The Exhibition

Biology: A special plant

A coffee "forest" with all of the typical sounds and scents conveys the impression of the tropical regions where coffee is grown. Originally cultivated in Africa, coffee is now farmed in Asia and South America as well: there are over 100 varietals, but only a few are relevant when it comes to producing coffee beans. The most important kinds are Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora, more commonly known as arabica and robusta. A closer look at the plant and in particular at its fruits with their valuable little beans offers a greater understanding of the biology of these plants. The climate shelf illustrates the effects of global warming and the threat caused by diseases. Interactive elements such as the "coffee growing game" are a light-hearted way to learn about the contexts that matter here.

Chemistry: What’s inside

Coffee beans naturally feature a rich variety of aromas, and chemical processes such as fermentation and roasting create them. The chemical composition of the individual substances in coffee are also presented in this part of the exhibition, since coffee's flavour is not the only thing that makes it so popular: above all, it is all about the caffeine. And the drawers of a pharmacist's shelves give you a glance at earlier myths about coffee’s alleged harmful effects as well as the latest scientific insights.

Technology: Different paths to the same goal

The process of coaxing the flavour out of these little beans is not a simple one, and consequently it has always inspired people to be creative about the process of preparing their coffee. The full spectrum of the technology used by coffee lovers is shown here: roasting, grinding, brewing, from the earliest roasting pan to the first globe roaster, innovative espresso machines, the oldest stovetop cooker, the first Melitta Bentz pour-over filter dating back to 1908, and many other coffee-making devices from a variety of eras. One noteworthy attraction in this section is the fluid-bed roaster: coffee is freshly roasted in demonstrations so that visitors can take some home.

Economics: coffee as a commodity

Coffee is in high demand, and its global trade totals billions of euros. The price is affected by many different factors – if you like, you can try your hand at the coffee trade yourself thanks to the interactive game on our stock-market wall! The supply chain starts with the producers: the people who grow coffee near the equator and the conditions they work under. The exhibition shows developments from colonial times when enslaved people worked on farms all the way to today’s fair-trade movement.

Once people develop a taste for good coffee, they do not want to do without it, which is why the exhibition discusses shortages such as the one in the post-war period. At that time, a great deal of creativity went into creating and advertising coffee substitutes. This section ends with an overview of the history of coffee advertising.

Culture: Enjoying coffee communally

Ever since it was first “discovered” in what is now Ethiopia, the magic elixir we know as coffee has successfully conquered the world. The ways to prepare it are as multifaceted as the settings where it is consumed. Since time immemorial, drinking coffee with others has been a ritual that has taken on many forms: as part of a ceremony at the courts of the nobility, during political discussions at coffee houses, as a kaffeeklatsch in the afternoon, or during a brief break at work. Whereas once it was a luxury good that was only available to a select few, coffee has since become a mass-market product and an indispensable part of many people's lives.