Hand roasted, lovingly prepared coffee is not available on every corner. Coffee lovers can count themselves lucky when they encounter this kind of quality. And when coffee like this is served from a Mercedes-Benz N 1300, then we are talking about a true rarity. Only a small number of these diesel vans were manufactured in Vitoria in the mid-1970s. Essentially, the van is an enhanced DKW Schnelllaster, which was equipped with a star, an OM 615 engine and other features when Daimler AG took over the plant in the Spanish Basque region. The “Combi Coffee” van is from the year 1975. Joao and his friends converted the light van into their unmistakable “Coffee Truck”. We talked to Joao about the “Combi Coffee” trademark – the bright green N 1300.
How did you come up with the idea of converting a N 1300, of all things, into a “Coffee Truck”?
We had the idea in 2013. We did not want to open a classic café with the usual look and were searching for a different approach. That is why we spent a while looking for just the right van before we found the Mercedes-Benz N 1300 - and breathed new life into this wonderful vehicle. In October 2015, we were finally ready to hit the road with “Combi Coffee”.
Why this model?
Because you simply have to love this van! The N 1300 is a beautiful vehicle and has never let us down in its role as a mobile café. Naturally, the vehicle always draws a crowd, as well. Wherever we go, the N 1300 immediately causes a sensation that attracts attention. We love our N 1300.
This type of light van is rare. Where did you find yours?
In Peniche, a small town in central Portugal. It was love at first sight. We bought the N 1300 from a surfer. He told us that the Mercedes-Benz van has been transporting surfboards and other equipment from one beach to the next for years.
The Mercedes-Benz N 1300 was produced in Vitoria as the successor to the N 1000. Its origins lie in the DKW F 1000 from Auto-Union. It later succeeded the MB 100. What do you know about your model?
We know very little about it. Some people say that Daimler-Benz simply took the existing DKW models and slapped the star on the front. But that is not true. Mercedes-Benz only adopted a lot of the design features from the predecessor brand. We know that our van was built in 1975. Apparently, it was initially used as an ambulance and fire service vehicle.
What condition was the van in when you found it?
The exterior was in good condition but the engine, clutch and brakes had not been replaced since 1975. When converting it into a mobile café, we almost completely restored the van and replaced the motor along with the entire interior. It is not easy to find the right parts for such a rare model.
How did you find help?
Luckily, Francisco and Gonçalo are both mechanical engineers. They could do a lot of the restoration work themselves. We also received support from a retired Daimler-Benz mechanic. He helped us to work on the engine – the N 1300 is equipped with the legendary OM 615 diesel, a reliable and very good engine. We also got in touch with a company which actually builds camper vans. They helped us to make our “Combi Coffee” dream come true. After we had converted the N 1300 into the “Coffee Truck”, we began to sell our own coffee and our own drink creations.
What exactly makes “Combi Coffee” so special – apart from the N 1300?
We are part of the “Specialty Coffee Association” and offer our customers exclusively the best quality coffee. We only choose the finest, green beans that we find, from the best harvests and sources. We use our very own method to roast the beans, one that is primarily oriented on traditional Portuguese roasting techniques. For example, we only ever roast small quantities and this provides the desired, unique flavor.
Which coffee beans do you use?
We prefer Arabica beans or beans from southern or central American plantations. However, we also like Ethiopian types. We do not rely on a single specific bean. Instead, we are open for every type - As long as they have the right quality and flavor. We stand for a living café culture and want to offer our customers something special with “Combi Coffee”. That is also why we purchased the N 1300. Our unique coffee combined with this wonderful vehicle is what makes the difference.
How is the handling of the van?
It has been in service for more than 40 years. In those days, vehicles did not have all of the technology which we take for granted now – so no ABS, power steering and so forth. When you consider that, then driving the N 1300 becomes a real experience. It is like travelling back in time.