By Chris Kolbu
Ask about Norway and coffee, and the first thing that will come to most people’s minds—Norwegians included—is that the consumption per capita rates among the highest in the world.
But that’s not the full story. How did a small country with no real mercantile or colonial power manage to become one of the most avid consumers of coffee back when it was a hard-to-get luxury? And more recently: how did Norway manage to become a world leader in specialty coffee?
We’ll be taking a trip through Norwegian history as it pertains to coffee, stopping here and there to shed light, briefly, on important personalities and formative events.
To understand why and how coffee was adopted as quickly as it was, and what historical, cultural and social factors came into play to eventually develop a national taste for lighter roasted coffees, it is necessary to start at the beginning.
Coffee took its sweet time making it up to Norway. After crossing the Turkish Bosporus strait into Europe, it would take close to 150 years to slowly snake its way up through the continent, and longer still to make it up to the Northern tip.
The first recorded mention of coffee in Norway was in 1694. In an inventory list detailing the possessions of a high-ranking customs official in Christiania (Oslo), one of the items was a kaffekiele, or coffee pot. So it began.
During the first half of the 18th century very few people—mostly wealthy merchants and nobility—enjoyed coffee with anything even resembling regularity. It was relatively rare and quite expensive, comparable to fine wine.
At the same time–and much less comparable to fine wine—it was sold at pharmacies as a laxative (with obvious potency, as anyone who drinks coffee regularly will tell you). In continental Europe at the time, coffee was also thought to suppress erotic thoughts and to promote impotence, and was often prescribed to priests and monks as a sort of celibacy aid.
A common activity for the wives and daughters of these wealthy merchants and nobles to pass the—presumably plush, but boring—days was to go on so-called visits to each others’ homes, to chat and socialise.
Some might make it to ten of these visits in a day, and as they invariably had wine at each of them, it is hard to see how they could avoid becoming intoxicated and lethargic after a marathon of that duration.
Enter coffee. A shift took place foreshadowing developments that would only take proper hold a hundred years later: coffee had begun to edge out alcohol as a social lubricant.
Motiv fra Ludvig Holberg: Barselstuen by Wilhelm Marstrand, 1845.
In his 1722 play The Lying-in Chamber (Barselstuen), famed playwright and satirist Ludvig Holberg wrote of this practice, indicating its prevalence:
“I’ve noticed, dear Neighbour, a curious effect of these roasted beans. I’ve seen many a Wife and Daughter sitting so still and so proper at Gatherings, as if they were in Church. But, as soon as this roasted Devil’s Brew crosses their lips, their mouths start chattering like Pepper Mills. And not only that, Neighbour, after three or four saucers [people would—and some places still do—pour their coffee onto the saucer to cool it] of it, they are overcome with a desire to play Cards; I’ve seen this again and again, so there has to be some Wretchedness in those very Beans.”
Act 1, Scene 6, author’s translation
Only 60 years later Norway was consuming more coffee per capita than any other country without a coffee growing colony. Between 1780 and 1795, an average of 200-350 grams of green, unroasted coffee per person was imported every year (population at the time: around 750,000).
Today, this is equivalent to the weekly consumption of the average Norwegian, but keep in mind this was still considered somewhat of a luxury. England, at the time a colonial superpower, averaged around 30 grams per person—less than three cups of coffee a year!
At this point, you might be wondering how Norway, quite poor, two hundred years away from striking oil, subsisting primarily on fishing and farming—with a whopping 3.3% arable land—could afford all this exotic luxury?
Quite simply because Norwegians could get coffee at a discount, in a way that still has relevance: through duty free shopping!
As Norway was ruled by Denmark at the time, it benefitted from Denmark’s control over a so-called free port located in St. Thomas, in what is now the Virgin Islands: goods imported through this free port to Denmark or Norway was considered domestic trade, and was therefore exempt from duties and taxes. At the time, 90% of the coffee making it into Norway came through Copenhagen, at a price well below the European average.
