Coffee was a scarce product in the GDR from the very beginning. The demand for coffee was initially partly met by the Soviet Union, but from 1954 this source of supply fell away. Now the GDR had to produce coffee itself. From 1957 onwards, coffee beans were roasted in a production plant in Magdeburg and new methods for making coffee were developed. This plant had already been set up in 1908 and was operated by the company »Kathreiners Malzkaffeefabriken«. After the Second World War, the owners were expropriated and the plant was taken over by the Association of Consumer Cooperatives in 1947. The coffee produced there was sold together with other well-known coffees of the GDR, such as »Mona« and »Rondo«, under the brand »Röstfein«. Coffee, however, remained a scarce product and was correspondingly expensive. The pictured package of »Mona« bean coffee from 1989 in our collection cost 10 marks for only 125 grams. However, these high prices hardly kept GDR citizens from consuming coffee. In the 1970s, 3.3 billion marks per year were spent on the popular hot drink.
In the 1970s, the supply situation for coffee deteriorated. A coffee crisis, triggered by a bad harvest in Brazil, led to enormous price increases on the world market. Due to rising oil prices, which now also had an impact in the GDR, the cost of importing consumer goods had to be reduced. The apparent solution to the problem came in a silver-coloured package: »Kaffee Mix« was introduced. »Kaffee Mix«, which was soon popularly called »Erich's Krönung«, contained only 51 percent coffee powder. 49 percent consisted of a mixture of various surrogates. The mixture not only clogged many coffee machines, but also did not meet the taste of GDR citizens. The GDR government had not expected such a storm of protest, but the people prevailed. As quickly as it was introduced, »Erich's Krönung« coffee mix disappeared from the shelves again.
Picture: Coffee »Mona« (left), coffee mix »Erichs Krönung« (right)
From 1978, the supply situation improved and prices fell again. However, there were still problems for the GDR, as the necessary foreign currency to buy the coffee beans was scarce. The government wanted a sustainable solution, so plantation facilities were established in the People's Republic of Vietnam in the 1980s. The irony of history was that the first coffee from Vietnam was not harvested until 1991 and the GDR could no longer profit from it. For Vietnam, the GDR's involvement paid off, though – the state is now the second largest coffee exporter in the world.
Text by Rebecca Hall
Editor's note: This article first appeared on 3 August 2017.