Scandinavia is passionate about coffee—Thanks to all five Scandinavian nations, the region is in the top 10 coffee-consuming nations in the world per capita consistently. There are tons of espresso houses and cafés on every street in Oslo and Copenhagen, and there is the Swedish cultural practice of Fika. Reykjavík in Iceland is famous for its countless café options, and Finns drink 12 kilos of coffee every year. Safe to say, the Scandinavian obsession with coffee is on display for the world.
But how did this obsession begin? Some claim it's a wonderful way to handle the intrinsically introverted culture that is present throughout Scandinavia. After all, who doesn't like to enjoy a coffee break with their friends and co-workers?
Other Scandinavians claim that coffee is less of a beverage and more of an instinct given to them growing up. This may be due to the unforgiving winters, with Finns getting coffee spoons as christening presents. Norwegians drink straight espresso by the time they're eight years old!
Regardless of the why, the how is relatively straightforward; Coffee was introduced to the Swedish statesman Claes Rålamb somewhere in the 1650s, who hated it and promptly tried to forget about it.
The first coffee beans landed on the shores of Sweden somewhere around the 1670s. However, the drink received little attention. Doctors used it primarily for medicinal purposes. It was not until the Swedish King Charles XII made his voyage to Turkey that coffee would become a bigger phenomenon.
He had his first experience with proper coffee and promptly fell in love with it. He brought a traditional Turkish cezve back with him to Sweden, along with his enthusiasm for coffee. After which, an obsession followed the nobles in his court.
Thus, the seeds for the Swedish obsession with coffee had been planted, and there was no looking back.
Come 1710, the first coffee house in Stockholm opened. In the next few decades, the number grew to almost fifty coffee houses throughout the city. This was despite the fact that there were about five coffee bans in Sweden. Some of them were implemented by the peasantry and aristocracy, led by the notoriously coffee-hating King Gustav III. Eventually, the last coffee bans ended in 1820, and the Swedes have been hooked on coffee ever since.
Denmark was right behind Sweden in the coffee race. With the first cup of coffee served in Denmark in 1665, by 1672, coffee was a widely popular medicinal remedy. The spread of coffee to the general public took a while, though. Until the 1730s, tea was the more popular drink, with coffee being restricted to the aristocrats.
By the 19th century, the Danish instituted a ban on alcohol. They encouraged the population to drink coffee instead, although it didn't work. This is evidenced by the existence of the popular drink "coffee punch."
Coffee imports grew, and coffee became cheaper and accessible to everyone, even the rural poor. Reversibly, tea had become the drink of the elite. When industrialization occurred in Denmark, and people moved from rural areas to urban ones, they brought their coffee drinking habits with them. This officially made Denmark a country crazy about coffee.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Norway, coffee was a bit slow to emerge. With coffee arriving in Norway in the 1690s, many treated it as a medicinal drink for about a hundred years or so before it transgressed.
With a large volume of trade between Norway and Denmark, a few bouts of prohibition, and heavy taxes on alcohol, coffee slowly but surely grew in popularity. By the late 1800s, it was everywhere. However, while the quantity of coffee was at an all-time high, the quality wasn't.
It was not until the 1860s that Peter Christen Asbjørnsen wrote his treatise on coffee. Here, he laid out proper methods and practices to brew enjoyable coffee. This sparked the imagination of the Norwegians, who started experimenting with the drink. Soon, they invented the world-famous "kokaffe"—making Norway the first nation of proper coffee connoisseurs.
In the quiet country of Finland, coffee arrived by way of Sweden and Russia in the 17th century. Like other Scandinavian countries, coffee in Finland was initially a medicinal drink and then a luxury to be enjoyed by the elites. It slowly spread throughout Finland and by the 18th century, the delicious beverage could be found across the country.
However, while it was available over a broad geography, it hadn't captivated the Finns quite like it does now. Coffee got a real boost in popularity when in 1919, alcohol was banned throughout the country. Still, it was during World War II— when coffee imports suddenly halted—did the Finns see what they were missing.
After trying to fill the coffee-shaped hole in their heart with organic substitutes like sugar beet and beetroot, they realized just how precious and transient the presence of coffee was. And once the war(s) ended, they held their coffee cups tight and never let go. Finland is now arguably the biggest coffee capital in the world, even more so than Italy and Spain!
Icelandic scholar Árni Magnússon gave many things to Iceland, chief among them was a collection of manuscripts and scholarly articles that are now preserved in the Árni Magnússon Institute of Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík. However, did you know he was also the first person to bring coffee to Iceland? It happened when he got a quarter of a pound of coffee from a friend on November 16th, 1703. However, it was not consumed as it is today. Until the mid-18th century, the Icelandic people made porridge from the unroasted beans, consumed only at episcopal see Skálholt.
But, by about 1760, green coffee was widely available, and almost every home had its roaster and grinder. By 1850, coffee had become an inseparable part of the working day and was being consumed twice or thrice a day—more during harvest season or sailing season. And by the beginning of the 20th century, coffee culture and Icelandic culture became thoroughly intertwined. Iceland slowly sailed into the golden age of home roasting.
Well, folks, that's how the coffee culture in the Scandinavian counties began. From a simple drink, it has become a staple drink in all aspects of life.