daddy Longlegs, Das Maria, Occam Deli
Stephanie Bjarnason and Maren Weiss are just two young entrepreneurs among many without whom the Munich café scene would be unthinkable today. Their motivation, love of their craft and desire to open a door and welcome international influences, including in matters coffee, define what they are doing.
Sitting alongside them are still also traditional cafés like the Luitpold, which was founded back in 1888. A place steeped in history that combines the atmosphere of its palm garden with that of the grandiose coffee house itself. Or the Café Jasmin, with its listed interior - and a favourite haunt of Mick Jagger when he's looking for some for some sweet temptations.
Sitting in the café is still like enjoying the taste of a perfect world. An island of refuge away from the hustle and bustle of the city. With a drink in your hand, which over the centuries has become a ritualistic habit. I will always be on a quest to find the city's next wonderful, interesting and most exceptional cafés. Finding them, walking though the door and spending some time there – that's the magic of these feel-good heavens.
The Tambosi, founded back in 1775 with a terrace overlooking the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshal‘s Hall) and the entire Odeonsplatz (square), is one of Munich's best-known sun terraces. In addition to the ground-floor café with access to the beer garden, a high-end Italian restaurant opened its doors on the first floor in 2018.
Interesting facts: According to a theory by the historian Rudolf Reiser, Giuseppe Tambosi, the son of Luigi Tambosi who founded of the coffee house still named after him, is allegedly the father of the two sons of King Maximilian II. The King contracted a sexually transmitted disease at Budapest's thermal baths in 1835 and so was unable to produce any offspring. If the historian Reiser is to be believed, the cellar master Giuseppe Tambosi was the father of Ludwig II.
Munich has a few roasters that supply to cafés, and some also serve their own coffee: Man vs. Machine for example, a stylise café in the Glockenbach district which offers speciality coffees exclusively. This quality seal guarantees harmonious collaboration at a high standard from the farm through to the end user. And you can taste the result! Other roasters that also offer speciality coffee include: gangundgäbe, Vits and VogelMaier.
Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg was founded in 1747 and high-quality porcelain has been produced in Munich ever since then, with contemporary artists constantly being enlisted. There are over 1000 exhibits on display in the museum at Schloss Nymphenburg (Nymphenburg Palace), including a hand-made coffee service of course.
The Dallmayr brand, after the family of the same name, has been synonymous with delicatessen since 1700 and remains one of Germany's best-known coffee brands today. The Stammhaus in the heart of the old town is always worth a visit!
A good cup of coffee needs cake that's at least equally delicious. In 2014 Katharina Mayer, aged just 24 at the time, founded the social enterprise Kuchentratsch where she brings together older people to bake cakes, and at the same time make a little money from them. Older people also deliver the cakes to companies, private customers and cafés – there are currently 35 pensioners working in the bakery, and seven full-time staff at Kuchentratsch.