Entrepreneurial types even took it upon themselves to smuggle coffee into Sweden by way of boat, an amusing reversal of the modern Swedish-Norwegian border trade.
At the end of the 18th century, coffee had still not established a foothold in the districts, but in larger port cities like Christiania and Bergen its availability was such that the everyman could afford it. For instance, coffee had become quite popular with seasonal workers, who splurged in order to impress women.
While it might seem like coffee was embraced by any and all and well on its way to becoming the all-encompassing presence it is today, it was about to meet with a bit of opposition.
As we enter into the 19th century, we’ll take a look at how coffee won over its harshest opponent and built ties that would later bolster its popularity even more.
The first bout of opposition came about in 1783. By order of the Danish king, a so-called luxury regulation was passed into law: it sought to limit the extent and frequency with which people could enjoy luxury goods, of which coffee was one.
Peasants were hit the hardest. The luxury regulation clamped down hard on all festivities: limits on how long a wedding celebration could go on, what fabrics could be worn, how much alcohol could be served, and last but not least, a total ban on coffee consumption.
In a hardscrabble existence brightened every now and then by celebrations and gatherings that in many ways defined the rhythms of their lives (birth, marriage, death), this luxury regulation was, understandably, met with resistance.
Interestingly, the stated reason for this regulation was to alleviate Royal dismay with perceived “insolent levels of exuberance” among its subjects. To what extent these regulations were actually enforced is anyone’s guess, as it was made the responsibility of the local lensmann (an appointed sheriff of sorts) to put into action.
It is hard to imagine any law more likely to inspire severe displeasure among the populace.
The law was repealed in 1799, and farmers were once more free to engage in insolent levels of exuberance, as—apparently—was their wont.
The predominantly Lutheran church of Norway was adamantly opposed to coffee, both as an intoxicant and as a frivolous luxury. However, they, much like muslim scholars and catholic popes before them, had no real choice but to reluctantly admit it was quite the unstoppable force they were dealing with.
The aroma of coffee is far too pleasant for it to be the work of the devil. This beverage is so delicious that it would be a pity if Muslims were the only ones to enjoy it. We shall drive Satan crazy by baptising it and making it a true ‘Christian beverage’. – Pope Clement VIII, 1603 (from this book)
200 years later, rather than oppose coffee openly, the Lutheran church opted for the venerable tactic of fence-sitting, carefully wrapping their anti-coffee sentiments in layers of scepticism, while maintaining a stern line of tacit disapproval. In many ways, it was a bit of a stalemate.
Only 20 years later the church had completely reversed their stand and now embraced coffee openly. What could possibly have motivated the church to change its mind this quickly?
Something worse. And truth be told, it was quite bad.
In 1816, two years after the Danish-Norwegian union had ceased, a law was passed that liberalised home distillation: If you owned land, you were now free to use as much of your crop as you wanted to make and distill your own spirits. As you would expect, things went completely off the rails.
The church, working with a rapidly swelling organisation known as the temperance movement, urging the prohibition or abstinence from hard spirits—not wine or beer—realised that coffee was by far the lesser evil. “Bring a cup and saucer, coffee will be served” became a popular line in adverts for meetings in the fight against spirits. It could even be argued that coffee became a symbol of the temperance movement.
Søren Sommerfelt, a priest in Salten, Nordland wrote in one of his letters of 1824 that “spirits are consumed all year round. Most drink at least their morning spirit—a fasting dram before breakfast—but to their great misfortune, not everyone leaves it at that.” He goes on to write that he hopes coffee consumption will increase in the area.
The results of this unlikely alliance between the church, the temperance movement and coffee were immediately felt. As early as 1820, a general store in rural Elverum reported that coffee was the third most selling item and represented 11% of their sales.
