On an island apart, Reykjavik is a city apart: a small town with all the trappings of a big city. Its inhabitants are metropolitan beyond expectation, but at the same time fiercely proud of their culture and heritage.
Nestled in a cove on the southwest coast of Iceland, Reykjavik was the first permanent settlement of Iceland; it has been the center of power for the island ever since. A city of only 120,000 inhabitants, it is defined by its human scale, something that has all but disappeared from larger urban centres around the world: houses are mostly limited to 5 floors (usually less), and residential areas intermingle with shops, restaurants and cafes. Everything is within walking distance, and yet Reykjavik feels deceptively large, because there is so much going on at every turn.
Originally settled by people from the other Nordic countries around 870 AD, Icelandic has much in common with the Norse language spoken by the Norwegians at that time. Iceland was under Norwegian and later Danish rule from the 13th to the early 20th century. For someone from one of the Nordic countries, Reykjavik and Iceland are both familiar and strangely new at the same time.
Reykjavik is also the undisputed coffee nexus of Iceland, with the three leading specialty roasteries operating their businesses from or near the city: two larger ones, the venerable Kaffitár and Te & Kaffi, and the much smaller, much more recent Kaffismiðja Íslands.
Economy of scale is an important thing in the world of coffee: smaller roasteries need a society with robust economy and a lot of spending power and to ensure they will have customers for what is, in the eyes of many, a premium they charge for their coffees. This was discussed in-depth in the article “A Tale of Two Markets“.
However, the economy of scale is skewed on Iceland, because of the size of its national market: with a total population only slightly north of 320,000, even a larger, commercial roastery would be small by international standards. This has lead to a surprising result: coffee from what one would normally consider to be a specialty coffee roaster, Kaffitár, has a 23% share of the retail store market!
Kaffitár: A specialty coffee institution in its own right, this small chain of 8 coffee shops dotted around Reykjavik (plus two at Keflavik airport) has been a fixture in Iceland since the early 1990s. Focused mostly on American coffees, Kaffitár offers filter brewed black coffee as well as espresso at all their locations. Read more about Kaffitár.
Kaffismiðja Íslands: located in a residential area just off one of the main shopping streets of Reykjavik, Kaffismiðja is a boutique roastery and coffee shop. It is run by two long time coffee professionals (and Kaffitár alums), Sonja and Ingibjörg. The shop itself is decorated with vintage furniture belonging to Sonja, and the cups and saucers used are a mix of old and new. The walls are covered in coffee related diplomas from countries all over the world, and the space is dominated by a hot pink Giesen roaster. While Kaffismiðja might appear quirky, the owners and staff are consumate professionals — expect a good cup of coffee. Read more about Kaffismiðja Íslands.
Te & Kaffi: established in 1984, Te & Kaffi operate several shops in Reykjavik, including one inside a bookstore on Lækjartorgi. Alongside Kaffitár, Te & Kaffi initiated the specialty coffee movement on Iceland. Read more about Te & Kaffi.
If you’re venturing outside of Reykjavik, you can’t go wrong with Pálmar’s Hafnafjordur-based Pallett Kaffikompani.
The people of Iceland and Reykjavik have the rare privilege of being able, culturally and financially, to enjoy what is in effect a miniature metropolis: a variety of shops, coffee shops, restaurants, some of them world-class, and a bustling nightlife, all packed into a small town. Everything is within walking distance, and there is always something happening somewhere. While being international in scope, the culture remains Icelandic: open, honest and playful.
Reykjavik has something to offer everyone.