You can find Robert Lehmann’s Kaffee und Kamele (Coffee and Camels) truck parked on the Polyterrasse every Thursday. Robert prepares up to 400 coffees each day – and he’s always up for a game of backgammon with customers, too.
You really learn to value coffee during exam week. And when it’s as good as the coffee from Kaffee und Kamele, each cup also serves as a brief escape from the pain of revision. The espresso is the ideal colour and the consistency of the cappuccino foam is perfect.
I meet Robi, the owner of Kaffee und Kamele, on a sunny Thursday morning for a cappuccino on the University of Zurich’s Polyterrasse. The Polyterrasse is located about 200 metres as the crow flies from the Central tram stop near the main station. If you stand right at the edge, you can see all the way from the lake to Zurich-Altstetten, taking in almost the entire city.
Robi is wearing a white cap and a sports jacket. He has tattooed hands and a beaming smile. The 31-year-old sells his espresso and cappuccino to students – and to the many tourists enjoying the view of the city – from 9 am to 4 pm, serving more than 400 cups a day. ‘It all depends on the weather and the site, though,’ he says.
Why the name ‘Coffee and Camels’? ‘The whole shizzle started in Morocco,’ explains Robi. ‘And I really like double-barrelled names. Plus, I travel around this area with my truck like a nomad.’ And why coffee? Robi is a fan of cappuccino himself, and he’ll sometimes drink an espresso in the afternoon. But his real passion is preparing coffee. ‘Although the coffee scene is almost too nerdy for me,’ he says.
‘The coffee scene is almost too nerdy for me.’
He actually started out with a completely different business idea based around a craft workshop he discovered while surfing in Morocco. He wanted to sell the keychains and bags produced there on the market and serve his customers coffee on the side. But the side business became the main one, and soon all he was doing was serving coffee.
Robi worked at Gonzo, a club on Langstrasse, for five years, and wanted a change. ‘After all, I’m not getting any younger,’ he says, not without irony. He still serves behind the club’s bar once in a while: ‘The people there are like family to me’. The coffee truck, on the other hand, is his baby. He has now exchanged the ‘little camel’, his trusty Renault Estafette, for a larger model. It looks like a camper van and is kitted out with a small seating area, a built-in kitchen and – of course – a coffee machine, the La Marzocco GS3.
He has now exchanged the ‘little camel’, his trusty Renault Estafette, for a larger model.
Visiting Kaffee und Kamele is like having coffee in Robi’s living room. He likes being up close and personal with his customers, with no counter and no stiff uniform to separate them as he hands over his expertly brewed coffee. A loudspeaker stands next to the coffee machine, playing whatever suits his current mood. ‘Today I feel like reggae, because the sun’s out,’ says Robi. He also plays a lot of hip-hop.
There’s also a backgammon board near the coffee machine, and anyone who wants to stay a while can play a game with Robi. ‘When we were surfing, we always played backgammon in our breaks,’ he explains.
When it gets cold again in the winter, Robi plans to go south with his ‘camel’ and spend his time surfing and selling coffee. Solar panels on the coffee truck’s roof should provide the necessary energy. One thing is certain: he’s not likely to run out of ideas any time soon. For now, he closes up the truck and takes his dog Eazy, who has been dozing in the driver’s cab, for a walk.