Scandinavian Coffee Culture
Over the past six hundred years, coffee has traveled the globe, earning accolades and creating addicts in every corner of the planet. More than perhaps any other drink, coffee is never simply absorbed by a culture; it is brewed into the fabric of society, with unique cultural customs sprouting up around it as drinking practices reflect each culture’s core values.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Scandinavia. The irony, of course, is that few places on earth might be considered more hostile to the coffee plant itself; yet the people of this region have taken up coffee drinking with a fervor unrivaled anywhere else, with Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark topping the list of annual coffee consumption per capita. For example, the average Finn drinks a whopping 26 lbs of coffee per year and it is legally mandated in Finland that all workers must be given two ten-minute coffee breaks. Now that’s some legislation I could get behind.
Of course, coffee’s popularity in the Scandinavian countries has inspired a distinct coffee roasting culture. While French and Italian coffees are generally roasted dark, Scandinavians have developed a unique profile of lighter roast coffees known more broadly as Nordic style. Early critics scoffed at what they considered to be ‘underdeveloped’ flavor profiles but the test of time and years of fine-tuning have produced a truly memorable coffee-tasting experience.
Bjørnar Hafslund, founder of Brattestø Roastery in Norway, postulates that Norwegians, as well as other Scandinavians, are more attuned to the sharper, acidic flavors of lighter roasts because of the food sources available in that climate; brined fish and tart berries made up much of the locally foraged diet for hundreds of years and still serve as important components of local cuisine. In fact, Norway’s ready supply of fish was traded directly for quality coffee beans from Brazil, again contributing to the development of their unique coffee culture. I personally find it fascinating that the Nordic style tasting profile is reminiscent of the traditional local diet!
It might be said that Scandinavian culture is in the limelight currently, with cultural concepts such as Denmark’s hygge and Norway’s koselig permeating our concept of home design and healthy living. While certain Vancouver Island roasters, such as Drumroaster Coffee in Cobble Hill, have Scandinavian family ties, one may also sample coffees directly from Lykke Coffee Roasters in Sweden and Norlo Coffee Roasters from the UK thanks to Sara and Dan, owners of the newly-opened lifestyle shop Hoxton Home. Located in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter, Hoxton Home provides not only imported Scandinavian coffee but a wide array of stylish home decor, including some fantastic coffee brewing hardware and coffee tableware to impress your Scandinavian friends.
Stop by Hoxton Home to pick up a bag of Scandinavian coffee and open yourself to the world of Nordic roasts! As always, travel safe and brew on.
What's the Deal with Decaf?
Coffee has long been celebrated for its stimulating effects due to caffeine. In fact, the original Arabic term قَهْوَة (qahwa) alludes to it being a ‘stealer of sleep’ as coffee was popularly used to maintain alertness during late-night religious ceremonies conducted by Sufi mystics. Throughout history, it gained popularity in both Islamic and Christian cultures over alcohol because of its stimulating, rather than inhibitory, effects. However, not all coffee drinkers see this well-known side effect as beneficial; in fact, some may avoid coffee altogether because of its impact on their sleep.
Is Decaf 'Real' Coffee?
Decaf coffee, or decaffeinated coffee, is a controversial subject within some coffee-loving circles. Many might think it isn’t ‘real coffee’ while others might wonder if it is a special genetic modification of coffee, somewhat akin to seedless watermelons. Both of these ideas are wrong. Decaffeinated coffee is actual coffee and all modern decaffeination processes are performed on naturally caffeinated green beans after harvesting and before roasting
So how does it work?
Caffeine as a chemical compound is very water soluble, similar to sugar or salt. The general idea of any decaffeination process is to dissolve the caffeine out into a liquid solvent then remove the solvent or use another intermediate substance to absorb the caffeine. This also means, as with any chemical process, the reaction is not complete; in other words, there will always still be some caffeine, typically ranging from 2-5% of the original amount remaining. In that sense, decaffeinated coffee is actually very low caffeine and not exactly caffeine free.
Talk of ‘chemical processes’ may put some health-minded coffee drinkers ill at ease; however, the most common method of decaffeination, known as water processing, uses all natural substances including water (which acts as a solvent) and charcoal (which captures the caffeine).
Unfortunately, charcoal captures all kinds of chemical compounds from the beans which may impact flavor. Caffeine-targeted solvents such methylene chloride are used in the direct solvent method where caffeine is extracted by the solvent itself with no intermediate required. Most dramatic and exciting is perhaps the supercritical carbon dioxide method which forces carbon dioxide into a liquid-like state at pressures hundreds of times greater than atmospheric pressure so it can act as a highly effective caffeine solvent.
