Coffee with a dash of wine

Why are natural wines appearing in coffee bars worldwide? Simon J. Woolf goes looking for answers.

Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash
Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

Lex Wenneker waxes lyrical as he pours out an aromatic, translucent liquid: “Carbonic maceration really emphasises the fruit and brings out the berry notes,” he says. “They leave the skins on and then ferment for about 48 hours in this case.” He’s not talking about wine. The beverage is a Colombia XO unwashed (or “natural”) coffee, so named for its wine-like Cognac-esque flavours. 

Wenneker is a multiple barista champion and joint owner of Friedhats, a boutique roastery and associated café (Fuku) in Amsterdam’s up-and-coming Bos en Lommer district. Fuku doesn’t just serve coffee – a small selection of natural wines also sits on the shelves. Wenneker admits that he knows very little about wine in comparison to coffee, but that “it was always our dream that we could have a café that kept going into the evening, changing into a wine bar kind of vibe”. So when he and business partner Dylan Sedgwick found their space, they immediately applied for an alcohol licence, adding wines to their offering just a few weeks after opening.

They’re not alone in Amsterdam. Hip roastery White Label Coffee started selling natural wines in 2015 and has now opened a spin-off restaurant in addition to its café . Then there is 4850, a fully hybrid business focusing on specialty coffee, tea and artisan wine. Similar venues have sprung up around the globe, from Milk Beach in London to 169 West in Zurich, 212 Blu in Sydney, café  Physical in Hokkaido Japan and Vif in that most caffeinated city of all, Seattle. In almost every case, the bottles jostling for space among single origin pour-overs and futuristic espresso machines are natural wines. 

What is it about this niche that so attracts baristas, roasters and coffee nerds?

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