The temperance struggle peaked in 1842, when the Storting (“grand council”, the unicameral parliament of Norway) voted to ban home production of spirits. It was vetoed by the king, but a slightly reworded law passed the next session, severely restricting both production and serving of spirits.
The fight was over, but not in the way you would think: coffee was now solidly embraced by all levels of society. The irony of having defeated the most popular depressant intoxicant (alcohol) with the most popular stimulant intoxicant was hopefully not lost on people back then!
In any case, “defeated” might be too strong a word: alcohol consumption kept rising until it peaked in the 1870-1880s at 7 litres of pure spirits per year, which incidentally is more or less equal to current-day consumption. Coffee consumption, perhaps more tellingly, was up from the 200-350 grams of 1780-95 to around 2,5kg in 1845, a tenfold increase!
It was now, in the mid-19th century, that coffee truly became a drink of the masses. In the next article, we’ll have a look at how that played out.
Part three explores the mid-19th century, the point in time at which coffee became available to the vast majority of the population.
Coffee consumption skyrocketed in the 1840s and -50s. The practical reasons for this are twofold: the import duty on coffee—which was reinstated after the end of the Danish-Norwegian union in 1814—was reduced by 70% in 1839. At the same time, the price of coffee was going down rapidly, due to increased exports from Brazil and Java (which was then part of the Dutch East Indies).
This rise in Brazilian production was quickly mirrored by explosive growth in Norwegian imports. In 1853, the combined imports amounted to 1 tonne of coffee—a pittance. However, the very next year a Bergen-based merchant by the name of Friele decided to send a ship loaded with dried and salted cod down to Brazil, and load it with coffee for its journey home. Imports that year amounted to 393 tonnes. The next year? Over 900 tonnes. This close link between coffee and dried and salted cod would become very important during World War Two and in the decades after. That merchant family went on to found what has become one of the largest coffee roasters in the country.
By this time, the Lutheran clergy no longer worried themselves much about coffee. But doctors did. In an Oppland county report from 1859, it is reported that “Coffee consumption is estimated to have risen to, frankly, extreme levels.” One could argue that Norway was on its way to becoming a nation of Balzacs!
Since 1856, a national report on the overall health and medical condition of the Norwegian people has been published annually. Throughout the 1850s and 60s, they were riddled with admonitions and worried remarks relating to coffee. Among other things, doctors were worried that the coffee consumption among children was interfering with their intake of milk; some peasants were even selling off their milk to dairies—presumably in order to buy more coffee!
This often extreme preoccupation with coffee was noted by a number of people. In his 1861 book Wild Life on the Fjelds of Norway, raconteur Francis M. Wyndham shares a few scenes that illustrate how coffee was consumed, and how it was made:
According to the invariable custom in Norway, at about six next morning, a servant brought us a cup of coffee and some biscuits […] In Norwegian houses, the kitchen invariably adjoins the dining-room; and, considering that the tea and coffee always remain in the kitchen, it is certainly a convenient plan for the lady of the house, who there filling the cups brings them in to the dining-room, taking them back herself to be replenished when wanted. (p. 55)
I was told that a Norwegian peasant in the neighbourhood had carried coffee-drinking to such an extent as to be scarcely able to eat anything, and it was said that he subsisted almost entirely upon coffee. (p. 136)
Coffee in Norway is made in small copper kettles, in which it is boiled till it rises up in a thick froth; it is then stirred, and, some isinglass, or merely fish-skin, and a bit of red-hot charcoal having been thrown in, it is let to stand by the fire till clear. Thus prepared coffee is much superior to that prepared in any other manner. (p. 126)
While more and more people wrote about coffee, most recipes were handed down unquestioningly, and were variations on the last quote above. But there was one man hell bent on changing that.
In Part Four, we’ll spend some time getting to know a Norwegian legend, who, as luck would have it, was also fanatic about his coffee.
In part four we meet one of the first real coffee geeks in Norwegian history, and learn about his take on what makes a good cup of coffee.
