Coffee is all about community. It’s about communication. It’s about conversation. It’s about discovering and experiencing. Nobody knows this better than the Swedes, the Danish, the Norwegians, the Finnish, the Icelandic – at least that’s the argument made by two young ladies who are in the beginning stages of a great adventure; traveling through the Nordic countries and documenting their experiences for a book about Nordic cafe culture.
The tentative title of the book is TAKK: Explorations of Nordic Cafe Culture and the authors are Samantha Albert and Corey Kingston. I’m very excited to have them joining me at the Table today for a conversation and sneak peek of their upcoming adventures. Sam, Corey – feel free to pull up a chair.
Before we get into everything, would you mind introducing yourselves and telling us a little about you?
Sure! We are two good friends who share a love for the Nordic countries and coffee.
SAM: I received my MBA from Business School Lausanne and am set on opening a Scandinavian-inspired coffee shop in my hometown of Seattle. Since studying in Copenhagen six years ago, I’ve returned to Denmark every year as I have been continuously inspired by their culture and way of life. I also spent time living in Iceland and working in Simbahöllin Café, an extremely homey café in the rural West Fjords.
COREY: I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona and am graduating from architecture school in May. I spent the last six months living, working, and studying in Copenhagen as well as traveling throughout the Nordic countries. My love of coffee started quite young and has become ever more prominent since my acceptance into architecture school five years ago. My interest in photography began while working at an architecture firm in Brooklyn three summers ago, and it has become my main tool in the documentation of architecture and the many facets of our built environment.
How do the two of you know each other?
Through our lovely mutual friend Jen, who incidentally just moved to Sweden!
Tell us a little bit about this project you’re collaborating on.
We are very taken with the cultural traditions and the daily coffee rituals in the Nordic countries. Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland are home to the coziest cafés, they drink the most coffee per capita in the world, and have deeply rooted coffee traditions that go back hundreds of years. They cherish their coffee and the act of drinking it with friends, in contrast to our culture of grabbing a latte on the way to work. We want to further investigate this beautiful culture and document it in our book Takk: Explorations of Nordic Café Culture.
Why are you so interested in Nordic cafes and cafe culture? Why not focus on American cafe culture, or even Viennese?
Viennese coffee culture, like French and Italian coffee culture, are important and full of history. These coffee cultures are well known – they have been researched and documented by historians for centuries. Nordic cafés and coffee culture, on the other hand, is a bit more hidden from our part of the world. We actually can’t find any books on the subject! But beyond our desire to share these coffee traditions with an American audience; we want to showcase a culture of hospitality that cherishes the gathering of loved ones, in a cozy atmosphere, and over a great cup of coffee.
In your experience, how does coffee culture differ between the United States and the Nordic region?
Nordic café culture focuses on spending time together. Coffee is not treated like a beverage, there are rarely coffee orders to-go and you never see people in coffee shops on their lap tops. It is heavily seeped in social gatherings and as a reason to take a break from our hectic lives, rather than a supplement to keep us awake.
Here in America, the people that are involved in the “specialty” coffee industry take their coffee very seriously, whereas everyday coffee drinkers just use it as a vehicle for a quick pick-me-up. Do specialty coffee and everyday coffee differ over there?
Yes, specialty coffee and everyday coffee differ in the Nordic countries as well and this is a topic that we want to explore further in our research of Nordic café culture. There has been a major influx of specialty coffee in the Nordic countries recently. This can be seen in the overwhelming number of Nordic baristas who have placed first in the World Barista Championships for the past ten years, as well as the growing “specialty” coffee roasters that are operating in the Nordic Countries like Tim Wendelboe in Norway and Coffee Collective in Denmark. Then, on the other hand, you find coffee gatherings in homes where the actual quality of the coffee is not as important as the ritual of drinking it together.
Do the consumers differ? How so?
The biggest difference we have found so far is the “to-go” culture in the states doesn’t really exist in the Nordic countries. Also, sugar dense coffee drinks that you find to be popular with a younger consumer, are not very popular in the Nordic countries.
