In this post, we talk about coffee. I interview Lena Bernhofer, a co-founder of Maison Gern, a company which produces functional superfood coffees, which are designed to boost health and be easy to take with you wherever you go.
The legend of coffee – how we discovered coffee (maybe)?
According to a legend, in 9th century, there lived a goat herder named Kaldi in Ethiopia who noticed that after his goats ate coffee beans, they appeared to be “dancing” and did not want to sleep so much. Intrigued by this observation, he reported the findings to a local monastery, where one monk started using the drink for sustaining alertness and focus during evening meditations. According to the legend, so the story of coffee started to spread.
True or not, the popularity of coffee has definitely spread wide. Actually, coffee is currently the second most traded commodity right after oil. I happen to be from Finland, where the annual consumption of coffee is an impressive 12 kilograms of coffee per person, which puts us at the top of the world.
Having grown up in a culture where, after waking up, you are more likely to hear the word “coffee” than the words “good morning”, I have had time to develop my (love/hate) relationship with this brain booster (high in healthy antioxidants).
I also happen to have a variant in the CYP1A gene, which makes me metabolizes coffee slowly (and enjoy its benefits for longer after drinking it) so my consumption doesn’t quite reach the typical Finnish 0.6 liters of coffee per person day. But I love coffee. Having a good cup of coffee is one of the most enjoyable things for me; I love the taste, the smell and the health benefits that reach from boosting metabolism (S) to protection from diabetes 2 (S) and Parkinsons (S).
I have always been a big fan of exploring the best roasts, origins, and combinations of coffee and I tend to add functional foods to my coffee. Instead of milk and sugar, I love to supplement my coffee with stuff like…
- 50-100 mg of L-theanine as a calming agent to boost performance and focus (S)
- Cinnamon to decreases spike in blood pressure (S)
- Reishi for its immune protective effect, and variety of others (S)
- Chaga for its antioxidative capacity (S)
- MCT oil
- Cardamon and vanilla
- And the list goes on…
The struggle to find good coffee to go
Being a working University student, I tend to consume takeaways, but many times struggle to find good quality coffee to go. Carrying your own brewing set around the campus does not seem too convenient either.
Last year in a health conference Biohacker Summit, I was so pleased to meet Lena Bernhofer, a co-founder of Maison Gern, a company which produces instant superfood coffees. Superfood coffee is coffee mixed with superfoods that have a functional health purpose. For example; goji to increase antioxidants and boost immunity, cinnamon to regulate blood sugar, vanilla to control cholesterol, and so on.
Before the first zip, I was slightly suspicious because it is really hard to make a superfood coffee mix that tastes good – and let’s be honest here – coffee must taste good as well! I was so happily surprised when I tried Maison Gern blends and noticed that in addition to being healthy, Maison Gern coffees also taste delicious.
So, I was curious to learn more about Lena and why and how she got inspired to produce these coffees.
By reading this interview, you can learn more about superfood coffees and how Lena (who shares similar passion and struggles with coffee than me) found Maison Gern.
1. What is the story behind Maison Gern, Lena Bernhofer?
It started when I stopped adding sugar to my coffee. I never really liked my coffee with milk but when I stopped adding sugar as well all I had was black coffee. When I checked the supermarket aisle for tea and chocolate section, I realized there is a great selection of different flavors and blends, but the selection for coffees are mainly just different origins, degrees of roasting and maybe a cappuccino mix – with a lot of unhealthy milk powder and sugar. So, I started researching why we are not using more spices and superfoods for coffee!
I researched superfoods, spices, and coffees from different origins. I wanted to take into consideration different times of the days when people drink coffee and all the different reasons as well. For example; we drink coffee in the morning to wake up, gain energy and be focused. Then we drink coffee after lunch. Sometimes we go out for a coffee with friends, and other times we drink coffee simply to take a break from our task in hand. Thus, coffee is not always about caffeine. That’s why we at Maison Gern started grouping the superfoods and spices not just according to flavor but also according to function to support different types of coffee moments.
I wanted to take into consideration different times of the days when people drink coffee and all the different reasons as well
2. How did the process start then and how “Maison Gern” was born?
After brainstorming about these (previously mentioned) things with my co-founder, who is a nutrition expert, we started developing the first MG blends, and we wanted to do it right from the beginning. So we defined our very own standards – we wanted to have high-quality ingredients, but also something convenient, easy to use and, of course, sustainable. Coffee capsules, for example, can have a high-quality coffee, convenient to use, but they are not ecological. So we spent a lot of time researching high-quality suppliers, smart and short supply chains and chose a packaging for 10 cups as the smallest size (always surprising for customers).
