Christmas and Coffee in the Nordics: Part One

Welcome to winter in the Nordics, where comfort and coziness are sacred rituals.

BY JOSEPH PHELAN
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Featured image courtesy of Joseph Phelan

The people of Northern Europe take Christmas particularly seriously. For those who reside in the Nordics, it is more than just an opportunity to take a few days off work and indulge in some hearty food; it is a time dedicated to embracing tradition, community, and an appreciation of the small things. 

It is also a period during which coffee routinely takes center stage. The Nordics are coffee crazy at the best of times—Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark are the four largest consumers of coffee per capita, with Sweden sixth — but at Christmastime, things step up a level. In this part of the world, coffee is as much a part of the festive season as Santa Claus, carol singing, and candy canes. 

An outdoor market at night in Sweden. There are umbrellas and strings of electric lights clustered around Tudor style buildings, with greenery and snow on the ground.
A winter market in Malmö, Sweden. Photo by Alex Ghiurau via Unsplash.

A Cultural Experience

“If you’ve been here in the winter months, you’ll know how dark and cold it is,” says Klaus Thomsen, co-founder of Coffee Collective in Frederiksberg, Denmark. “I think we’ve historically needed some kind of warm liquid to heat us up, especially during the winter months when there’s only a few hours of sunlight. We often need that caffeine to keep us awake and alert!“  

Klaus continues, “But it has also played a huge social role as a gathering point for people. In the religious parts of the countries, coffee was a more accepted beverage to serve to guests than beer or alcohol, and over time the appreciation of filter coffee, mostly brewed with Melitta paper filters and automatic brewers, also helped to highlight nuances in the coffee. This, in turn, provided the backbone to the Nordic specialty-coffee movement and our style of lighter-roasted coffees.” 

A Christmas present, a warm drink in a festive mug, and shortbread cookies shaped liked snowflakes on a white tablecloth with tiny fairy lights on string.
In Nordic countries, coffee and baked goods go hand in hand.
Photo by Becky Fantham via Unsplash.

Over the last century, as coffee has become easier to import in bulk routinely, it has grown in popularity across the Nordics. What’s more, the countries in this region, especially Sweden and Denmark, have had a long association with sweet pastries—klenät, smultring, and tebirkes being three of the most popular—and once the humble coffee bean found its way to their shores, Nordic residents quickly discovered that coffee and sweet treats make for perfect bedfellows.  

Today, the drink has become so culturally embedded that rarely will there be a social gathering without coffee being present. “It has taken over as the primary source of the liquid we gather around, at least before 6 p.m.,” says Jonas Gehl of Prolog Coffee Bar in København, Denmark. “This tends to be filter coffee. It has taken some years for the espresso machine to find its way to bars and households, but it is becoming more popular.” 

A man smiles behind the counter at a cafe. There is a sugar skull with reindeer antlers on the counter, stickers galore on the back of the espresso machine, and a bouquet of pink flowers beside it.
A look at the holiday spirit inside Next Door Cafe in København, Denmark.
Photo courtesy of Next Door Cafe.

Christmas Coziness 

Across the Nordics, coffee and being snug go hand in hand. Hygge, a Danish word that denotes a feeling of coziness, contentment, and warmth, is especially prevalent during the cold winter months, and coffee has a central role in how people attain it. 

“Cafés are very popular in our culture largely because of the light and weather conditions,” says Skyler Rowland of Next Door Cafe in København, Denmark. “I suspect people are seeking refuge from the cold and dark. People go out holiday shopping and visit the Christmas markets, and then they warm up with a cozy coffee. It’s affordable entertainment—a coffee with a friend doesn’t cost much, but it’s fun!” 

Stay tuned for part two!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joseph Phelan (he/him)is a freelance journalist based in London. While most of his free time is spent scouring his adopted city in search of the best coffee haunts, he also enjoys any opportunity to listen to live music and makes a point of venturing to Iceland at least twice a year. 

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