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Reflections on Norway: Coffee and cafés in Trondheim

Our very first morning in Trondheim I woke early – totally jet-lagged from the long flights and jagged dislocation from travelling from the other side of the world. Plus, it was midsummer and the sun had barely set. Sneaking out before the rest of the family woke I wandered into the city looking for a coffee at 6:30 am. To my dismay, nowhere was open, and I began to wonder if our new hometown would meet my coffee expectations (notwithstanding that it was quite unreasonable to want a coffee so early, but I would have settled for a 7-11 coffee at that point).

But there was no need to worry. Norway is one of the world’s greatest coffee consumers and Norway has a long history of coffee consumption.

According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, in 2014 Norway imported $211 million worth of coffee (accounting for 8% of its vegetable imports): one quarter of it from Brazil, followed by Colombia (17%), Sweden (11%) and Switzerland (9%).

Norwegian coffee is typically filter coffee in drip machines, and I suspect that’s why their consumption is so high (because the coarser grains of filter coffee require the use of more coffee beans). That and the fact that they do, overall, drink a lot of coffee, perhaps to get through the long dark days (sure, there’s woollen socks and candles, but nothing creates hygge better than a warm drink!). But also, I suspect, coffee gets Norwegians through the long periods of not eating; for many it seems that both breakfast and lunch are insubstantial meals and snacking isn’t as ubiquitous as it is in many other cultures.

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A mix of Scandinavian Janteloven – “probably” – with a grand claim. I don’t know if it’s the best espresso in the world, but it’s “probably” Trondheim’s best.

This leads to a unique situation. Coffee is intrinsic and ubiquitous, but it hasn’t generally (at least in Trondheim) been made into an art-form like it has in, say Italy, or even many cities in Australia which (thankfully!) seems to have inherited the European appreciation (dependency?) for coffee. Café culture is not prominent in Norway, and weekend mornings spent catching up with friends over coffee are not the norm.

Baristas and cafés serving espresso-type coffee are not ubiquitous, and such coffee is often alarmingly expensive; our favourite cafés in Trondheim charge about 42 kroner (over $7 Australian) for a cappuccino (the one exception is the Saldo cafe, embedded in the foyer of a bank, that serves okay coffee at decent prices). That said, there is an increasing number of espresso-based cafés opening up, in addition to the few Starbucks and other specialty cafés. Overall, the same level of excess wealth that supports countless Yoga studious also encourages a disproportionate number of cafés, even if the inclination towards social coffee isn’t as great as it is elsewhere.

But there are a number of authentic, high-quality cafes near the old town.

For us, the standout places are Café le Frère (excellent coffee, great atmosphere – its claims to authenticity are justified), the Latteliten in Olavshallen (also excellent coffee, and cosy) and the Kaffebrenneriet near Gamle Bybro (friendly, good coffee but often full of tourists).

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View of the Nidelv (Nid river) in central Trondheim, taken from the very photogenic Gamle Bybro (old city bridge) next to one of the two Kaffebrenneriet cafes in Trondhiem Sentrum.

The Dromedar chain is also good but that small step below the others because their cappuccino is weak and overly milky (they do serve aeropress coffees, which I once ordered just to compare with my home made versions….). Disappointingly they don’t serve decaffeinated coffee whereas our favourite three cafés do.

Jacobsen and Svart is hipster and they show a lot of commitment to their coffee (and it is their blend that is used at the Scandic Nidelven’s famous breakfast buffet) but neither the atmosphere nor the coffee is to our liking. I had a capuccino there and I was disappointed that they used sour milk. The reason I choose capuccino is for the sweetness of the milk so I don’t understand why they use sour milk. Is sour milk the hipster thing to use in capuccinos now? My husband ordered an espresso and we were horrified that it was poured out of an urn. Honestly, why would a barista pre-make espresso coffee and store it in an urn? Isn’t it universally understood that it will be freshly made with care and finesse?

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A cappuccino from Café le Frère. The barista makes each cup with care and attention in a way that I’ve only seen matched at the Coffee Museum in Dubai. Café le Frère is definitely somewhere to slow down, relax, enjoy the ambiance and relish the unhurried movements of the barista making your perfect coffee every time.

