This question is one of the most commonly asked questions we get from visitors to Blacksmith Coffee Roastery. Due to our location in Little Sweden, USA - Lindsborg, Kansas, everything has its own Swedish flair.
This weekend, October 7th - 9th, Svensk Hyllningsfest brought Lindsborg alive in all it's Swedishness. As you would imagine, Swedish coffee was a common topic of conversation. In light of this, we thought it would be worthwhile to discuss what Swedish coffee really is for our readers who weren't able to make it out for the festivities. First, here are three things that it's NOT.....
Coffee that is grown in Sweden
Coffee that is weak
Coffee made with eggs
Coffee Doesn't Grow in Sweden
Since coffee doesn't grow in Sweden, by definition, Swedish coffee refers to the cultural style of blending and roasting coffee that is commonly found in Sweden. In Sweden, as well as the rest of Northern Europe, coffee is a dominant part of daily life. Coffee roasters larger and small, take great pride in sourcing high quality beans and blending them according to each individual bean's specific characteristics.
Depending on the blend profile that is sought after, the roaster will identify certain flavors, aromas, and mouthfeel characteristics in each bean profile that he feels will compliment other beans in the blend and resonate in the final cup that is produced, without conflicting with other traits that might negatively affect the overall profile.
In other words, if you have a bean that's chocolatey, and another one that is fruity, and a different one that posseses a certain spiciness or very smooth mouthfeel, and you blend them together in the right proportions, you can theoretically make a kind of supercoffee blend tasting better than each of it's individual parts.
This is both an art and a skill, and the Northern Europeans are masters at it. Sweden's great coffee companies, like Löfbergs Lila , Zoégas, and Arvid Nordquist, all take blending coffee seriously and do a fine job at it. Again, the goal is the end result - the flavor and overall cupping experience.
Contrast this with the typical American canned coffee brand, whose primary focus in blending coffee is not on delivering the ultimate flavor and cupping experience possible, but rather on how to use the cheapest beans possible and blend them in such a way as to create a coffee that is "good enough" to deliver to market at the highest profit margin possible.
Swedes may not grow coffee, but they definitely know how to blend and roast it!
Swedish Coffee Ain't Weak
It's always funny to talk with Swedish folks who come to Lindsborg to visit. The prevailing attitude is usually that Americans brew their coffee too weak.
Throughout Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries, you'll find a coffee press, stovetop espresso maker or even an Aeropress is much more common than an automatic coffee maker. One of the many benefits of manual coffee preparation is the ability to contol the extraction process much better than you can with an automatic drip brewer.
As a result, coffee can be made strong, like it should be, without it becoming too bitter to drink. This bitterness issue is the primary reason most Americans cringe at the thought of the international brewing standard of 2 tablespoons of ground coffee per 6 ounces of water.
And about that Swedish Egg Coffee....
Since Swedish Egg Coffee is the unofficial official beverage of Lindsborg, it might upset many of our friends and neighbors to say this, but Swedish Egg Coffee is not particularly Swedish. I've asked dozens of real Swedes if they've ever heard of Swedish Egg Coffee and have yet to find one who has a clue what I'm talking about. Most respond with the question, "Why would you put egg in coffee?" Thus lies the mystery surrounding the Swedishness of egg coffee.
After a little research, some conclusions can be drawn. Nearly every Scandinavian people group has an egg coffee recipe in their cultural legacy. The Finnish call theirs Kahvi, or Finnish Egg Cleared Coffee, the Danes have Danish Boiled Egg Coffee, and the Norwegians have Norwegian Egg Coffee. Though preparation methods vary, the two consistent ingredients, as you would imagine, are coffee and eggs. The other interesting thing is that modern Finns, Danes and Norwegians seem to know little to nothing about their egg coffee traditions either.
The real story behind egg coffee
Egg offers natural filtration properties in that it clarifies water and leaches out minerals, metals and other undesirables. Here in the Smoky Valley, old timers have shared accounts of their childhood memories of Grandpa working from sunup to sundown in the heat of the summer, always with a thermos of Swedish Egg coffee at his side. The well water in this area is noted for being rust colored and iron laden. Long term locals remember when city tap water was more brown than clear. Taking this into consideration, it's easy to understand why homesteaders used egg to make their coffee. Not only because it would make the coffee taste better, but it would make the water more palatable too.
