Nordic countries not only share linguistic, historical and cultural roots but also an undeniable love for coffee. A review of the world’s top coffee consumers per capita, shows Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden drink coffee like water. Japan too ranks high, at number three on the list when it comes to total coffee consumption. In terms of the style of coffee drinking, however, it’s a nation that can learn different things from different cultures. And in the case of the coffee culture of Northern Europe, there is a lot to admire from the interior design of cafés to the drinks and sweets.
Norway is where The World Barista Championship was born, so you can imagine its impact on the world coffee stage. Categorized by smooth, lightly roasted coffee (known as a Nordic roast), Norwegian coffee forfeits a smoky brew in favor of a nutty and fruity flavor profile. In the last decade or so, Norway has made its coffee cup imprint on Japan.
Swedish coffee is almost always combined with sweets for what is known as a relaxing ‘fika’ break – now a global buzzword. Moreover, on average a Finnish person drinks around four cups of coffee per day and even the law implies two required 10-minute coffee breaks at work. Both cultures teach us about the value of taking time during the day for yourself.
Here, we’re delving deeper than Ikea and the Moomin Café to discover the subtle roast of Nordic coffee culture in Tokyo.
The Fuglen coffee chain serves undeniably one of the best cups of coffee in Tokyo. Originating in Oslo in 1963, they started out with a single small café but soon flew beyond the Norwegian capital and into Japan in 2014. Fuglen means bird in Norwegian and, along with their logo of a tern, expresses the migratory nature of the chain. Currently, they have two locations, one in Tomigaya and one in Asakusa.
During the day, Fuglen creates delicious, non-blended, Nordic-roasted coffee. At night, Scandinavian classic cocktails come out. Meanwhile, the vintage interior serves as an introduction to Norwegian design. The shop’s coffee is also available online with packages disclosing the origin, preparation process and producer’s name.
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2. Oslo Coffee
Oslo Coffee has many chains in and around Tokyo. While it can’t be labeled as strictly Norwegian (it was founded by the Japanese company Nippon Restaurant System), it’s an opportune place to relax with Scandinavian-inspired dishes such as Swedish ostkaka cake, lingonberry-flavored drinks, “Denmark” cheese pancakes and Norwegian salmon cream pasta.
Before or after the food, you’ll get what you really came for: the coffee. Choose from sweet Ethiopian Mocha Yirgacheffe beans or Guatemala Micro-lot beans with a chocolate edge. You can take two journeys: the “King” type, which is deep-roasted and AeroPressed; or the “Queen”, shallow-roasted and hand-dripped. The former makes for a fuller body and the latter has a lighter, floral note.
A combination of the words fika and fabriken (meaning factory), Fikafabriken is a quaint Swedish café in Gotokuji, Setagya run by Ai Ohara.
The smell of freshly baked pastries, cookies and cakes drift from the open kitchen: syltkakor, jam-filled cookies; cardamom, chocolate and cranberry biscuits; and classic carrot cake, to name a few. The hungry, or indecisive, can purchase a sampling set.
Then settle into an originally crafted stool or counter seat and warm yourself with a hand-dripped brew topped with foamy latte art. Even the recycled Scandinavian dishware has a Swedish look you’ll find nowhere else. Finally, there’s also Swedish craft beer and gin.
You can take home a bag of Fikafabriken deep-roasted, drip-bag coffee made with beans from Life Size Cribe, a high-quality coffee store.
4. Lilla Katten
Lilla Katten is a kladdkaka slice of Sweden found through a bright blue door. The café and online store provides a resting place for Scandinavia fans who enjoy a dash of sugar with their coffee and being surrounded by Swedish memorabilia and literature. Just outside Tokyo, Lilla Katten is in Zushi but it’s worth the extra train travel time.
Recipes are pulled from a Swedish cook book entitled Sju Sorters Kakor, including all the classics. Find an assortment of delectable cakes such as princess and carrot cake or indulge in traditional biscuits like mockanystan and vaniljhorn.
The coffee beans are procured from a roasting shop close to Lilla Katten that provides speciality blends. The deep-roasted flavor of the coffee complements the sweetness of the Swedish treats and culminates in a heart (and mouth)-warming experience.
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You wouldn’t think to find a café in a car dealership, but in Tokyo, anything is possible. At Volvo Studio Aoyama Café and Bar there is an original drip coffee blend unique to the store, thanks to a one-time partnership with Kanno Coffee and Swedish carmaker Volvo. It has a sharp bitterness that’s underlined by hints of chocolate and nuts. Order a cup with semla, a Swedish cardamom bun filled with puffy cream.
A perfect example of a collaboration between Japan and Finland. The interior of Iittala was designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma who was influenced by Finnish forests. The café shares its space (and name) with Scandinavian glassware and kitchenware brand Iittala, as well as the brand Arabia.
The café itself boasts specialty coffee, lingonberry juice, Karelian pasties, cinnamon rolls and a plethora of other Scandinavian and Finnish delights. You can even choose a platter of dishes under the title “Helsinki coffee moment.”