Coffee in Iceland
Just ten drops for me, thanks
Iceland is known for the Northern Lights, the midnight sun, glaciers and… coffee? Yes, really! The Nordic nations are some of the biggest coffee drinkers in the world and Icelanders are no exception. The Icelanders’ love of the magic beans is evident by the sheer number of cafés in Reykjavík.
The first written documentation of coffee in Iceland is from the 18th century when the tradtion was brought to Iceland by way of Denmakr, our overlords at the time. For some years, coffee drinkers were limited to the elite who had conections to Denmark but in the 19th century most average Icelanders had had their first taste of coffee (although it was still a luxury item). By the 20th century however, coffee was an integral part of the household and every farm in Iceland was roasting and every farm in Iceland was roasting their own coffee beans and grinding them.
Serving strong coffee and lots of it was a point of pride, especially since coffee beans were relatively expensive, categorised as colonial goods and revered appropriately as such. Any offer of coffee was likely to be met with a polite and humble « sure, just ten drops, please. »
In 1958, Café Mokka opened its doors on Skolavördustigur in Reykjavík, when the city was just beginning to blossom into the cosmopolitan city it is today. It was a turning point in Iceland’s coffee culture, as it was the first café in Reykjavík to serve Italian-style espresso drinks. Today, of course, most cafés have a large gleaming espresso-maker, although some coffeee aficionados swear by the more traditional methods ob brewing.
Speaking of Italian-style coffee drinks, the caffé latté is surprisingly controversial in Iceland, in some ways as a direct result of café Mokka. Mokka has, ever since it opened, allowed artists to display their works on the walls and attracyed an accordingly with the experimental, modern art of the time it opened, which was hugely controversial for the newly independent nation. To this day, the caffé latté is a symbol of the rift between the image of the nardworking, drip-brewed coffee-drinking farmer and the cerebral, latté-slipping artist.
Whichever group you identify more with, coffee in Iceland, whether it’s in the morning, afternoon or after dinner, is highly recommended (and don’t be afraid to get a latté if you want one).
Coffee & Something With It
Coffee is good on its own, but coffee and something sweet to go with it is even better. Getting invited to coffee to someone’s home usually means that you get a spread of pastries to go with your cup.
Traditional Icelandic pastries are usually on the simpler side but that doesn’t make them any less delicious! Try kleinur (a cardamom-flavoured twisted donut), pönnukökur (crèpe-like pancakes served either plain with sugar or stuffed with whipped cream and jam) or waffles (that also get the jam/cream treatment). Most cafés also serve slices of Hnallbora (fancy cakes named for a character from Icelandic Literary history famous for serving a multitude of huge cales at coffee time) that go great with a cup of coffee.