A while I ago I had the opportunity to take part in the TED Global conference in Edinburgh. For those unfamiliar with the event, their slogan is “Ideas worth spreading”. Indeed, that’s what the event was all about. It consists of themed sessions with ground-breaking people who only have 18 minutes to speak. The TED talks are all free to watch on the website.
The reason I was there was to participate in the Coffee Common, a collaboration between some of the best roasters and baristas in the world. The aim is not just to serve delicious cups of coffee to the attendees (or TEDsters), but also to bring the whole process of making a really good cup of coffee to them. People are at the conference to get new ideas, so TED is a perfect opportunity to tell the ordinary coffee drinkers the story behind their cup – from discovering the farm to processing the coffee to roasting and brewing.
A handful of roasters participated in the event and supplied a wide range of beautiful coffees. Presenting very different coffees to someone who hasn’t ever tried anything else but just one at a time is fascinating. We had people saying that they never thought that coffee could taste like, say, strawberries. Many told us that they wouldn’t be able to have coffee at their local coffee shop anymore. That, I think, was the goal.
Since the event was held in Edinburgh most of the baristas and roasters were British. The only Scandinavian roastery was Koppi from Helsingborg, Sweden. Out of the the dozen or so baristas participating, only a few were Nordic.
How did the Nordic style of preparing and communicating coffee differ from the rest? The coffees Koppi had chosen to supply were in my opinion a good example of modern Nordic coffee taste and style – a washed Kenyan coffee sparkling with black currant notes, and a sun-dried Ethiopian full of bergamot and citrus fruits, both very lightly roasted compared to the others we served. Also, they weren’t the easiest or most approachable of the coffees. Many of the other coffees were from Latin America, roasted a touch longer, featuring somewhat less distinct notes such as chocolate fudge or roasted nuts – yet they were similarly delicious.
Besides the flavour we discussed above there was a different emphasis on the mouthfeel of coffee – the way it actually feels in your mouth. Based in my experiences there has been, and still is, a great focus on the mouthfeel of the coffee in the US and Australia. The drinks have been brewed with a great amount of coffee to achieve a “bigger” mouthfeel. Coffees with a naturally big, heavy mouthfeel have been appreciated in a different way than in Nordic countries. In Nordic coffees, the main emphasis is on the flavour, not the mouthfeel. Silky, smooth and juicy are the attributes I would use for the mouthfeel of these coffees instead of syrupy or honey-like.
The social aspect of coffee in the Nordic countries is immensely important. It affects the contemporary specialty coffee scene and the way professional baristas communicate, or speak about the story behind the coffee, to customers. I think there is a sort of minimalistic approach to brewing and preparing the coffee within the Nordic baristas, almost similar to Finnish furniture design – at first glimpse it might seem a bit boring, but once you get into it you may find simplicity at its best.
It was fascinating to try the same coffees brewed by different baristas. Everybody had a slightly different view of what the same coffee could offer, and thus all the the beverages were slightly different. Personally I think that it has something to do with the cultural or the traditional background of the barista. In general, the Nordic approach to contemporary, micro-roasted high quality coffee draws influence from the past and transforms it into modern way of brewing delicious coffee.
Kalle Freese is a young barista based in Helsinki, Finland.