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.
In Praise of Better Coffee
The sad fact is that most people drink terrible coffee.
Stale beans, burnt roasts, and poor brewing methods produce a bitter flavor; this bitterness stimulates stomach acid production which then leads to an unpleasant assortment of digestive discomforts affectionately termed ‘gut rot’ by the coffee community. Some bury the bitterness in cream and sugar; others stubbornly drink it black to prove their mettle.
Despite all this, many still enjoy coffee as a beverage. Whether because of emotional associations, cultural customs, or an acquired caffeine dependency, coffee is intricately stitched into our daily life. The good news is this: coffee does not have to taste terrible, nor does it have to make your stomach feel upset. Though the art of brewing requires a lifetime to master, I believe there are three basic coffee concepts that will spur novice coffee drinkers on to intrepid amateurs.
Coffee Concept #1: You cannot extract a high quality cup of coffee from a low quality bean.
Mass market coffee blends, pre-ground and sold in large tins at the grocery store, are problematic for several reasons, most prominently because they are sourced from so many locations. Some farms may have good crops, some poor, but inevitably the coffee quality falls to the lowest batch in the bin. Without getting too technical, high quality coffees are graded using a Q score; this standard, set out by the Coffee Quality Institute, is a grade out of 100 points. Any coffee rated 80 or above is considered specialty with a guaranteed baseline quality. Local and small batch roasters usually source their specialty coffee beans from a single origin; this means they can be confident of the quality of the whole batch because they bought their coffee from a specific farm. Therefore, it is important to purchase beans from a source that guarantees quality from the start. In most cases, your local coffee roaster is your best bet.
Concept #2: Even high quality coffee beans can be ruined with a poor roast.
Local coffee roasters are artisans of the highest degree and are constantly roasting fresh batches of coffee. The smaller scale of their operations actually allows them to hone the roast to perfection, whereas industrial roasting methods for mass market beans typically err on the side of being overdone or even burnt. Worse, fine grinds and long stretches of time spent in transit and sitting on the grocery store shelf exacerbates staleness. Local cafes can grind whole beans for you which should be brewed within two months of the roast date for optimal freshness. Explore local light, medium, and dark roasts to discover your preferred flavor profile.
Concept #3: Your brewing method either maximizes or minimizes a coffee’s potential.
Extraction is the process of dissolving the wide array of delicious flavor components out of the coffee bean and into water as it brews. Poorly extracted coffee is a tragedy; the excellent flavor and craftmanship of the perfectly roasted bean is left in the grinds as the taster gets a paltry shadow of what the coffee could truly be. Many modern brewing techniques help optimize extraction (a subject for future articles). If you’ve never heard of an Aeropress, the Japanese-designed Hario V60, or the Moka Pot, you might be surprised at the reasonable price-point for these options designed to optimize your extraction. Each requires a bit of practice and specific types of grinds, but the flavor difference is well worth the investment of time.
Coffee is a part of our culture, a daily ritual for some and a social rite for others. No matter when you drink your coffee, consider enriching your experience by employing these three essential coffee concepts. As always, 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.