Notes on the Nordic Coffee Culture: the Social Aspect

Notes on the Nordic Coffee Culture: the Social Aspect

By Chris Kolbu

For a year now, we have been looking at what constitutes a Nordic coffee culture. Both in terms of concrete history and traditions, but more importantly also the more intangible sense of place coffee enjoys in our lives.

If there’s one thing coffee can be succinctly said to be for people in the Nordic countries, it’s just that: there. Ever present, for celebrating the monumental, shaping events of our lives – or for consumption without a second thought. There is always room and opportunity for a cup.

We saw this clearly in the contest, where we wanted you to send in your favourite coffee memory: only very rarely was a specific coffee mentioned. In the vast majority of the entries, the role coffee played in your memories was more a result of coffee being everywhere in our lives to begin with.

In Olav L. Reisop’s entry, liking coffee was a way for him to grow up, both in his own eyes as well as in those of his family.

It didn’t change my mind immediately, but there was improvement. It was something else, much richer, much more complex than I had tasted earlier: this would do. With every day there was a gradual improvement, and after a week it already seemed preposterous to me that I had not enjoyed this earlier. A day without coffee was becoming an increasingly uncomfortable proposition. Thanks to immersion brewing, fresh mountain water, thin air and loving pressure from my family, I had joined the fellowship of coffee drinkers.

As children attending dinner parties, the inevitable coffee drinking among the adults that take place after dinner were often felt as being a slow form of social torture. But as we grew up, our ticket into this circle of adults was marked by starting to drink coffee. In the beginning, neither the conversation nor the coffee would be much to our liking, but as Olav wrote, we gradually grow into it.

In Geir’s favourite coffee memory, the drinking itself was a pretext – an excuse to spend more time with a girl. The coffee was, as a beverage, unimportant. In fact, it was “far from being good” in the first place. But as we know, coffee is more than something you drink up here. It’s a social vehicle.

First dates, these non-committal, short meetings between two people testing each others’ waters, are often spent nervously clutching a cup of increasingly cold coffee, weighing every word carefully. Sipping slowly, the enforced breaks of drinking helps to shield both from awkward lulls in the conversation.

For many people, going hiking without the equipment necessary to make a pot of immersion brewed turkaffe is tantamount to heresy. Some of us have that relationship to our morning coffee – a small ritual that creates continuity, both intergenerational and day to day.

At work or at university, the coffee break is a welcome chance to catch your breath, reward yourself for your hard work and talk with friends or co-workers. It might be our Protestant roots, but most of us feel as if a coffee break needs to be deserved. Coffee and all it entails, then, is our reward.

Without being exalted, or even to a large degree, thought about at all, it is woven into the language and the daily routines of so many of us that it has transcended its role as mere drink and become something more, but also less concrete.

Coffee has become second nature to us.

Perhaps that is the highest compliment that can be given to an exotic beverage made from the roasted piths of cherries harvested largely around the equator. That tens of millions of us, people at the farthest reaches of Europe, nestled closer to the North Pole than strictly necessary, have taken it and made it our own.

The first photo is taken from the National Library of Norway. The second photo is from the same place and was taken in July, 1896, by Eiliv Fougner. The photo of a hand pouring water onto a coffee filter is taken by Aslak Johannessen.

Nordic Coffee Culture
Wilfa AS

Nordic Coffee Culture is brought to you by Wilfa, a part of Nordic coffee culture since 1946.
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