Iceland is the 3rd in the world for most coffee consumed, with a staggering 9 kilograms (20 lbs.) consumed per person every year. Although the cold and snowy weather may play a small part in the desire to drink so much hot coffee, Icelandic coffee culture is also a huge reason for the popularity of coffee.
Coffee in Iceland is no different from the coffee consumed in other parts of the world, but what makes Icelandic coffee unique from the rest is the roasting and brewing processes Some actually say that Icelandic coffee is the best in the world, but that would be up for debate.
We are going to take a look at Iceland’s coffee culture and everything you need to know about the country’s love for coffee. You might also be interested to know that Finland’s coffee culture is very similar to Iceland’s.
Icelanders do not drink decaf coffee and it is incredibly hard to find in the country.
Quick History of Icelandic Coffee
Arni Magnússon, a collector of valuable manuscripts, was the one responsible for introducing coffee to Iceland in 1703. Then in the mid-18th century, Icelanders started to roast coffee and explore different flavors. It’s worth noting that prior to this, the coffee was in the form of raw green beans.
By the time green coffee became popular, most people owned their own grinder and roasting device. Brewing would have typically been done with cloth filters too. After this popularity, people were consuming up to 3 cups a day, mainly during their work times.
It is said that roasting companies started around the 1950s, which is when people stopped their home roasting and grinding. Pushing on to the late 1900s, coffee became a part of everyday life.
Before coffee became a common household drink in Iceland, it was enjoyed only by the rich and privileged people, since it was hard to come by.
While you will find cafes and coffee shops everywhere in Iceland, but you will struggle to find many large international chains.
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Icelandic Coffee Culture
There are many aspects to Icelands coffee culture including the types of coffee consumed, how people drink it, and even competitions. We will have a look at each one to give you the bigger picture on the coffee culture in Iceland.
The coffee culture in Iceland is so rich that it has played an important role in Iceland’s superstitious beliefs and folklore. One popular superstitious belief is called þrælapar, this belief states that if you serve a guest a cup of coffee with a saucer that does not match, then the guest will have to remarry or worse, have an affair.
Another popular belief is that when you refill your cup while there’s still some coffee left, you’ll get a terrible mother-in-law.
If you want to be more beautiful, you need to drink your coffee at a colder temperature, or else you’d become ugly. This is another folklore that the Icelanders believed in. Perhaps there might be some truth to it since you’d definitely make a funny face if you immediately drink your coffee while it scolding hot.
Some other superstitions include:
- Sugar had to go before milk or you would not get married for 7-years.
- Boiling hot coffee would make you ugly if you drank it before cooling.
- Cold coffee would make you pretty.
- You would have good luck if sediment from the coffee was left in your cup.
Why Is Coffee so Popular in Iceland?
It is relatively unknown why coffee is so popular in Iceland, but there are some theories.
Coffee is made with precision and expertise
Baristas use Italian coffee brewing techniques to make their coffee and they take great pride in the coffee served. Plus as the third-top consumer of coffee, they get more experience making coffees!
The roasting process plays a big part in this as well, which we will go over later in the article.
The taste is better
Icelanders and some international tourists claim that Icelandic coffee is some of the best in the world. We think the coffee in Iceland is up there with the best, but you will have to try it for yourself if you want to judge.
It’s a social thing
Icelandic people don’t really take coffee to go, it’s more of a social thing. People like to sit in coffee houses, escape the cold, and enjoy free Wi-Fi. Some coffee houses have books/games to enjoy too.
It’s needed for the cold weather
When it’s winter and snowing, there’s no better feeling than a hot cup of coffee to warm you up. The top 3 coffee-consuming countries in the world are Scandinavian, so cold weather and coffee must have some relation, right?
Iceland Coffee Culture Traditions
Every country has traditions when it comes to food and drink, Iceland is no exception. There are some cultural traditions that people follow and are either common or a must-do:
Offering Guests Coffee
If you have guests over your house in Iceland, you must have coffee to offer them. Whilst it is common to offer guests food/drink all over the world, in Iceland, coffee is the main offering.
Serving at weddings
Coffee is a common serving at local weddings across Iceland.
Servings for Politicians, VIPs, and Guests
It is also a common tradition to offer coffee to important people when they visit rural farming areas. It is actually considered to be rude if you don’t offer.
Types of Icelandic Coffee People Drink
Some, if not all, coffee drinks in Iceland are brewed according to the Italian technique. The most popular coffee drink is a latte and next to it are cappuccino, espresso, and macchiato.
Icelanders also consume iced coffee, but with a twist. It’s typically served by adding a shot of espresso and some cold water (Icelandic: “kalda vatn”) to the cup and mixing them together using a special stirrer. To make an iced latte or cold brew, one can use warm milk instead of water, then pour this into the cup containing espresso shots before putting ice cubes on top.
