Coffee Insurrection Hero: Chapter #2 Ralf Rüller
1- Introduce yourself: who are you, where are you from, where do you work and what’s your job.
Hi, I’m Ralf, I’m German and I’m the founder and CEO of “The Barn Coffee Roasters” in Berlin.
2- When and why did coffee become important to you?
Well, coffee was always important to me as a consumer, especially remembering my time back … well, if I dig deep, in my childhood I was waking up smelling coffee. My father was a postman and he got up really early and he drank quite a bit of coffee before he started his work. Later on, I worked in London and every morning I passed by my coffee shop and I had a fantastic Flat White before I started working. Then, of course, I started “The Barn” in 2010 and I got obsessed with coffee.
3- Do you remember the first coffee you had that was more than “just a cup of coffee”?
My first “more than just a cup of coffee” I have to say was Tim Wendelboe’s Te-Ka-Ngu. A really, really nice coffee from Nyeri region in Kenya, and it was the first time I experienced like a mix of tomato soup and rhubarb with high sweetness. I’ll never forget that cup of coffee, it was absolutely amazing.
4- What’s your favorite thing about going to work in the morning?
The favorite thing about going to work in the morning? I love my job, I give everything, I work everyday for very long hours. Everywhere I talk about coffee, all the time I meet coffee people. They keep me energized, and I think the community in coffee is what keeps me pushing, and with community I always mean the community at source, on the farm, and the community in the cafés. I work with amazing people from more than 20 nationalities and it’s a great spirit at “The Barn”, I really love it, and we have amazing customers in the cafés.
My favorite thing to do, for which I don’t have much time anymore, is really to be in a café on a Saturday and clear the dishes and talk to customers. I really enjoy the exchange of people enjoying my coffees, giving me feedbacks, and just sharing the moment of tasting the coffee is fantastic especially when you work at the farm and you know how much work is going into each coffee that we roast. And then the roast process, and everything around it. I’m just really blessed that I work with a product and with people that I really, really enjoy.
5- What’s your favorite brewing method and why?
I brew a V60 every morning, sometimes I go for the Aeropress, but I really do enjoy a V60. I really like clean coffee, and I like the 2-3 minutes of breathing in my coffee when I’m brewing it. It just get me excited about drinking it.
6- Which is the best coffee you ever tasted?
The best coffee I ever tasted? Well, it’s hard to say… I feel like a father that has ten daughters, and I find them all beautiful. They’re all different, and I like them all for different reasons. So I can’t really say. I can’t.
7- Is there a country of origin that you tend to favor coffee from? Why?
Origins? Same answer. We work so much with the farmers, and they’re elevating the coffees: they’re cleaner, we work with different styles, with different varietals, we try so many things. Wherever we engage, coffees are becoming better, I think that’s the most important thing as a roaster, to work with the farmers, and not many roasters are doing that.
There’s a lot to do, it’s not all about just brewing it, and talking about it, you need to engage with the farmers and make the coffees better. I used to say Kenya, but there’s so much going on everywhere, and they’re all great.
8- Suggest us a roastery to check (not the one you working at/you use at work).
I really love “The Barn” and what we’re doing… and I think it’s very unique, so it makes it really hard for me to recommend anything else. I’m sorry, there’s no humble way of saying this. Of course I appreciate many others, what they’re doing and trying to do, but I think everybody can push harder, to be honest. There’s so much to do in coffee and, again, we should never forget the farms work, and also buying great coffees, roasting them well, talking about them, sharing their stories… yeah, there’s a lot to do.
9- What’s the most important things you’ve learnt while working in the business?
I learn all the time. We all learn all the time. It’s such a big question… For sure, I’ve learnt that the whole chain is important, from start to finish, and if anything goes wrong along the way you can really mess up the products. The baristas are very, very important, because they’re the “last moment” of prepping the coffees and than handing them over to the customer, who’s then enjoying it, and then paying for the whole thing.
So that’s a really important moment, but just as much as we need the farmers, and just as much I need the roasters. Everything needs to work, and we all need to work together.
10- How your work and the specialty coffee world are coping with Covid and the new challenges for hospitality?
Oh my God, Covid… do we really need to talk about it? It’s a nightmare, of course, and I’ve just opened eight of ours ten shops, even though it’s economically not really viable. We’re a fairly little business, we need tourism, we need the offices, and we need people to sit in, and enjoy coffee and food.
Now we have take away, and in winter time we were closed for three months because it was raining and snowing and no one was walking around, but I decided that I don’t want us to be stuck any longer, because I want to have life back, and I want to have baristas back at work, so we just do it and see what happens.
It’s really not easy… it’s not easy for the farmers, we’ve got difficulties in picking the cherries, processing everything nicely… we had to reject a few coffees last year, we tightened our “green control”… luckily I’ve an amazing roast team, and we have great “green control” from start to finish, so that’s great. And I’m very thankful for “The Barn” community and all the customers that are buying our coffees and are supporting us. It’s really amazing to see the support from everyone, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to make it.
11- How do you the specialty coffee scene in 10 years?
No one knows. What I saw in the last ten years, because I’m doing it for ten years, it’s maybe more interesting. You know, “The Barn” is fully focused on the product, that’s the most important thing, not the packaging. We have probably the most boring packaging in the industry and I’m quite proud of it, we don’t have a perfume box or things like that, or a flashy logo and marketing. It’s all about the product and the taste, and that, together with the people involved, it’s the most important thing. In the last few years we’ve seen more and more specialty coffees on Instagram, beautiful shops, roasteries popping up… but I really want them to push harder, to bring the quality up, to share farm stories, to focus on the products.
I hope this trend of having a nice shop, put it on Instagram and so on, but with no training and no communication, will change. And I can also tell you that in Germany in the B2B side, the cafés are always asking for a specific price. They want the beans cheaper, and that’s really not specialty coffee. I think in specialty coffee we should never ask for a cheaper price. It should be a fair price. A price that the farmers have a good life with, and the roasters and everybody along the chain too. So, there’s still a lot to be done, and hopefully people will pushing up quality over the next ten years.
12- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I don’t know… I mean, who knows? I enjoy what I’m doing, I go day by day, month by month, year by year. I really enjoy my work, and coffee… it gives me a lot of energy, so hopefully I’ll keep doing my job.
13- Any last word? Any tip or suggestion you wanna share with someone that want to start this path?
My suggestion it’s always been the same, since the beginning. When I started in the “little barn” I was the barista, and people came in and they were looking at the interior, at what we were doing, and sometimes they wanted to copy what we were doing and I just said “look, my most important suggestion is that you need to go your own way, you need to find your own style, you need to learn a lot, you need to be authentic and truthful and humble and just engage with the product, present it well”.
It’s an amazing product to be working with, I really enjoy being in specialty coffees and work with farmers, and work with my crew in Berlin. We have an amazing vibe and fantastic staff members, and the customers… it’s just really cool. I travel a lot, I think before Covid I was in 25 countries in 2019, and wherever I go people love our product, and it’s just an amazing connection. Especially nowadays, where people are looking for a meaning in life, is right in front of you. You can do so much in coffee… so just engage.
Read more about The Barn, Café Kranzler