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Café le Frère serves superb coffee and comes closest to what we’re used to in Australian specialty coffee cafés. We’ve even been known to have two cappuccinos each in one sitting (the second was decaffeinated because otherwise the heart palpitations would be alarming because each cup has a double shot). As well as robust, flavoursome coffee the atmosphere inside is welcoming and tranquil. A Belgian acquaintance had recommended this café to us as his favourite in Trondheim and we are grateful for his recommendation.

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The distinctive flat whites at Kaffebrenneriet (“The place for good coffee”) – very milky and served in bowls. There are two Kaffebrenneriet stores in Trondheim; both are typically in high demand and seating is hard to come by. The one by the old bridge (Gamle Bybro) in Nedre Bakklandet is popular with tourists.

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Saldo is a cheaper alternative to the more popular places like Dromedar and Kaffebrenneriet. As well as cheaper prices (the ones on the sign are takeaway and there’s a premium to sit-in) they offer a loyalty card with every sixth coffee free. The setting is nice and cosy, despite being in the foyer of a bank, and the service friendly. It’s good, too, that seating is often available and the clientele are locals. Unfortunately, their milky cappuccinos are served far too hot and the milk is often burnt, and requires a double shot for balance. That all adds up (the extra shot, sitting in) until the price starts to approach the better places like the Latteliten in Olavshallen or Café le Frère.

But conversely, the filter coffee is generally quite good and can be bought from one-press machines that grind the beans on demand from newsagencies, trains, supermarkets and even the foyer in the gym we go to. The prices, while high for what they are, are reasonable. There are, though, many places that lack such machines and serve pre-prepared filter coffee from urns at high prices. Norwegians are, for the most part, not coffee snobs, even though coffee forms an important part of their cuisine. At all gatherings we’ve had with Norwegians, french-press coffee is served with dessert (which suits me better, I think, than the Italian method of serving the espresso after the sweets).

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An alternative to café coffee is on-demand machine coffee from the Narvesen outlets. According to Narvesen (a newsagency-chain that also sells coffee and pastries), their’s is Norway’s most sold coffee. At 20 kroner each, with every fifth one free, it is affordable and offers relatively generous portions of decent, satisfying coffee. The beans are ground in the machine when you order.

The coffee situation is mirrored in the supermarkets. Espresso blends (and grinds) are uncommon and expensive (particularly specialty blends, which don’t come anywhere near the boutique roasts we enjoyed in Canberra but cost four of five times as much). And espresso decaffeinated coffee is as rare as diamonds. The filter coffee is a light roast and if you like that it’s quite good and affordable, particularly the Evergood brand.

As the award-winning barista/roaster from Langøra Kaffe states in issue 13 of The List, coffee earned a particularly important place in Norwegian domestic life when home-brewing of alcohol was prohibited in 1842, and even now low-grade Norwegian coffee from commercial roasters is, in his opinion, better than most commercial coffee worldwide.

So, at least for those with access to Trondheim’s alluring centre or the inclination to worship coffee at home, there’s ample opportunity to enjoy great coffee and an atmosphere to match.

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2 comments on “Reflections on Norway: Coffee and cafés in Trondheim

  1. Pingback: Book Reflections – Northern Najd a Journey from Jerusalem to Anaiza in Quasim by Carlo Guarmani | strivetoengage

  2. J
    March 23, 2017

    It is a bit funny to read this review. First of all, you are hiding identity for the reasons you mentioned. And then you bash certain specialty coffee shops because you think they didn’t serve in right kind of cup or the milk wasn’t tasting correct. I understand those are your opinion, but you lose the credibility here. It comes out rather you are ignorant and doesn’t have good taste buds in understanding a specialty coffee taste or you are plain troll enough to bash anything you can because no one can figure your identity. Was milk sour or the cappuccino sour? Because it could be a brighter cup which you could have failed to understand the nuances. Anyone can write a blog by hiding their profile and say anything they want. If you can’t reveal your identity then my advice would to stop writing and obfuscate people with your stupid thoughts. Don’t be a cuckoo about it.

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This entry was posted on January 22, 2017 by in Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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