As coffee became more and more prevalent in the mid-1800s, so did opinions on how it should be prepared and enjoyed. One of the more prominent voices of the time belonged to that of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen.
For those of you not familiar with him, his noteworthiness is in evidence above. His most well-known achievement is his role in the collection of folk tales. In the 1840s, he and his collaborator, Jørgen Moe, went around homesteads in rural parts of southern Norway to listen to and collect folk tales, many of which would undoubtedly be lost today without their efforts. For many Norwegians, the exploits of characters like Espen Askeladd—a mischievous protagonist of many folk tales—represent a cultural treasure.
Asbjørnsen was also a noted polymath. Among other things, he introduced Darwin’s theory of evolution to Norway, two years after On the Origin of Species was published; wrote on topics ranging from a cookbook to travelogues from Egypt; discovered a new species of Starfish (brisinga endecacmenos); as well as find the time to study zoology, botany and forestry.
On top of all this, he was arguably also Norway’s first coffee geek. In 1861 he published a 70-page pamphlet, that—in keeping with the times—was less than succinctly titled Om Kaffeen: Dens Nytte, Værd, rette Behandling og Forfalskning samt de saakalte Surogater eller Nødmidler for samme, såsom Sikhorie, Hvedekaffe, Ertepuf, Løvetand, m.fl. (On Coffee: Its Uses, Qualities, Proper Treatment and Falsification as well as the so-called Surrogates or Adjuncts for the same, such as Chicory, Wheat, Peas, Dandelion, etc.).
In this pamphlet, he more or less lays out the state of coffee knowledge as he knew it: where coffee comes from, what varietals exist, what flavours there are, nutritional value, and so on. He also debunks myths and does his best to champion coffee over its many imitators. He does all this with the humour and a sharp tongue of a well-intentioned gadfly; if he was writing today, he probably would have blogged.
His insights and recommendations—and occasional errors—offer a fascinating insight into to what it was like to go looking for a good cup of coffee 150 years ago.
In any proper household there will be a natural inclination towards purchasing unroasted coffee, thus allowing one to inspect and ascertain what one is, in fact, purchasing. Roasted and pre-ground coffee is, as a rule, both the most expensive and lowest quality one can purchase: at this stage it is beyond the average man to learn anything from inspection; not even smell or taste can be of any assistance.
Even here, in Christiania [Current day Oslo], all pre-roasted coffee on sale is, without exception, carbonised, charred or burnt. The characteristic, pleasant aroma of coffee has never been present in the pre-roasted, pre-ground wares on offer here; only the burnt smell, that prime indication that the volatiles and aromas, the very things that make coffee what it is, were all stripped away during roasting. Because of this, one is cheated out of the very parts of coffee that provides one with that enlivening effect.
Upon being confronted with this, as the author has undertaken to do on several occasions, purveyors of this coffee all say: “People all want what they know. When they roasted it themselves, they always charred it.”
He goes on to offer explanations for why this wouldn’t be the case: perhaps they were in possession of a profoundly underdeveloped sense of taste, or, more charitably, that the coffee had been purchased by various domestic servants, to whom he attributes the general attitude that coffee is coffee is coffee.
Keeping in mind his stern admonitions on what not to do, how would he go about roasting his coffee?
The more the beans are roasted, the less they retain of their aroma and enlivening effects. Each individual bean will increase in size as it roasts, however it will lose weight. One rarely hears that coffee is too raw or roasted too lightly; more common is that it is too dark, why almost black, because one often holds the misguided opinion—or thrust it upon others—that the darker the coffee, the stronger the brew. But this will turn out only as a disappointment and mistake, if not worse, after this intense roasting removes not only the volatile aromatic oils, but also brings about a charred, burnt, stinking oil with a terrible flavour, in addition to reducing the bean itself to coal. It is some kind of coffee, yes, that—if you were to go by colour alone—would look both dark and strong, but that in the end will lack every single quality properly prepared coffee possesses.
