Which country consumes the most coffee in the world? Finland. The second is Norway, third Iceland, fourth Denmark, and sixth is Sweden – not sure how The Netherlands sneaked into spot number five. I live in Sweden, and I can confirm that this is definitely true.
Coffee is an essential part of the culture in all of the Nordic countries. Maybe it’s the taste, or perhaps it’s the little break that comes with it that makes it so attractive. Probably weather plays a role, too. It’s cold and dark, so coffee is perfect for waking you up and warming you up.
On average, Finns drink three cups of coffee a day. In Sweden, almost every household has a filter coffee machine. Most of the time, it’s even one particular brand, namely Moccamaster (produced in The Netherlands, though). It’s a very retro-looking coffee maker that makes you want to drink coffee just because it looks very cool. Not only the amounts are quite overwhelming. Their black gold is also pretty dark in its roast, which means this is nothing for the weak.
Most of the time, coffee is served on a refill basis. You get a cup at the counter of a cafe, you fill it up with coffee yourself, and you go back as many times as you want to drink more. Even fancy restaurants will often give you an apologising head shake when telling you that they don’t have espresso but only filter coffee.
I had a Danish colleague back in Brussels, and with fascination, I would watch him downing seven cups of coffee every day. I didn’t question it back then; only when I moved to Sweden, I discovered the specific pattern.
1. How did coffee get to the Nordics?
Coffee came from Arabic countries and Asia. Once global trade began, so did drinking coffee. However, it was expensive in the beginning, and mainly the nobility could afford to drink coffee. Slowly, it became cheaper and started replacing wine (that was highly taxed and even more expensive) as a social drink.
Denmark had access to a free port and so could easily source its coffee beans. In turn, the Norwegians were ruled by Denmark at that point and so got access to coffee, too, without having to pay any duties or taxes.
In Sweden, coffee became very popular too. So popular that it was even banned a couple of times in the late 1700s and early 1800s. People claimed it was unhealthy and had dangerous side effects. At the time, the reigning king didn’t like coffee either and thus decided that no one should drink it. Another reason to ban it in 1756 was that Sweden wanted to protect and boost its tea sales and saw this threatened by coffee. Once all these bans were lifted, coffee became an integral part of Swedish culture. It was also served after church service, called kirkekaffe, to socialise and talk to each other.
2. Anywhere and Anytime
The first thing to happen each morning is the filling of the coffee machine’s water tank, grabbing a filter from the pantry, putting it into the machine, and adding spoonfuls of coffee to it. Many drink their coffee black, some add milk, but rumor has it that this is only for weaklings.
The crucial bit about the coffee culture isn’t the morning cup, though. It’s the numerous coffee breaks. In Sweden, they’re called Fika, and the other countries have the same concept. It is basically a coffee break during the day (or three or four) to relax, have a chat with colleagues (ha, remember those days?!), and to make sure you get your daily coffee intake. It’s sometimes paired with something sweet.
Also important are the outdoor activities. Norwegians are probably at the forefront of hiking, skiing, going to their hytte (hut, or weekend/holiday place). A thermos filled with coffee can’t be missing at any time. The couple of times I went cross country skiing or hiking here in Sweden, filter coffee was never missing.
Now excuse me, I have to clean up the coffee I spilled this morning.