Besides the prominence of Scandinavian egg coffee recipes, in the Old West, cowboys out on the range would often pull their extracted Joe off of the campfire and add an egg, which would not only filter out some of the funk in the water, but it would help the grounds to settle to the bottom of the pot prior to pouring. Thus, fewer grounds in the cup. Different method, same fundamental benefits.
Speaking of the Old West and Egg Coffee.... Long before modern packaging capabilities, coffee would be shipped from the Port - usually New Orleans, to merchants throughout the country. However, this was usually shipped in raw, green form and retailers usually sold it the same way, for their customers to roast at home.
Out on the range, many Cookies would roast their own coffee in a skillet for the cowboy's favorite beverage. But, unless the Chuckwagon had a flour mill to grind wheat, they would usually enlist the willing labor of the crew to grind the roasted beans. Their favorite grinding utensil being the butt end of the handle of their six shooter!
When Arbuckles packaged coffee came along, they were among the first packaged coffee brands in the U.S. and kind of became the official coffee of the Old West. If you look at John Arbuckle's patent for his roasted coffee process, you'll see it calls for eggs. Though there's little doubt that his method was primarily designed to keep the roasted coffee fresh longer, the egg component would certainly have provided many of the same benefits experienced in other egg coffee recipes.
Bottom line, Swedish Egg coffee is a beverage Swedish American ancestors can proudly claim as a tradition passed down from their foremothers. It is a testimony to the hardships of life on the prairie, without good drinking water, or modern conveniences. Though its Swedishness may be disputed, one thing can't be denied - the customs of the immigrant, even those customs that may have more to do with the realities of immigrating and enduring, are maybe more important than whether Egg Coffee is really Swedish or not. Maybe a more fitting name for it would be Swedish-American Immigrant Egg Coffee.
How Does it Taste?
Many coffee drinkers find egg coffee to be rather weak and unspiring. However, if you can refrain from judging it like you would a premium specialty coffee, and experience the mild, yet pleasing flavor it possesses, you can appreciate why some people romanticize egg coffee, regardless of their heritage. It also helps explain why modern decendents of the Swedish homesteaders who settled this area tend to prefer their non-egg coffee brewed weaker than their distant Swedish cousins across the Atlantic. When observing the almost ceremonial preparation of egg coffee, it reminds one of a tea ceremony, which could explain why its milder flavor profile is not surprising.
Swedish Egg Coffee Recipe
If you're interested in trying your hand at brewing egg coffee for yourself, here's a great recipe provided by Kathryn Frantz, Lindsborg's official Swedish Egg coffee expert. Kathryn's recipe is mild, yet flavorful and a real treat! One thing I really like about her recipe is that the grounds/egg mixture is added to the water, just off of boil. Many egg coffee recipes call for brewing at or above the boiling point. Not only does this destroy some of the coffee's flavor profile, but boiling coffee negates its natural health benefits. By following Kathryn's recipe, you can enjoy egg coffee, with all the flavor of the coffee and benefit from the natural antioxidant properties as well!
Bring water to a boil. An enameled pot makes the best coffee. Turn down heat.
Mix coffee with beaten egg and add tap water until the consistency is like gravy.
Add mixture to the hot water and stir gently. Let the coffee brew several minutes.
Turn off the heat then pierce the coffee and egg mixture to release more flavor.
Pour a little cold water into the pot to settle grounds.
Spoon out the egg and coffee grounds floating on top and serve!
How to Drink Egg Coffee - Dricka På Fat, Like a Real Old-Time Swede
Regardless of egg coffee's Swedishness, one tradition that isn't disputed is the unusual way many Swedes from yesteryear used to drink their coffee. We've heard several tales from locals and real Swedes alike about ancestors who would drink their coffee -Dricka på fat, which means "drink from a saucer".
Usually the ritual would involve pouring coffee directly from the cup into the saucer. Then, it would be sipped - sometimes rather noisily! To cool it a bit, Grandpa would blow on the hot coffee and slowly slurp it in.
To sweeten the experience, Grandma would take a sugar cube between her teeth and slowly sip her coffee from a saucer, through the sugar. This was known as Dricka på bit meaning "drink with a lump of sugar".
Though not likely seen much amongst the more sophisticated city dwellers of the day, this method of drinking coffee was not uncommon amongst the Swedish homesteaders here in the Smoky Valley as well as their country cousins over in Värmland.