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Barista Stories: Inna Zamikhovska of Black Hat Coffee, Hamburg

Meet Inna Zamikhovska, a self-made coffee entrepreneur from Odessa, Ukraine. Since 2018 Inna together with her husband Slava runs a successful and vastly growing coffee brand called Black Hat Coffee. The brand has its signature espresso bar in Hamburg and soon Inna plans to expand with a second location in Berlin.

Inna’s unique approach to design and detail definitely helps her brand to stand out. Not only with the impeccable coffee quality but also with dedicated, sophisticated all-round branding and a matching approach to hospitality.

Barista Stories are sponsored by PUQpress.

Inna, what is your first memory of coffee? 

My first memory of coffee is the instant granulated coffee that my parents used to keep at home, either in a glass jar or in pre-packaged sticks. This was also my first experience of coffee. I remember that it didn’t taste too bad. Now I would prefer to drink natural Guji!

​​​​​What inspired you to pursue a career in the coffee industry, and how did you get started? What did you do before coffee?

Before I started the coffee business, I studied political science in Odessa, Ukraine. Then I got pregnant and came to Germany to be with my husband, who had just finished his studies and was looking for his first job. I attended language courses in Germany, tried to organise my new life in a new country as a mother and wife, and was a housewife for a few years, while also selling vintage jewellery, such as Dior or Celine clip-ons from the 80s, via internet platforms. 

My husband and co-founder Slava was working in digital marketing at the media agency at the time and was often frustrated that although he was busy all day, in the end, there was no tangible outcome, just reports, metrics and digital results. Both he and I found it very difficult to explain to our grandparents and parents exactly what we do for a living, so there was a great desire to create a physical, tangible product. This factor combined with a love of drinking coffee, visiting coffee shops and the desire to do a project together, led to the idea of creating a coffee brand. 

Tell us a bit about Black Hat Coffee. What is your role there? 

Black Hat Coffee is a coffee brand that I founded with my husband, Slava, in 2018. It was important for us not to act like a small local coffee shop, but despite being young and having no marketing budget, to set ourselves up like a real brand and to do a sophisticated level of branding and storytelling from the very beginning, embedding as many things as possible that we both love, such as design, timeless elegance, music, fun and celebration of life. 

While Slava looks after business development and marketing, I am the general manager and also a barista. I am there for our on-site guests, our colleagues and the day-to-day operations.

Starting as a barista with a mobile espresso bar and now managing a successful specialty espresso bar. What have been some of the most significant challenges you’ve faced in scaling your business, and how have you overcome them?

We started as an online brand and in order to give our customers a holistic online-offline experience, we decided to launch a mobile espresso bar that reflected our brand value: we chose the finest equipment: A custom GS3 that we had made in Australia by Specht, the mobile espresso bar came from the USA, we were one of the first to get the E65s GBW delivered by Mahlkönig, etc. A lot of thought went into the design. 

The Mobile Espresso Bar was my first experience as a barista. I took a couple of courses and was very serious about it. I practised every day at home before I dared to go out with the mobile espresso bar. 

The mobile espresso bar had a base at a bespoke tailor’s in Hamburg, where I made cappuccinos and flat whites – nice experience, with manageable processes. In a café it’s different. You have to think about so many things simultaneously: supplier management, inventory, preparing food like making sandwiches, brewing coffee, etc. I would say that I would not have made it without a great, experienced team that was infused with my strong will to provide the best possible customer experience.  

Can you elaborate on the inspiration behind the concept of Black Hat Coffee’s packaging resembling suits and linking different coffee flavours to suit patterns? How has this unique approach enhanced the customer experience?

Our belief that coffee can be as individual as a tailor-made apparel is reflected in our packaging, which is designed to resemble suits. This distinctive linkage of the different coffee flavours to suit patterns on our coffee packaging makes it easy for our customers to enjoy the same experience every time, even though we may occasionally change the coffee farm for a specific variety.

By clustering the different coffee flavours and linking them to individual suit patterns on the coffee boxes, we ensure taste consistency and offer our customers a visually appealing and recognizable experience. This approach simplifies the coffee selection process and fosters a deeper connection between the brand and our consumers. Every coffee in our assortment scores a minimum of 85 SCA points, thus being classified as excellent​​​​. 

What kind of experience do you want your customers to have when they visit your place and experience your coffee?

We invite our guests to discover a holistic experience at our Specialty Espresso Bar, where quality, aesthetics, and interpersonal warmth are at the forefront. This philosophy permeates every cup of coffee and every moment at Black Hat Coffee, with a customer-centric approach.