At a temperature not to exceed 160c the coffee is to be roasted until it is a light brown, and has developed this particular strong but fine, characteristically clean coffee aroma, devoid of anything foreign, burnt or charred.
Asbjørnsen gets into more specifics, stating that the weight loss of roasted coffee (as opposed to the green beans) should be around 15%, and that 20% is too much and 25% will have become undrinkable. He does not go into details on other aspects of the roasting process, but states that good coffee should have a reddish brown hue—something we see a lot in coffee these days. He is not far off the mark, though these days we roast even lighter than he did!
In my experience, merchants will use grandiose advertisements to mislead people into thinking that new, fresh coffee is the preferred choice. But, it is a commonly held truth that every single coffee varietal, without exception, will improve in aroma and flavour the longer it is warehoused. And frequently, merchants will purchase lesser, cheap american coffees and warehouse them for 10-15 years, at the end possessing a coffee that in aroma and flavour will stand up to the very best of the Turkish offerings.
This peculiar attitude could reflect the state of coffee back those days more than an appreciation of aged coffee over fresh. After all, it would be preferable to have a coffee that that was woody than one that had a “peculiar, almost mouldy aroma, akin to that of an old sack”, something he accuses Indonesian coffee of being particularly guilty of. This might also account for his advice on how to grind and brew coffee:
The coffee beans must be ground as finely as possible, just ahead of when they are to be used. Second to roasting coffee too dark, nothing is a waste of coffee like mediocre coffee grinders that crush it into coarse chunks more than it grinds them; if ground to a powder, a full quarter more will be extracted than from the coarser coffee. It doesn’t matter if your beans are roasted well if you have no idea how to brew them properly. Brewing it this way might be more involved, but keep in mind if it should feel like a bore, that you will receive a 25% bonus.
In this country one often subscribes to the belief that good coffee is best achieved by boiling [immersion brewing] it; one dismisses other brewing methods—like percolation or filtration—out of hand.
Keep in mind that Asbjørnsen had spent years travelling around Norway collecting folk tales, and had probably had more coffee brewed for him by more people than most. His advocacy of the very fine grind probably has to do with his preference for aged coffee.
Normally the ground coffee is placed onto the fire with warm water or “klaring” – a thin brew made from steeping old grounds, then clarifying it with fish skin. The pot then sits there until it reaches the boil, and is left for a while to finish. More often than not, it is allowed to be at the boil for quite some time, and there are those who think that it should be kept at the boil for an hours’ time, so as not to be “uncooked.”
He mentions in passing that boiling it for an hour is tantamount to roasting the coffee with butter or egg whites, which can only be read as another practice he disapproves of: “The only thing one accomplishes by boiling the coffee for longer is that the bitter compounds created during roasters become fully dissolved into the water. This is the reason that most immersion brewed coffee tastes bitter.”
While he doesn’t go into much detail about his own preferred brewing method, he does give some indication of what modern day parallel it would have:
When the water reaches the boil, no more is poured onto the coffee than needed to wet the grounds, and, after a few minutes, while the water is still boiling, the rest is to be poured on in a couple of movements. With this, one will retain all the qualities and enlivening aspects that were present in the coffee grounds.
Knowing he championed filter brewing over immersion brewing and reading this description, it seems strikingly familiar—similar to a number of contemporary brewing methods.
For readers today, his approach might seem a little self-sure and slapdash, so to offer a bit of context for his writings, here is a coffee brewing recipe published 30 years later, in 1891. Written by Dorothea Christensen, Kogebog for Folkeskole og Hjemmet (Cookbook for Elementary School and the Home) became a classic and was reprinted many times. It was meant by the author to inculcate young women in the virtues and methods of a good housewife.
