Norwegians’ relationship with coffee

The explanation of why coffee consumption in Norway – a modest country on the outskirts of Europe – is among the highest in the world per capita, is diverse and complex. One of the main reasons why this is so may well be that key players on the Norwegian coffee market have long focused on quality. Good ingredients provide the best conditions for making coffee with real flavor – leading to more satisfied customers who, in turn, contribute to a uniformly high level of consumption.

At the same time, there are a number of historical reasons why coffee has become such an important part of everyday life in Norway.

Exclusive luxury

Coffee was available in the country as early as the end of the 1600s, but it was a rare and exclusive luxury that few people from the lower classes could afford. This state of affairs continued until the mid-1800s when a rise in coffee production led to more affordable prices. These changes also coincided with initiatives at a state level to introduce a variety of measures designed to restrict the high level of alcohol consumption. Alcohol, particularly moonshine, had been causing major societal challenges since the early 1600s. The government, therefore, made it illegal to operate a home still, for example, while serving alcohol in public places became subject to strict regulations. These measures helped to reduce alcohol consumption and gradually led many people to start drinking coffee instead of alcohol in various situations – both for pleasure and as a drink with meals.

Moreover, hot coffee is a beverage that is a perfect match for the Norwegian climate, and a good cup of coffee was the ideal pick-me-up for fishermen, farmers and forest workers: not only did it provide warmth, but it also helped them stay awake during their long, arduous shifts.

A social binding agent

Just a few years after the prohibition of home distilleries, coffee had become a natural and important element in the daily lives of pretty much all Norwegian households. At the same time, it had become a drink for everyone to enjoy: men and women alike, from all social classes. Meeting up to drink a cup of coffee was a simple, uncomplicated way of getting together, and coffee carved out a natural niche for itself wherever people met.

Coffee is a social drink that has come to play a key role in Norwegian culture. Most Norwegians follow a strong tradition for drinking coffee both at home and when they are out and about. Norwegian consumers’ sense of high-quality coffee has also contributed to renewing and underpinning our national coffee culture – as evidenced by the numerous coffee bars that have sprung up all over the country. Coffee bars serve as both places to meet and quiet oases for rest and relaxation. The informal, open and inclusive atmosphere at coffee bars has enhanced – and continues to enhance – interest in the taste experiences coffee provides, and in what good quality means regarding the coffee that guests are served. Skilled and knowledgeable baristas contribute to a better understanding of why it pays to make coffee from beans of the highest quality. This has helped make the Norwegian capital one of the finest “coffee cities” in the world.

In and of itself, coffee is, therefore, a key cultural carrier. This fantastic beverage also has a significant role to play in interacting with other people, and in the experiences, Norwegians share with regard to their national values and identity. That is why the social framework around enjoying a cup of coffee is likewise an important part of Norwegian cultural heritage.