Our Espresso Bar’s concept mirrors the design of our coffee packaging – you’ll find a plethora of fabric patterns, be it the herringbone pattern on the floor, the stripes on the counters, and the chequered patterns on the tables. Guests can settle into comfortable Vitra chairs, immersing themselves in the funky sounds emanating from vinyl records.

This environment is not just about enjoying a premium cup of coffee; it’s about embracing an atmosphere where every detail contributes to a memorable and warm experience.

What is your favourite part of the day in your cafe, and why?

I prefer to be in a kind of flow, a tunnel, where I’m concentrating on preparing the coffee and providing the best possible service, picking up on early signals about what the customer needs and which coffee beans they need for their home. I love having a constant stream of guests.

How do you stay motivated and inspired to keep improving your coffee-making skills?

As a coffee entrepreneur, I am always motivated and looking for exciting new coffee beans to create new variations. I can improve my skills as a barista by learning from my more skilled team members, such as how to come up with new signature drinks or how to clean the equipment properly. I am very grateful for this. 

What are the current trends in cafes in your region? Are there any trends you promote yourself and would like to see more often in other places?

This is a very difficult question for me to answer as I don’t have much time to visit other coffee shops due to my busy schedule with the Espresso Bar, running the business and planning the next location. When I am not working, I spend time with my children and my husband. 

At Black Hat Coffee we are passionate about fermented coffee beans, which we love to hand brew for our customers to give them a new taste experience.  I would love to see more places offering this. We are happy to supply them with good coffee beans 🙂

What do you think is the most important quality for a barista to have, and why?

The barista is the face of the brand, so a well-groomed & friendly appearance is essential at Black Hat Coffee. We are not coffee snobs, but friendly professionals who value our customers and are happy to serve them.

What kind of community do you hope to build around your cafe, and how do you plan to foster that sense of community?

The fact that we are Ukrainian has got around in Hamburg and many homesick people have visited us hoping to find a Ukrainian café, which is not really the case. Although we sometimes serve cakes that we remember from our childhood, such as Napoleon Torte or Honey Cake, you will regularly find other things such as Cinnamon Babka, Reuben Sandwich and of course Speciality Coffee – our customers are cosmopolitan people of all ages who recognise and appreciate high quality and have an eye for design, coffee and music.

This community doesn’t just try to buy the cheapest and consume quickly but allows us to experiment with higher-priced green coffees, for example, because they want to try new things and appreciate the elements that Black Hat Coffee brings together.

We intend to expand these elements in the next location, for example, the music component, which we play with vinyl in the current location, we will expand into a DJ booth to play live sets in the second location. But I do not want to spoil too much.

Given your background as a Ukrainian living in Germany for 14 years, how has your cultural heritage influenced the values and practices of Black Hat Coffee, particularly since the brutal war in Ukraine started?

The invasion happened during the expansion phase of our first location. At first, we were completely shocked and couldn’t do anything. As our relatives were still living in Ukraine at the time of the invasion, we decided to put the Black Hat Coffee business on hold for the time being and make sure that all our relatives and friends were in a safe place. So we took in my sister, her son and my mother, helped my husband’s relatives move to Germany and took care of all the documents etc.

After a few months, we thought we could do something as entrepreneurs, so we placed our mobile espresso bar in front of our closed location and sold coffee packs, donating all the profits to Ukraine Relief. I have to say that we were grateful that the neighbouring shops also asked us if they could sell our coffee packs for this purpose.

As a Ukrainian, I try to create jobs for migrants and am happy to employ refugees, ideally with barista experience. So if you know anyone, it would be great to get in touch. 

What coffee challenges are you looking forward to? Any new projects or collaborations? How do you envision the brand evolving in the coming years?

I am currently actively looking for a location and staff in Berlin, which will be our 2nd location. The 2nd location should be a bit bigger to give more space to the already proven elements like the DJ booth.

I also plan to do more in the cold brew area, coffee cocktails and have a Baby Hardtank on my wish list. So if the vendors are reading this interview, we are happy to offer our locations for them to preview their machines. 

We also have plans to expand and are looking for more partners to offer or resell our coffee. 

Quick Fire Questions for Inna Zamikhovska

Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?

It is very important for me that neither I nor my staff act like coffee snobs, but like friendly experts. I might gently suggest to the guest to try a small sip without milk first. But if the customer wants to add milk to his filter coffee, his wish is my command.

Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?


Espresso or Filter coffee?

Filter coffee.

Slurp or spit?


Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?

The right orchestration of Sweetness, Acidity and Body.

Cake or Pastry with your coffee?


Favourite piece of barista equipment?

Puq Press!