Sunday, December 9, 2012

Swedish coffee

At one time in my life I drank over twelve cups of coffee every day. When I found I couldn't function without it I quit cold turkey. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone; on the other hand I probably couldn't have done it any other way. Eventually, years later, I started drinking again, but in reasonable amounts. I even worked at a coffee shop and managed to keep myself down to about two cups a day.

One of the joys of living in Italy is the coffee. It's strong and small and delivers caffeine without muss or fuss. I spent two weeks in Sweden having coffee with breakfast, at elevens, sometimes after lunch, afternoon coffee and coffee with dessert after dinner. Sweden is definitely a place where the culture around coffee is just as strong as it is in Italy. I wish I could say the same for the coffee itself.

It's taken me five visits and endless gallons (or liters for those more metrically minded) of coffee in Sweden for me to figure out just what it is about it that doesn't work for me. This trip I made a concerted effort to really understand; to analyze the coffee and my reaction to it.

My conclusion, after hours of drinking coffee in multiple locations and accompanied by a variety of goodies, is that Swedish coffee is simultaneously tasteless and incredibly harsh. The grounds are only mildly aromatic, the kitchen doesn't fill with the smell of warm coffee while it's brewing and even when I stuck my nose in the cup (yes, I did this over and over. This is science, after all!) I could barely detect the faint aroma of coffee. It didn't taste like coffee in my mouth. In fact, it didn't taste like anything unless I added milk and sugar. Then it tasted like warm, sweet, watered down milk.

You'd think with all that lack of flavor going on that the experience would pretty much be over when I swallowed, wouldn't you? I did too. We would both be wrong. Five seconds after I swallowed the inside of my mouth felt like leathery wrinkled elephant skin and tasted vaguely like soap. Every time, without fail. It made me wonder why in the world they even drink the stuff. I have to assume that generations of exposure to Swedish coffee has rendered them immune to the after shock.

Then I had an epiphany. Maybe this is what makes Swedish coffee so Swedish. It's not too anything. It's not too strong, it delivers caffeine reliably and it will never compete with the flavors of the cakes and cookies. In fact, the cakes and cookies are essential as they mask the aftertaste. And because of these qualities it can be consumed in copious quantities giving Swedes as many chances to come together over a cup of coffee as they can stand.

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