Black coffee is something that is growing in popularity too. Many locals avoid the ‘sweet’ coffee options and tend to stick to plain and common coffee orders like a regular latte.
One thing you should know about Iceland Coffee Culture is that decaf coffee pretty much doesn’t exist. People want the caffeine kick, so you will find it hard to come across decaf coffee in cafes and coffee shops.
One common way to order coffee in Iceland is a big cup of coffee, which they call “skyr”. It is made with rich milk, yogurt, and sugar. This drink is so popular in the country, that Icelanders joke it accounts for most of their daily food intake.
Occasionally you might see someone order a small black coffee or latte. But they are very unusual choices for Icelanders, who are used to drinking their coffee with milk and sugar.
Beans & Roasting
Iceland does not actually have its own coffee beans, most are imported from Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, and other coffee-producing countries. That’s because the country does not have the right conditions to grow coffee.
Therefore, the beans you have will not actually be Icelandic. Raw green coffee is usually imported and then roasted in Iceland. This roasting process is what gives the coffee its unique flavors. So if you are looking for an authentic Icelandic coffee taste, you need to go to the country to try it.
Aside from the world barista championships, Iceland actually runs its own competitions where local baristas can show off a variety of skills. These are all run by the Kaffibarþjónafélag Íslands which is translated to the Icelandic Barista Association.
The competitions are only known to locals and do not really make international news. They serve as a great way of practicing coffee-making skills and providing excellent coffee to the public as a result of continuous high-level practice.
Top Coffee Houses for Icelandic Coffee in Reykjavik
A good cup of coffee can make a meal seem even better. Icelandic coffee is a perfect drink, especially when paired with a delicious meal at one of Reykjavik’s finest restaurants. Some of the best restaurants for Icelandic coffee in Reykjavik are as follows:
- Kaffitárna – The menu here includes some traditional Icelandic dishes as well as some international options, and their espresso machine has been the talk of the town.
- Klúbburinn – This restaurant is not just known for its food and drinks but also for its history and ambiance.
- Nóatún – A new entrant to this list, Nóatún has become an instant favorite with its wide range of dishes and barista-quality espresso.
- Te & Kaffi – Reykjaviks finest tea and coffee shop, Te & Kaffi is the largest coffee chain with over 13 different cafes all over Iceland and they roast and sell their own coffee beans and other coffee paraphernalia.
- Café Babalú – An eclectic, bright orange coffee house you surely wouldn’t miss. This café offers different options for coffee, cakes, and desserts, and unlimited refills for black coffee.
- Kaffitár – Known as the leading coffee provider in Iceland, Kaffitár gets its best from the finest coffee growers in Nicaragua, Brazil, and Guatemala.
- Mokka Kaffi – The oldest coffee house in Reykjavik and is known to be the first café to serve a variety of coffee using a proper espresso machine. The café also doubles as an art gallery with different art displays every month.
- Reykjavik Roasters – To coffee lovers who are passionate about the process of creating coffee and not just getting a great cup, then you’d fall in love with Reykjavik Roasters since they take their time in creating the perfect cup just for you.
Find out more of the best coffee shops in Iceland here.
Popular Coffee Chains
Kaffitár and Te og kaffi are two of the main coffee chains in Iceland. You will find many other independent cafes, and also a Joe & The Juice. Some independent places to get coffee are actually ‘coffee roasters’ where the roasting is done in-store. So you can enjoy coffee that is as fresh as it would ever be.
How to Order Coffee in Iceland?
- 1Good day! – Góðan dag! (goh-dan dag)
- Good evening! – Gott kvöld! (got kvold)
- I’d like to have… – Ég ætla að fá (ya etla ad fao)
- I’d like to have coffee – Ég ætla að fá kaffi (ya etla ad fao kafi)
- I’d like to have tea – Ég ætla að fá te (ya etla ad fao te)
- I’d like to have coffee with milk – Ég ætla að fá kaffi með mjólk (ya etla ad fao kafi me myolk)
- I’d like to have coffee and a glass of water – Ég ætla að fá kaffi og vatnsglas (ya etla ad fao o vassglass)
- I’d like to have two coffees – Ég ætla að fá tvo kaffi (ya etla ad fao tvo kafi)
- Thank you! – Takk fyrir! (tak fyrir)
- Bye! – Bless bless! (bless bless)
Iceland Coffee Facts
- Iceland doesn’t have a Starbucks.
- Latte is the most popular drink.
- Iceland is the 3rd highest country for coffee consumption in the world.
- They consume 9 kilograms (20 lbs.) per person per year.
- Decaf coffee is hard to find.
- It’s essential to offer guests coffee at your house.
- People prefer drinking in rather than taking out.
- A latte costs around 5 USD.
- Coffee has been in Iceland since the 1700s
The Final Sip
That’s all we have for Iceland coffee culture. Do you have more points to add or have any suggestions for this article? Please let us know in the comments.
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