Why Do Scandinavians Drink So Much Coffee?

Kaffi, fika, coffee: this caffeinated bean juice is beloved across Scandinavia. In fact, in 2020, Swedes were recorded to have drunk the second most coffee of any country on the planet. [1]

They’ve even invented a coffee-making method, but why this fascination with coffee?

Scandinavians drink so much coffee because of its cultural significance.

The drink first rose to prominence due to trade and has become a staple in social events and midday breaks.

It is also readily available, and it can be hard to refuse a hot drink in such a cold region. 

Grab a cup of your favorite roast and read on to find out everything there is to know about Scandinavian coffee culture, from its exciting history to its widespread presence in modern Scandinavia. 

Also, see Why Do Scandinavians Drink So Much Alcohol? to learn more.

Reasons Coffee Is So Popular in Nordic Countries

Coffee found its way to Scandinavia in the 1670s and has never gone out of style. [2]

The Nordic people see the drink as a way to facilitate social interaction and strengthen intra-community ties.

Let’s delve into the reasons why coffee is so beloved in Scandinavia. 

Coffee Plays a Key Role in Social Activities in Scandinavia

Nordic people incorporate coffee drinking into a range of social activities:

  • Inviting guests over to their houses
  • Rites of passage like weddings, christenings, and funerals
  • Gatherings like birthdays and parties 
  • Corporate and professional environments 

It’s hard to ascertain precisely how coffee became so ingrained into Nordic culture, but the fact is, it’s an integral part of daily life. In some places, it’s so integral that it’s mandatory. [3]

Take the Finnish, for instance: they have one mandatory coffee break at work every day—not a regular break, but a coffee break. 

Nordic people have even found ways to add a sting to their coffee, often adding a side of spirits or brandy to the drink, known as an avec. [4]

Due to their climate, Scandinavians primarily serve their coffee hot. They find it most enjoyable with a sweet treat like a danish.

Even so, it is an essential addition to every breakfast, regardless of the food. [5]

Scandinavia Has a Cold Climate

It’s no secret that Scandinavia has some frigid winters, with temperatures dipping below -30 degrees Celsius and the duration of daylight dropping to as little as one hour in December. [6]

That considered, it’s easy to see how coffee became so popular amongst the Nordic people.

Huddling together in coffee shops along icy roads became somewhat of a necessity and an enjoyable social event. 

In recent years, Scandinavia’s contribution to the coffee industry has grown more noticeable in the global coffee market, which is peculiar as their climate isn’t the most hospitable for cultivating beans. [7]

While Nordic countries source their beans from prominent global providers in warmer climates like Brazil and Ethiopia, they make up for their production inadequacies with their roasting prowess. [8]

Scandinavia has its fair share of specialty roasters that produce some spectacular dark roasts.

Even so, Scandinavia’s impact on the global coffee market is negligible, probably because its focus is on quality rather than quantity. 

Coffee Was Banned in Scandinavia

In 1746, about 100 years after its introduction to Scandinavian society, coffee had become the drink of the rich, and soon this would become strikingly clear. [9]

However, in time, coffee would become so widespread that today, three out of four Scandinavians identify as coffee drinkers. 

Interestingly, administrative and religious interventions impacted the growing popularity of coffee in Scandinavia. 

How Coffee Became Illegal

King Gustav III of Sweden instituted a hefty tax on coffee, which the Swedes rebelled against.

In the face of this refusal, Gustav eventually decreed a ban on coffee, driven by the belief that it was unhealthy and that its effect on behavior would induce people to break the law. [10]

As history has proven time and time again, sometimes all it takes to make something more satisfying is to criminalize it.

Though coffee became a black market item in Sweden, with the king imposing numerous bans over his reign, it remained popular. 

After Gustav’s death, coffee became legal and freely available.

The new regime imposed sky-high taxes on alcohol, driving its people further into the clutches of the already-popular coffee.

The church also contributed to the growing adoption of coffee by offering coffee and cakes at congregations.

Kirkekaffe became a tradition, uniting communities and creating stronger social bonds. [11]

This effect never really wore off, and kirkekaffe continues to be served in churches today. 

How Scandinavians Make Their Coffee

Swedish kaffe bursts with flavors and aromas. Mainly using Arabica beans, the Swedes roast their beans to perfection and drink their coffee primarily black.

The hallmark of Swedish coffee is that it is very strong. While it doesn’t contain all the caffeine characteristics of coffee in the US, its taste is intense.

The average Swede drinks around 3.2 cups of this a day. [12]

In addition to intense taste, the Nordic coffee culture is unique because they go beyond the lazy, instant-coffee experience that most average people indulge in daily.

What Makes Swedish Coffee Different?

While most of the Scandinavian population doesn’t mind the classic cappuccino or latte, the Swedes do things a little differently. 

There are a few traditionally Swedish ways to make coffee, including:

  • Drip coffee: Drip coffee is nothing foreign to most coffee connoisseurs and is enjoyed around the globe. In Sweden, it’s enjoyed black with a sweet pastry. 
  • Boiled Coffee: Kokkaffe entails boiling ground coffee in a pot or pan with water. Once it’s settled, it’s strained and enjoyed. 
  • Egg coffee: Throwing an entire egg into coffee enhances its caffeine, creates a velvety texture, and neutralizes the natural bitterness and acidity of the coffee. The egg is mixed with coffee grounds, then boiled water, and filtered. [13]

Egg coffee seems so bizarre to outsiders that we assume it must be isolated to the Swedes. [14] However, a vast array of cultures across the world enjoy egg coffee. 

One theory to explain egg coffee is that Swedes and Norwegians who migrated to the Americas in the 1800s created this brewing method to make coffee grounds stretch further.

Whether that theory is true, it is certain that the inclusion of eggs had purifying qualities. [15]

In 1946, Nguyen Van Giang invented the Vietnamese rendition of this seemingly luxurious drink out of necessity rather than curiosity. [16]

Egg coffee was created to combat the milk shortage in Vietnam caused by the French War.

From humble beginnings rose a new culinary delicacy, enjoyed internationally as a drink and dessert, with such additions as condensed milk and butter. 

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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