Recipe for Immersion Brewed Coffee
1 litre of water
2 tablespoons whole coffee beans
[an average of 8 grams per spoonful]
A pinch of fish skin
Finely grind the beans and bring the water to the boil. Add the coffee and fish skin to clarify, leaving it at the boil until all the grounds have sunk, approximately 10 minutes. Take the coffee off the fire and add a heaped teaspoon of dandelion (a surrogate that is both healthy and flavoursome), leaving it to steep for a few minutes before serving.
Every third day the grounds should be cleared, which is to say that one fills the pot with water and boils it — without adding new coffee — with the old grounds for approximately 15 minutes. The brew is then reserved, while the grounds are discarded. In this clarified coffee-water, which is brown but has little flavour, one now prepares a new pot, this time using slightly less coffee. Every time the grounds are discarded, the interior of the pot should be washed.
This recipe probably represented the status quo of coffee brewing at the time. One can’t help but notice the addition of dandelion. So-called coffee surrogates were a big deal back then, and Asbjørnsen spends a fair bit of time deriding both their existence and continued use.
In our Century and especially in recent decades, coffee surrogate factories and adjunct institutions have popped up like mushrooms after rain, and are now flooding the world with their pitiful produce and wretched “products”. Not only that, it has unfortunately gotten to the point where millions use these terrible adjuncts to the exclusion of coffee!
He goes on, railing against economists, penny-pinching zealots, bumpkin policemen and women simpletons for continuing to use them. Asbjørnsen wasn’t holding back.
Chicory root is probably the most well-known coffee substitute. Historically, it was the most popular surrogate in Norway, and in 1857 alone, four years before Asbjørnsen wrote On Coffee, 250 tons of it was imported to Norway. But chicory root was not—by far—the only ting used as a coffee surrogate. For many people at the time, coffee was a brownish liquid with a strong, burnt taste; with those criteria, a great many things can (and were!) thought to do the same job, without having to import exotic beans from faraway places!
Asbjørnsen listed those he could think of: barley, wheat, rye, lentils, beans, horse beans, peas, sugar beets, carrots, chestnuts, horse chestnuts, seeds of a plant known as “Swedish/Continental coffee”, grape seeds, date kernels, potatoes, asparagus seeds, rose hip, juniper berries, bits of bread crust, almonds, corn kernels, sunflower seeds, gooseberries, red currants, hemp seeds, buckwheat, dandelion roots, and a fair few others that defy translation.
In other words? Whatever was on hand and could stand a good roasting.
While Asbjørnsen was extremely influential in other areas, it unfortunately remains hard to see how he influenced actual coffee consumption among the general population. As it is today, those of us who take our coffee extremely seriously are few and far between. Nonetheless, he had valuable insights for his time.
In the next part of this series, we’ll take a look at how Norwegians moved from roasting and grinding their own coffee (or “coffee”, as it were) to ending up buying pre-roasted, pre-ground coffee, entirely contrary to the admonitions of Asbjørnsen.
In part five, we chart the development of the coffee that the vast majority of people in Norway enjoy today.
Part four of this series revolved around Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and his views concerning what made a good cup of coffee. Not a man to mince words, he described those who purchased pre-roasted or pre-ground coffee as being in possession of a profoundly underdeveloped sense of taste. History, as it turns out, was not on his side.
By the 1880s, only twenty years after Asbjørnsen shared his views—admonitions, strictly speaking—almost every single grocer in Christiania (what is now Oslo) was offering pre-roasted coffee. In 1890, Friele—the merchant who struck gold combining the trades of dried cod and coffee—opened a dedicated roastery with machines imported from Germany; with that, purchasing unroasted coffee in Norway was on its way out.
Consumption was rising steadily: in an 1888 national consumer survey carried out by the government, it was determined that the average yearly adult consumption countrywide was 3.95kg. Tenant farmers, being poor, had the lowest consumption, while industrial workers were at the top with almost 6kg per year. The south-east part of the country (where Christiania/Oslo is located) had the highest average consumption.
