Megan Abbott

How to Fika: A Stockholm Coffee Guide

Megan Abbott
How to Fika: A Stockholm Coffee Guide

Originally published in Caffeine Magazine

It is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’, but for all its cobbled streets, leaning buildings and endless waters, Stockholm is strikingly forward-thinking. Amid the charms of its history, Sweden’s capital is wonderfully ergonomic, radical and modern. Its inhabitants are as serene as they are stylish, its landscape is a patchwork of antique and cutting-edge architecture, and its streets are divided up by expanses of lush parkland. It didn’t come as much surprise, then, for us to quickly discover that Stockholm is way ahead of the game when it comes to coffee too. While Sweden’s culinary reputation might be all smoked fish and crisp bread (given, there is a lot of that knocking about…), its capital is teeming with exciting chefs, cocktail bars and a highly serious coffee scene. In fact, Stockholm is shaped around café culture. There is even a word dedicated to the wonderful art of kicking back and getting caffeinated. Fika refers to a break in the day punctuated by coffee and pastries. This ritual is carved in to the everyday lives of locals, from office workers and freelancers to children and new parents, all equally discerning coffee drinkers. In just one afternoon you can discover a scattering of roasteries and third-wave coffee shops working to give Stockholmers their best afternoon coffee experience yet. Hoping to drink in as much of this unmistakably Swedish ritual as possible, we headed to the city with one question in mind; shall we fika?

Kafe Esaias

First stop on our fika journey was Kafe Esais, nestled on Drottninggatan between several other coffee shops. Visitors spilled out of the café onto the wooden decking, so we pulled up a chair to join them, looking down the bustling street strung with lights. Inside, the interior is impossibly Scandi. The room is made up of chalkboards, white walls and robust black counters topped with glistening espresso machines. Before we’d even tasted Esaias’ coffee, its dedicated owner was spilling the beans on the ins and outs of the cup as he lovingly prepared it. He sources his coffee from Da Matteo roastery in Gothenburg, which he visits once a month to meticulously choose his next batch. “Da Matteo is part of the Nordic revolution,” he explained, “We are all trying to source coffee in the right way. It is the only way to find depth.” Each cup at Esais is presented on a wooden board (almost certainly reclaimed wood), beside a card explaining the origin and taste of the cup. On the menu that day was Gedeb, an Ethiopian bean packed with crisp, berry notes and a delicate floral aftertaste. Esais select the richest of milks, which created a sweet mouthful when blended with the soft acidity of the Gedeb. Being in Sweden, it would have been bad form not to accompany our cortados with at least one sweet treat. Esais hold back their surplus cinnamon roll pieces and dries them out to create nutty, spiced bullskorpa, Stockholm’s answer to biscotti. This cafe’s charm comes down to its dedicated owner, who seemed to know every person that walked through the door. Happily, he also knows a thing or two about creating near-perfect coffees.

Drottninggatan 102

Kaffe

Old world Stockholm comes to life inside this corner cafe, which is located in the hip Södermalm district. After perusing the surrounding bookshops and vintage stores, we pulled up a seat at Kaffe’s wood panelled bar. The coffee is no-frills in here. Good, strong cups of Montervia arrive next to a little French press. As for the food, expect simple toasted sandwiches and plump fikabrod. While we could spend all day (and we did) lapping up Stockholm’s artisanal coffee spots, this café offers a refreshingly simple experience. Many locals have their favourite seat inside, where they can been seen perched on weekday mornings flicking through the newspaper and sipping their simple cup of espresso.

Sankt Paulsgatan 17

Snickarbacken 7

Housed in an old stable, this multidimensional hipster haven is now a café, art space and concept store (copper paperclips or a new harmonica, anyone?)

Crates of flowers and heavy wooden doors greet you at the entrance, while inside the arched ceilings soar and giant branches hang like chandeliers from the ceiling. Stockholmers love a daytime candle, and in here they flicker on every table. As well as stocking some of the best cakes and pastries in the city, Snickarbacken 7 works with the specialty coffee connoisseurs at Stockholm Roast, serving up a ‘transatlantic Stockholm Roast’ that week. Also in the grinder during our visit was an El Salvadorian bean from Per Nordby, a micro-roastery in Gothenburg. We asked the barista to make us his favourite cup, one that would really showcase the flavours of the coffee. Happy to oblige, he whipped us up a rich, full-bodied caffe latte, bursting with fruit and sweet acidity. We stayed for a few cups, partly for the moreish flavour and partly for the unbeatable people watching that Snickarbacken affords.

