The Barn – just near last week’s delightful Antipodes, on Auguststraße – means well, but makes you cringe at its earnestness. Part of a successful cafe or restaurant is a sense of effortlessness, an ease of manners and style, and this is one element that the Barn does not quite achieve.
The Barn aspires to be something great. A coffee-lovers haven where there’s no sugar, and only three choices for coffee served with milk – macchiato, flat white and latté. An impressive and decisively tasty array of small morsels adorn the wide bar from where the staff rarely seem to depart. It is in this pursuit of perfection that The Barn’s founder, Ralf Ruller, begins to diverge from what I consider to be a recipe for success, at least on a larger scale.
Firstly, having a printed, and poorly formatted and written, mission statement at the point where you part with your money might seem like a good idea, and perhaps if the tone was warm, inviting, and full of upbeat passion it would be, but here, it is just a bit too much. I didn’t know what to think at first – is this guy for real? Can this concept really succeed? I’m still not sure, a recent article in The Guardian makes me think other customers are also slightly confused. The Guardian reported that Ruller was ‘unapologetic’ and ‘disappointed’ that his brews were not receiving the reception he thought they deserved given they were prepared with the care of a ‘Japanese tea ceremony’. Now, don’t get me wrong, the space was inviting, the lighting designed with attention to detail and the smells would excite any lover of caffeine – and it was not intimidation at the seriousness of it all that put me on edge either. I am definitely in favour of local sourcing of produce, and the manifesto is rightly proud to declare where The Barn gets its milk. But there was a needless tension between the love of coffee and the love of cafés in this roasting house-deli-espresso bar.
There are instructions on where ‘multimedia’ can be used, at the designated media table, and why – it distracts from those reading and concentrating on their tasting. Right. That’s all ok I guess – laptops can be annoying, but why not achieve the same end but more subtly by making power points only available at the prescribed space. Further, no prams allowed. It’s a roasting house so if something went wrong they didn’t want to risk the baby’s life or something like that. I call bullshit. I think it’s more in line with wanting to attract Berlin’s upper culinary crust – those that have forgotten that the café was in fact, originally anyway, a place of chatter, of life and of heated debate in the great European cities (and probably also the not so great ones). One of the chief pleasures of being in a cafe is soaking in the warmth of the communal hum of conversation, the warmth of being surrounded by others. They are places where you can buy into, if only for a moment, a life outside your own. To make a café or ‘espresso bar’ that actively seeks to limit that bubble of chit-chat is a shame and, ultimately a mistake.
A shame in the sense that the staff are polite and professional, welcoming even when they heard my Australian drawl, and yet they’re confined to their bar where coffee is treated like a science, meticulously observed in all its detail, but not loved. Not done with touch, smell, sight and feeling – rather lacking in art. The coffee was explained with such precision and authority that a great swathe of people, at least back home, would be frightened away. They’re clearly trying something new for Berlin at The Barn – hence all the explanatory material provided, the year long search for a space and the architecturally designed interior. This has yielded some rewards the marinated ham and sundried tomato or brie and pear sandwiches on moist, fruity, nutty bread were delicious. The carrot cake just like the Country Womens’ Association might churn out at a baking competition and the croissants were as good as I’ve hard, bar Jackman & McRoss.
However, there can be no denying the quality of the coffee . Consistent in both flavour, temperature and texture – the team working the machine clearly know their stuff. But, I just can’t get passed the attempted tone of the place. Public cuppings as well as lectures on when and how to drink your chosen brew; if the approach were relaxed a little, some tunes and tables introduced, I’m sure The Barn’s trade would roar, the crowds would come, with lines out the door and all that effort would make more sense.