What do you think the people living in this region could teach Americans about coffee?
How to take a break, spend time with friends, enjoy a cup of coffee and get cozy with candles and a great record.
In an email you sent me, you had mentioned that you both live on the West Coast, but have lived and worked in cafes in Denmark and Iceland. How did that happen? Could you briefly share the experience with us?
SAM: Two friends of mine bought a 100-year-old house in a very small town in the West Fjords of Iceland and created one of the coziest, most lovely cafés while also maintaining most of the original interior. I helped in the café in 2010 and spent time serving coffee, making blueberry jam, baking bread and getting to know the locals. I’m still in awe of my friends that traded in their busy city lives to open and run this stunning little café in rural Iceland.
COREY: The building that I was living in while studying in Copenhagen was also home to a non-profit café called Mellemrummet. In an attempt to meet new people, and learn about the making of coffee, I began volunteering at the café on weekends. Needless to say, I met some of my closest friends there, and became aware of the Danish people’s love of gathering around a French press and a flickering candle. Probably because its so damn dark all the time!
You’ve both been on quite a journey with this book; what does your journey in coffee look like? How did you get intoit?
SAM: My personal journey in coffee has been one of gaining experience by working at coffee shops in Seattle, attending coffee cuppings whenever I can, researching coffee history and learning about various brewing methods. I also make it a point to seek out special coffee shops whenever I travel.
COREY: My experience with coffee is through her constant consumption. Due to my architecture background, my interest lies more in the design of spaces that foster coziness and social interaction.
Did you get to meet Tim Wendelboe when you were there?
Tim Wendelboe is definitely one of the people we want to meet and interview during our travels. We would love to be enlightened by his coffee expertise and his love for Nordic coffee culture.
In this book, you write about your favorite coffee shops and cafes of the Nordic region – what are some of your favorite coffee shops and roasters in the United States?
The Pacific Northwest is home to some wonderful independently run roasting companies, both big and small. I’m partial to Stumptown. I love the coffee and I love the people there. Kuma Coffee is a great new roaster based in Seattle. One of my favorite coffee shops in Seattle is Volunteer Park Café.
Just reading the description of the project on the Kickstarter page, I was immediately intrigued by thephrase “mountainside waffle house in Norway.” That sounds incredible – what was it like?
This experience happened while I was living in Denmark. I took a weekend trip to Norway and stumbled upon a small waffle house during a hike outside of Oslo. It was amazing! Waffles are a big part of Nordic café culture, especially in the more rural areas where the cafes are often family run. Waffles usually come with locally made jam or a special Norwegian cheese called “brunost” – definitely something to try!
So, you’ve both lived overseas, you’ve both worked in cafes overseas, you’ve both made friends overseas – whatmade you decide to bring your experiences overseas back to America in writing this book?
SAM: I intend to open a Nordic-inspired coffee shop in Seattle, and hopes to use this book as a tool for inspiration.
COREY: I want to explore the cozy atmospheres and special spaces that exist within Nordic café culture as research for her career as an architect.
We also just want people to become familiar with these beautiful countries and hopefully inspire Americans to borrow some Nordic coffee drinking traditions.
Are you both writers by trade?
We are not writers by trade but look forward to compiling our findings into a mix of photography and stories.
What are you hoping to accomplish with this book? Not to sound mean, but how do you answer the question “Why should we care about Nordic cafe culture”?
We believe that this is a culture worthy of documentation and we hope to create a movement that will inspire people to get together more and enjoy the simple things in life, like a cup of coffee between friends.
Last question: how can we get involved in making this book a reality?
You can visit our Kickstarter page and pledge! Any amount brings us closer to the creation of our book. Thank you so much. Takk!
This sounds like a really great project to be involved in, fellow coffee lovers. I would urge all of you to donate at least a small amount to their Kickstarter project. Their goal is to raise $16,000, and they have raised $5,004 as of very early this morning. If you’d like to be a part of this incredible venture, you only have until Monday, May 7!
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.