Snickarbacken 7

Pascal

Like a lot of Stockholm’s best spots, Café Pascal appears suddenly on a quiet corner, bustling with costumers. It is a place that fully embraces the trends – exposed brick, industrial lights, wooden floors – yet injects a good dose of unique charm into the interior. Like Snickarbacken, Pascal rejoices in a daytime candle, while its intimate seating and soft music made it one of the more romantic destinations on our tour. The young freelancers of the city flock here, tapping away at their keyboards and flicking through the various intimidating art magazines that hang on the walls. Pascal is run by a trio of brothers, and has that inimitable atmosphere that can come only from a family-run business. We planted ourselves between an unbearably fashionable couple at the communal table in the middle of the room and ordered a couple of double espressos.

Like Johan and Nystrom, Pascal works under transparent trading conditions with the highest quality coffee possible. And like Esais, it gets its beans from Da Matteo roasters in Gothenburg. According to owner Hosep Seropian, these subtle links are the essence of the Nordic coffee revolution. “There are a lot of crossovers,” He explained, “Of course, we are all doing our own thing, but people have caught on to where the best coffee comes from.” As well as Da Matteo, Pascal uses Love Coffee, roasted in Lund, for their hot drinks. When serving cold drinks they turn to the single-origin Koppi bean, which has a fresher flavour that lends itself perfectly to a tonic and cold brew or a simple iced coffee. However, the murky autumnal afternoon called for a piping hot, intensely rich espresso, which arrived just before we tore into our third cinnamon roll of the day.

Norrtullsgatan 4

Drop Coffee

If you are researching serious coffee in Stockholm, chances are that Drop will be top of the list. For a few years now, Drop has been leading the city’s bean scene with its focus on ecological, intensely flavoursome coffee served up in one of the most beautiful cafes around. The red ceramic V60S and two-tone mint green walls inject colour into this otherwise minimalistic space. There are terracotta hexagon tiles, concrete floors, French windows and tin lampshades, and the whole thing feels incredibly airy and relaxed. We ordered a couple of pour over Columbia Cerro Azuls, which won Drop the prestigious Swedish Brewer’s Cup award in 2013. It was deliciously tart and zesty, made by a scrupulous team of baristas. The menu is simple, the tempo is slow and the staff are like old friends. All this combined with Drop’s commitment to the tastiest possible roasts goes a long way to explaining why it is the city’s most celebrated coffee shop.

Wollmar Yxkullsgatan 10

Johan & Nystrom

The saying goes that the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Which makes us feel considerably better about the three hours we spent slumbering in John & Nystrom. Veering straight towards the cushioned window seats, we watched the skillful baristas tend to the queues, which snaked out of the door and didn’t die down once. This celebrated coffee shop was launched in 2004 by a group of friends devoted to revolutionising the coffee craft in Sweden. J&N champion the art of slow-roasting, drawing out the characteristics of each bean, which they select using a process of Direct Trade unique to the company. They even have their own ‘Direct Trade’ symbol, which marks their commitment to transparency, sustainable pricing, organic growth and the highest quality coffee. The fruits of this roastery are sold all over the world, but it is in the colourful folds of the café in the Sodermalm district that it feels most at home. Behind a curved wooden bar, the fanatical baristas work tirelessly at each and every cup. On the turquoise wall behind them holds a string of awards, including the 2013 European Coffee Awards prize for ‘Outstanding Contribution to the European Coffee Industry’. High praise indeed. With all of these frills to their name, you might expect Johan & Nystrom to have an air of self-satisfaction about it. But in reality it is one of the cosiest, most inviting spots in Stockholm. Which brings us back to the three hours we spent in here, with little to no judgement from the staff. We opened the coffee floodgates with a cup of their natural Brazil Fortaleza, a sweet, nutty roast from their Signature Origin roasts. Next we took a hit of the light, citrusy Ethiopia Welena coffee which, the jolly barista explained, gains its sweetness from a natural sun-dried process. We ended our languid afternoon with a cup of J&N’s Fika brew, balanced with soft cocoa aromas. We left the shop just before the afternoon rush, and watched from the street as another pair of friends bedded down at the window.

Swedenborgsgatan 7

Kaffeverket

If there’s a more elegant café than this in Stockholm, we’d like to see it. Were we were to be whisked off on a fikatime first date, we would most certainly want it to be in here. Kaffeverket is a vision of black stone tiled floors, white ceramic walls, black wooden tables peppered with flowers, gold bar tables, and fur blankets thrown over wooden benches. The secluded room at the back provides the perfect little space for reading, while the front room hums with conversation over the soft jazz. We stopped in to Kaffeverket for a colourful lunch of Asian lamb salad and soaked oats, but we were quickly learning that the coffee takes centre stage at these stylish neighbourhood cafes. In here, it is all about La Cabra Coffee Roasters, a Denmark-based roastery. We tried a cappuccino made using their Santa Rosa bean. This Costa Rican coffee is derived from a micro-mill in the village of Santa Rosa de Leon Cortes, using a meticulous method of patio drying and revolutionary de-pulpers. The taste was wonderfully layered, beginning with pecan and ending with a subtle burst of plum and lemon.

Sankt Eriksgatan 88