I can’t lie; Stockholm’s coffee scene was no small factor in my decision to visit the city. Clicking through images of gorgeous, minimal cafés, it was all I could do to stop myself from jumping on plane straightaway.
I didn’t start off on a particularly high note and I’m not talking about the ritual coffee I bought from Eat in Heathrow’s Terminal 3, waiting for my plane. No, I’m talking about the cortado I drank at The Espresso House in Hötorgshallen Food Hall immediately upon arriving. Shocked at finding myself in a new city, I wasn’t quite sure where to go, but after nearly missing Torvehallerne in Copenhagen, I thought a food hall would be a good bet. Though I had seen a few other outposts of the chain cafe around, I decided to just go with it.
It wasn’t bad. The coffee was better than Starbucks and perfectly drinkable, but the flavor was muddled and slightly watery. I enjoyed my cup — I enjoyed the reading break it provided even more — but I wished that the flavor was more distinctive. It fell flat.
After there the coffee could only go up, though I did have to walk down a flight of stairs to reach Snickarbacken 7, a cafe that’s tucked away in an alley. Snickarbacken 7 is part cafe/part art house/part fashion shop, but doesn’t feel overwhelming or confusing. I was one of their first customers on Saturday morning, searching for fuel before my trip to Skansen. I ordered a cortado, sat down and waited for them to bring it to me.
From the first sip, I could tell this would be a unique coffee experience. While terms like bright, acidity and lemon get thrown around a lot when discussing coffee, it wasn’t until I tasted this cortado that I understood exactly what they could mean. The flavor was deeply lemony with a comforting cinnamon warmth and raspberry finish (as in sweet/sour). It tasted like something beyond coffee. Those toasty notes and chocolatey undertones were gone, replaced with a sunnier cup.
That’s when I fell in love with the Stockholm coffee scene. I’m afraid there’s no going back to depressing, overroasted beans. Or only a reluctant return.
The next morning, I made my way through the sleepy city to Drop Coffee in Södermalm. Everything felt pleasingly quiet and entirely Sunday. Drop Coffee softly buzzed with people eating breakfast, drinking coffee and getting some work done. That combined with the minimal white environment made me feel right at home.
The barista was nice as I waffled about deciding what drink to order. Ultimately, it was a macchiato morning with a side of what-the-heck, a cardamom bun as well. I sat down in their first room, near the window and took a moment to soak up the atmosphere. Without a good atmosphere, a cup of coffee loses half its taste.
They had a choice between single/double shot and a combination of cheapness and caffeine-fear led me to choose the single. While the coffee was also lightly roasted, like at Snickarbacken 7, there was less lemon and more berry. Unlike so many drinks you find in New York, the coffee wasn’t heavy at all. It was light and easy to sip. You didn’t feel as if you might have to scrape off the syrupy coating left on your tongue. It refreshed your mouth, the flavor gave just as much energy — if not more so — than the caffeine.
The cardamom bun was stellar as well.
On my final day, I went back down to Södermalm to try a coffee at Johan & Nyström, around the corner from Drop Coffee. The cafe is more a concept store than place to hang out. The front room is filled with the beans the company roasts along with plenty of gear to help you brew your perfect cup. In addition to the window and bar seating in the front room, there are a few tables off the left hand side of the store so you can enjoy your coffee cocooned from the Swedish weather.
I ordered a cortado, which was notably different from the other drinks I’d had thus far. There was still a hint of berry, but also a hint of honey. On one sip I could taste a nuttiness, on the next a woodiness. Each sip led me to discover a new flavor that I enjoyed immensely. This wasn’t my favorite cup, it wasn’t knock-your-socks-off amazing like the previous two, but it was gosh darn better than anything I’d had in the previous month or so.
Stockholm’s coffee scene didn’t disappoint. While people haven’t written as much about the new cafes there as they have about Paris, for example, the good cafes are there and plentiful. The cups you’ll drink are noticeably different than what you’re finding in other third wave cafes — and they’re a welcome change. While there will always be a place in my heart for the coffee that tastes like dark chocolate, Stockholm cafes introduced me to a brighter brew. Perfect for getting you through those long, dark winters.
What’s the most memorable drink you’ve ever had while traveling?