There are many myths and rumors surrounding coffee’s origins. Geographically, coffee traces back to Ethiopia's ancient coffee forests. Knowledge about coffee then spread to the Arabian Peninsula; eventually, it took over the globe.
Coffee was first grown and distributed in Yemen, Persia (Iran), Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. These countries enabled coffee’s social status by beginning the first “coffee shops”. In cities all over the Near East, public coffee houses became hubs of activity in the local communities. Here people would meet, catch up, and spend time together socially.
Drinking coffee now has massively impacted global traditions. It has even affected linguistics; we say “let’s grab a coffee” rather than asking for a chat. Interestingly enough, as coffee has traveled and shaped socialization worldwide, it has lost favor in the Near East countries, which are now consuming some of the smallest amounts of coffee per capita.
So who drinks all the coffee?!
The countries with the highest coffee consumption per capita are found in North America, South America, and Europe. It may surprise you that the biggest coffee drinkers in the world are the Scandinavians! Each of the top 4 most coffee-obsessed countries in the world has developed a unique culture and society around drinking coffee, making it a large part of their national identity and individual social lives.
Let’s take a closer look at the top 4 coffee-drinking countries in the world.
Finns consume a whopping 12kg of coffee per person per year, and coffee-drinking is a major part of Finnish society. Many Finns consume eight or nine cups of coffee a day!
Why, though, is Finland so obsessed with coffee?
The first answer that springs to mind is the cold - why wouldn’t you want to escape the cold Finnish weather with a nice warm comforting brew? Finland can reach extremely cold temperatures in the winter, going as low as minus 40 degrees.
There’s also the deep social meaning of drinking coffee in Finland. Coffee is almost always served when visiting someone’s house, and thus it’s seen as a big element of hospitality in Finland. Also, there’s a big culture of going out to meet at coffee shops: Starbucks has barely even reached the country due to the huge number of local, artisanal shops, national brands, and local corner stores which serve coffee everywhere.
And what could be better than a coffee-obsessed nation? A coffee and cake obsessed nation!
Coffee in Finland is almost always served with a cake: there is even a word in Finnish, kakkukahvi, which means “coffee and cake.” These cakes are often sweet little buns, called pulla, flavored with cardamom. Sounds delicious!
Finns seem to opt for a much lighter roast, which is maybe why they are able to drink so much!
As a close second to Finland, people in Norway consume 9.9kg of coffee per capita per year.
Drinking of coffee for social purposes was introduced to Norway in the 1800s, when they started trading their fish supplies for American beans. Alcohol prices in Norway are very high, thus it is not the social drink of choice: many believe this is why coffee drinking became so prevalent in the country.
In the modern-day: the buzzing streets of Oslo keep their buzz caffeinated with the coffee served at shops all over the city. It’s a big part of city life and the main way of socializing all around the country.
One interesting Norwegian phenomenon involving coffee happens in midsummer. At this time, in the Arctic North, the sun doesn’t set for months. Norwegians make the most of the short summer by heading to the countryside, to mountains or a fjord, and eat outside in the late-night sun. They prepare meals over an open fire and complete their meals, and long summer evenings, with kokekaffe: steeped coffee.
Not only do Icelanders drink a lot of coffee, but they also claim that their coffee is some of the best in the world. This pride is not surprising considering that there are not many chain stores in Iceland, rather there are huge numbers of independent, artisanal small coffee shops. There are also many boutique rosaries in the country, which is where the majority of small coffee shops source their beans from.
Icelandic pride in their coffee can also be seen in the number of coffee competitions, organized by the Icelandic coffee guild, Kaffibarþjónafélag Íslands (“The Icelandic Barista Association”), where local barristers display their art in making the perfect latte, espresso or cappuccino.
One interesting thing about coffee consumption in Iceland is that they barely sell decaf! Apparently, this is because there is just not enough demand for the product.
Denmark has been voted as the happiest country in the world multiple times, so perhaps it’s not surprising that benefits reaped by drinking coffee play a role.
Similarly to Finland, Norway, and Iceland, Denmark has a pleasing culture developed around coffee drinking: there are many small coffee shops in cities and towns, some only having two or three tables, where you can haul in and warm up from the cold.
But how do Danes brew their coffee?
Danish coffee has often been associated with drinking large amounts of filter coffee. Pretty much every home would have a filter coffee machine. This has led to a bad reputation in some ways, as it’s easy to get filter coffee wrong, and so many Danish home-brewed coffees would taste bitter and off-putting. However, coffee shops still brew in this way, and it’s quite a tradition to sit and wait for the copious amounts of coffee to be brewed and delivered to your table!
Copenhagen is specifically famous for serving some delicious coffee, mainly because of a close-knit community of coffee makers and enthusiasts in the city. One example is the Coffee Collective who, despite their success, has refused to become a chain to keep their knowledge local and communal and to serve the very best coffee possible.
So what ties all of these countries together, except for… the cold? It makes sense really, that coffee as a beverage and as a means of social gathering - although it began it’s a journey in very hot climates - has become the most established in some of the coldest countries. Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark all have developed a way of socially drinking coffee which invites you to come in from the cold.
Maybe there’s also a link between these being voted some of the happiest and productive countries in the world too… but don’t quote us on that!