To dive into the nitty-gritty details of these processes, check out this article from Scientific American. And don’t be too put off by talk of ‘chemical processes’ - remember, the act of brewing itself is a chemical process!
Potential Benefits of Decaf
Decaffeinated coffee also has potential flavor benefits. Caffeine itself is very bitter and contributes this to the flavor profile. By removing the caffeine, one effectively removes a major bitter component. Of course, proper brewing techniques can help reduce bitterness overall, and some might view caffeine’s contribution as an essential part of the flavor. However, for those who like the smell of coffee but not the taste, a quality origin decaf roasted by your local coffee roaster might be worth a try!
As always, if you're looking for quality decaf, or any finely roasted coffee, check out your local coffee roaster using the Van. Island Coffee Tour Map. Travel safe and brew on!
The Aeropress came crashing on to the specialty coffee scene at Seattle's CoffeeFest in 2005; designed by retired Stanford engineer and coffee-lover Alan Adler, the aim was to achieve greater control over the many variables that affect brew quality. Marketed as a portable ‘espresso style’ coffee maker (though not technically espresso, as we learned here), the Aeropress is perhaps one of the most popular, and certainly one of the most affordable, quality brewing devices in cafes and kitchens across the globe. In this article, we will explore three different brewing methods for achieving exceptional coffee using the Aeropress.
Method #1 - The Original
The original Aeropress recipe is both simple and elegant: place the Aeropress on top of your cup with a fresh filter in place. Pour your coffee grounds into the press (either 14 g by weight or by simply using the included Aeropress scoop), followed by hot water (~95C / 203F) up to the #2 mark on the side of the chamber. Stir fast for 30 seconds then insert the plunger, expelling the rest of the remaining water as you press down. To clean the Aeropress, simply unscrew the cap and use the plunger to remove the cylindrically packed grinds into your organics bin. That’s it!
The main advantages from a brewing perspective are the narrow brew-time window, added pressure to increase extraction, and a fine paper filter for a smooth, clean cup of coffee every time. Practical advantages include portability, an efficient grind-to-flavor ratio, and a no-mess clean up.
Method #2 - The Inversion
A friend of mine recently complained that his Aeropress brews were too weak. After a brief discussion, it was clear that the water was running through the grinds too quickly, an issue that could probably be solved by dialing in the grind. However, another solution to Aeropress brews that taste too ‘thin’ is to use the Inversion Method, my personal favorite.
For this method, begin with the plunger inserted about ¼ inch and place the Aeropress upside down on the table, lid off. Pour your grinds in, followed by hot water, as before. However, this time let the coffee sit longer; set a timer for anywhere from one to two minutes (or longer - feel free to experiment!) to extract a greater depth of flavor. When your timer goes off, place a filter in the lid, wet it, and screw it in. Immediately flip the device onto your coffee mug and then press out the whole brew at once. Viola!
The advantage of the Inversion Method is two-fold. First, you get more of the late-stage brewing flavors which can lead to the brew feeling more ‘full’ or ‘developed’ on your palate. Second, all the water is exposed to the coffee grinds for a much narrower range of time (i.e. the time it takes to flip the Aeropress and depress the plunger) which helps to optimize the consistency of your brews.
Method #3 - The Cold Brew
Cold Brew coffee is most popular during the hot days of summer and can be achieved using your Aeropress. The basic idea is to use larger grinds in cold (or room temperature) water over a long period of time (i.e. hours, not minutes). If you are interested in experimenting with cold brew, or are a long-time Aeropress brewer who wants to try something new, give this cold brew recipe from European Coffee Trip a whirl.
Place your coarsely ground coffee beans into an inverted Aeropress with the plunger inserted about ¼ inch. Fill the chamber up to the 4 mark (~200 mL) with cold or room temperature water. Place a dry filter in the lid and screw on (to prevent spills) then store for 12 hours either on the counter or in the fridge. I recommend unscrewing the lid and wetting the filter with cold water, replacing it on the Aeropress before flipping it on to your mug and fully depressing the plunger. Add a patio with a view of the ocean on a hot summer day and you are all set!
Of course, these three methods are just the beginning of all the brewing bliss you can achieve with the Aeropress. Weighing out your coffee with a scale, using a professional burr grinder, and experimenting with brew time can all aid in consistently bringing out the best flavor in your coffee. However you make your coffee, buy it local, travel safe, and brew on!
VICT Discover Coffee Trip Itineraries:
Feature Roast Series:
Tag your coffee stop with #VICT to join in!
About the Curator
Joshua Gillingham is an author, board game designer, and coffee lover from Vancouver Island. He curates the Vancouver Island Coffee Tour. For questions or comments about VICT, map updates, or roaster openings and closures, send him a note via the community contact form.