Maison Gern – our name – tells the rest of the story. ‘Maison’ is the French word for ‘house’ or ‘home’. Our coffee is easy to take with you, it feels at home when you drink it and the flavor is just like the French kitchen – delicious. ‘Gern’ is a German word and means ‘I like it’. I like to drink it and to bring it with me – to take my home with me. As in ‘home is where my coffee is’.
2. What is the benefit of adding superfoods to coffee?
Superfoods add great flavor and beneficial functionality to coffees. For example, after lunch you can drink ‘Shape’; a blend with ginger and green coffee for digestion or on the weekend when you want to relax you can drink ‘Shine’ a blend with less caffeine, tonkabean and cinnamon.
We got reallt inspired by peoples’ needs in daily situations. In addition, in my travels within past few years I got inspired to experiment with even surprising and interesting combinations of coffee blendsthat you may not imagine at first; such as coffee and beetroot or coffee and Acai! Sounds a bit weird, but actually tastes absolutely delicious.
We honor the origins of our coffee and superfoods a lot. Last year, for example, we went to Sri Lanka to find out where a great share of our superfoods and spices come from. I am really glad we did that trip! We learned a lot and found an excellent partner (Soul Spice) that helps us import the ingredients directly.
4. Who tests your blends?
We develop the blends ourselves and start in our own kitchen! Once we find recipes we absolutely love, we continue testing with family and friends and follow up on events and markets. It’s a long process, but we want to make sure that customer feedback is good. We need to include as many people as possible in the development process; meeting the taste expectations needs are very challenging. We wouldn’t be able to do it without feedback.
I work with an excellent nutrition expert that knows what makes sense from a nutrition point of view and among our friends are some good cooks that also have a strong opinion. Thus, the results are always great and just like the coffee itself, our process is communicative, integrative and fun.
7. Some of your blends have green coffee or lupine coffee. What is it and what are the benefits?
Green coffee is unroasted coffee. It contains caffeine, but its taste is very different from roasted coffee. The colour of a cup of green coffee is light green and always reminds me of tea. Green coffee has high levels of Chlorogenic acid, meaning it can help you lose weight and impacts metabolism (not scientifically confirmed).
Lupine coffee is a great discovery. The taste is very coffee like (the beans are roasted like coffee beans), but it has no caffeine, is highly compatible and it can be sourced locally as Lupine grows here (meaning in Germany).
8. What is your own typical coffee day like?
In the morning I often try new creations and blends to work on recipes – did I mention that I love my job? When I arrive in the office around 9 am I usually have a second cup of coffee. Depending on the day and energy, I go for Beauty or Focus (our strongest blend). The third cup would be after lunch (either my own or coffee from a restaurant) and the afternoon depends on meetings. I love to go for short meetings over a cup of coffee. Luckily the coffee-shop in our office building serves our coffee too 😊
9. I know you value health – what makes Maison Gern coffee healthy?
The coffee beans are arabica, high altitude, single origin, organic and fair trade – that is already a very good standard compared to many coffees in the market. Superfoods and spices are generally also healthier than regular sugar that you add to your coffee (but of course if you like sugar you can add it to Maison Gern coffee too!)
I don’t want to claim that the small amounts of superfoods per cup have a huge health effect. However, I believe that you indeed can feel a difference to regular cup of coffee. People, for example, that are very sensitive to coffee told me that Beauty is a blend they can easily drink.
Overall, I think Maison Gern’s coffee is a first small steps towards a more holistic nutrition in everyday life.
10. What are Maison Gern company values?
We spend a lot of time selecting our suppliers and partners. We are still a very small company, so we rely on a network of people that share our values and whom we can trust. Short supply chains are very important for us. I hate the garbage from packaging and energy wasted on transportations. Our coffee, for example, is imported from small farms directly to Hamburg, roasted and processed by our partner and then sent to us.
Our packages are brown paper on the outside. Inside they have a coating to keep the flavour in and humidity out (the viscosity of our coffee blends is high). It’s a good solution for now, but I would love to have something even eco-friendlier.
Now in summer, I started adding orange or lemon and sometimes also peppermint. It tastes refreshing and when you use the peel or leaves it also looks nice in your cup. (For winter or cold weather, I would recommend chili powder.)
What’s your relationship with coffee?
Tell me in the comments!