Between 1916 and 1927 Norway was under prohibition. The temperance movements had swelled in the preceding decade and by then had a member base comprising 10% of the entire population! Alcohol had become a social taboo; in many areas it was so maligned it was considered rude to even bring up the subject.
To dispense medicinal alcohol, a governmental monopoly of alcohol stores was opened in 1922. Known matter-of-factly as “Vinmonopolet” (the Wine Monopoly), it is still operating today, and remains the only outlet for alcoholic beverages above 4.7%.
It is worth mentioning that during prohibition, distilleries would offer their prospective customers pre-made prescriptions they could take to a doctor and have filled. A single doctor is known to have filled 48 000 prescriptions in one year. That’s one every other minute, all day, all year!
By now coffee consumption stood steadily at 6.5kg per person, again filling in for its intoxicating counterpart. Brazil ruled the world of coffee, representing 75% of total world production. Coffee was abundant and relatively cheap.
Until it wasn’t. And shortly after, there was virtually none to be had.
By 1939, the political turbulence in the wake of the second world war was impacting trade, and that of coffee in particular, as it was literally sailed from one end of the world to the other.
From September 1939, Norway was under occupation by German forces. That year, coffee was rationed at 50 grams per week. Two years later, the ration had been reduced to 10 grams per person, 1/12th of average consumption before the war. By the end of the year there was nothing left. The main reason for this was that coffee as a commodity was—and still is—traded in dollars, something Norway was also short on.
In time, a solution was agreed upon: all the coffee merchants in Norway agreed to pool their resources and acquire coffee by bartering: salted dried cod for coffee. A deal was struck with Brazil, and the coffee trade started up again.
That’s not to say that the deal meant abundance: Norway was stuck with rations for many necessities until as late as 1952. In the period after the war, coffee was considered so important to the well-being of the nation that it was heavily subsidised by the government (to the tune of 44% in 1949) and was, in many cases, cheaper to purchase in Norway than in Brazil!
During this time, coffee surrogates—that bane of Asbjørnsen’s existence—had, by virtue of necessity, become quite popular. There were more people than ever drinking coffee, and much less to go around. A common practice when people got together was that each guest brought a small amount of their coffee ration; it was then pooled together and brewed to serve all the guests.
Weak, adulterated coffee (like the recipe reproduced in part four) had more or less become the norm. Due to the frugality instilled in everyone after the war, it persisted for much longer than it perhaps needed to.
By European standards, post-war Norway still remained a poor country with small currency reserves, so the joint trading agreement with Brazil was kept in place until 1960. After was dissolved, Norway swiftly moved into a period where coffee was controlled by a small number of increasingly dominant coffee houses.
With the exception of Friele, that had started roasting as early as the 1890s, all the other Norwegian coffee behemoths came onto the field in the 1960s.
Salted cod drying on traditional wooden racks in Reine, Moskenes (1924). National Library of Norway
This 20-year joint trading agreement with Brazil is the main reason Norwegian coffee to most people is synonymous with blends that feature a majority of Brazilian coffee. If you are curious as to what coffees go into the blends of major coffee houses, the statistics kept by kaffe.no offer an insight: 50% of all coffee imported to Norway is from Brazil, with 25% from Colombia and Guatemala; the remaining 25% is spread across all remaining coffee growing countries.
It was now, in the 1960s, that coffee in Norway became what most people know it as today: cheap, purchased at a supermarket, pre-ground for immersion or percolator brewing, and with a consistent taste year after year.
After decades of rationing, this combination of availability and predictability was irresistible to most people.
By the 1980s, there were fewer coffee drinkers: younger people weren’t drinking as much as before, and the large coffee houses were worried that the next generation wouldn’t view coffee the same way as them: as a ritual and a social marker that separated the child from the adult, and as a ubiquitous part of any social gathering.
Despite its far-flung origins, coffee had become anything but exotic.