The Norwegian turkaffe, literally hiking coffee, is one of the oldest coffee traditions we have. Normally prepared outside over an open fire or gas burner, it is an almost ritualized part of any hiking experience.
While the act of physically preparing a cup of black coffee is becoming increasingly popular again, these aspects of our coffee culture were more or less forgotten after the rise of supermarket coffee. Preparing turkaffe remains one of the few ways that still emphasize the process, the ritual of making coffee.
Tim Wendelboe is a big fan of this method of preparing coffee: “Steeped coffee produces a strikingly full-bodied coffee, because you don’t filter off the coffee oils that add to its good mouthfeel and taste. Since the coffee is ground relatively coarse, the taste will be clean and clear. Try coffees from Brazil or Colombia to accentuate their already rich and full-bodied character. Pretty much all coffee will be good as steeped coffee.”
Åshild is a Norwegian and an avid hiker. She started drinking coffee at age 15, and like most Norwegians, she prefers her coffee black. After seeing her hiking photos on the Internet, we asked her if she would share with us her views on the relationship between hiking and coffee.
Nordic Coffee Culture: Is coffee a natural part of your day?
Åshild: Absolutely. It is an essential part of starting the day, and coffee for me is equal parts personal and social enjoyment: coffee breaks with colleagues, café trips, social calls and of course, hiking.
NCC: What sort of coffee do you prefer?
Åshild: I enjoy many types of coffee, but I think classic Norwegian black coffee and espresso are closest to my heart. Now and then I might enjoy a cappuccino or cortado, but I always come back to black coffee.
NCC: How often do you go hiking?
Åshild: It depends on the time of year and on how busy I am, but we try to go at every opportunity. During the week it might be a short hike or ski trip in the forests surrounding the city. During vacations we try to fit in several longer mountain hikes or treks, both during winter and summer.
NCC: Has making coffee when out hiking been a family tradition?
Åshild: I grew up in a family that always went hiking during the weekends, and especially on sundays. Not bringing coffee on these hikes was out of the question, so like many other Norwegians, I am carrying on a family tradition.
NCC: To you, what role does coffee play in hiking? Is it a way to reward yourself?
Åshild: Coffee is definitely a reward, yes; an essential part of any longer break we might take. On shorter trips we often bring a thermos of coffee, but on longer hikes coffee it is always made there on the spot. This is when the ritual of hiking coffee comes in: Starting the fire, be it natural or gas, preparing the pot, and then having a rest while you wait for that cup of delicious, freshly brewed coffee.
NCC: What sort of coffee equipment do you bring on hikes?
Åshild: The coffee pot and (coarsely ground) coffee are necessities. We normally find fresh, clean water outside, and especially in the mountains. Can’t forget the gas burner, even though we also make the coffee over an open fire.
NCC: Do you vary your brewing method?
Åshild: On a hike, tradition is important. We boil water, pour in the coarsely ground coffee, and let it steep until the coffee is ready. I have no plans to change this; the tradition and ritual of it all is an important part.
NCC: What is your best memory of hiking and coffee?
Åshild: I’ve drunk many a cup of coffee while hiking, but one in particular stands out: On an early summer morning, while hiking in Rondane, I got up after a very cold night in the tent and prepared a pot of coffee. Drinking that coffee while watching the sun rise warmed both body and soul.
NCC: What, to you, is Nordic Coffee Culture?
Åshild: When I hear the words “coffee culture”, I think of black coffee, and of companionship – the people you socialize with over a cup of coffee. That’s not to say that coffee in itself isn’t a perfectly good companion!
For more excellent photographs of Norwegian hiking, check out Åshild’s flickr account.
Turkaffe in a Modern Context
The newly opened Norwegian restaurant Maaemo (their blog) has quickly become an innovator in fine dining. Emphasizing a Nordic, ecological approach in everything they do, Maaemo have taken the quintessentially Nordic turkaffe and tweaked it slightly. Their take is simply but meticulously prepared, using the best of ingredients.
In appearance, it is as close as you can get to the outdoors: sitting on a bunsen burner atop freshly cut spruce branches, the sounds of the water boiling and the hissing bunsen burner evokes memories many of us have had of sitting out in nature, waiting for that warm cup of coffee. For more information on Maaemo and coffee, check out this video from the Nordic Barista Cup: “The Nordic Approach.”
Kokekaffe (Steeped Coffee)
Simplicity is key in this brewing method. Historically it has been the most popular brewing method by far, even in the home. It requires no special equipment apart from a container, be it a pot or kettle. Be mindful of the 7 steps to better coffee to ensure a good result. As mentioned further up, naturally full-bodied coffees are the best match for steeped coffee. Use 65 grams (±5) of coffee per liter of water, according to preference.
- Bring water to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat.
- Add the coffee to the water, stirring to ensure all the grounds are wet.
- Cover the container and let the coffee steep for 5 minutes.
- Remove the cover and gently push the coffee down, so that it starts sinking.
- Wait for approximately one minute before slowly pouring all the coffee into cups or a different container. Like with a French press, letting the coffee sit in contact with the grounds for too long will lead to over-extraction and an excessively bitter and unbalanced cup of coffee.
With this level of flexibility, it’s easy to see how it has become the brewing method of choice for hikers.
The two top photos were taken by Å. Berg-Tesdal and E. Berg-Tesdal, respectively.