I guess it’s time for a true confession. I’m a coffee snob. And when I travel, I have a passion for supporting local roasters and coffee houses. Let’s just say I’ve BEAN Around the World and I’m feeling like now is the time to start sharing the love… and caffeine, one city at a time. Recently, I had a wonderful holiday in Copenhagen, Denmark. And though it was hard to tear myself away from the sites and all that delicious herring, I did explore the coffee houses, and I’m glad I did. I drank plenty of coffee, talked with baristas, and I’ve got lots to share with you. Let’s open the TWG cafe society doors and talk coffee, Copenhagen style.
I’ll say right up front that Scandinavia gets a lot of buzz for having the current “happening” coffee scene. Part of planning this trip was actually based on wanting to experience the scene myself and see what all the hoopla was about. My impressions run the gamut from being thrilled to being totally disappointed.
What’s With The Instant Coffee?
My first big surprise and Copenhagen coffee ah-ha actually came from my hotel room before I even started exploring the city. In my room was a kettle and instant coffee. No coffee maker at all. Not even a crummy one. And this was a Marriott hotel. I cannot recall having seen that in ages. Even low end hotel rooms seem to have coffee makers with pods, but in Scandinavia that is not the case. During my time in Copenhagen I asked many people about this and yes, they are drinking instant coffee, usually in the mornings. Also, I met quite a few locals who told me that many people, if not in a rush in the morning, are having tea and then taking their first coffee later on, mid-morning. If locals do take a specialty coffee, it would likely be later in the day, perhaps in the late afternoon.
When not using instant coffee, the typical coffee beverage for Copenhageners is a long black, no sugar, no cream. Taking your long black with a splash of cream is becoming popular. By long black I mean a cup of brewed coffee. The Danes are typically not using Nespresso machines and are not particularly using an Italian style stovetop coffee maker. Danes, especially the younger ones, do use a French press at home and if they have people over for coffee they’ll usually pull out a French press. Danes tend to like a medium roast and as I mentioned, take their coffee black or maybe with a splash of milk.
Who Are The Players On The Copenhagen Coffee Scene?
You’ll notice a few things in Copenhagen. Each coffee house has sweets. From what I was told, it wouldn’t be possible to stay in business without sweets/bread and food offerings. It seems to be generational as to who goes to specialty coffee shops. Many twenty-somethings told me their parents, who are in their 50’s, don’t get the specialty coffee scene. As far as I can tell there’s only one Starbucks. Copenhageners bring their own cups into cafes and don’t want to be seen in Starbucks.
The next impression you’ll get in Copenhagen is that Espresso House is on every corner. And it is. It’s a huge chain. Espresso House was actually a Swedish company and in 2015 was bought by JAB Holding Company. You might recognize this name as their portfolio of coffee acquisitions and stakes in coffee companies includes Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Caribou Coffee. I wondered who in Copenhagen was likely to choose Espresso House. My observation was that their cafes were often filled with groups of young people and tourists. One person told me that she likes Italian style coffee so she goes to Espresso House. I did pop my head into a few of the Espresso House stores but didn’t try their coffee. The customer service was off with no one even asking me for my order or making any contact with me at all. The Espresso House coffee prices were the same as the specialty coffee houses. Given the exchange rate and a flat white for instance being over $5 USD, I just couldn’t bring myself to purchase a beverage that I had a feeling wouldn’t be anything special. And as you know, big chain corporate coffee houses are not the ones I like to support.
After having been to Lisbon and having coffee at Copenhagen Coffee Lab in Lisbon, I was expecting to enjoy their coffee in Copenhagen. Makes sense, right? Turns out they roast beans in Copenhagen but don’t have a cafe there. For some reason they only have cafes outside of Denmark.
The number one coffee spot in Copenhagen you’ll hear about for specialty coffee is Coffee Collective. And you’ll likely visit their spot in the food market at Torvelhallerne. Though they roast their beans in another location, this is their busiest and most central location for a visitor to Copenhagen. I had very mixed experiences there and will recommend two other coffee houses that I liked much better, so let me explain why.
My Tepid Coffee Collective Experience
I started off by visiting Coffee Collective. They just celebrated their 10 year anniversary. I had a great conversation with a woman who’d been working for CC for a year or so. We talked coffee, I learned about Coffee Collective, she told me about her favorite coffee spot called Prolog, who the other players on the Copenhagen coffee scene were, and I really appreciated her time and attention. I did not have coffee at that visit. A few days passed. I tried two other coffee houses, and it was time to head back to Coffee Collective.
I did not have a good experience, nor did I care for their coffee! My visit was on a Saturday because I knew it would be busy. I wanted to see how service was and what the place was like when it was hopping. I ordered a flat white and sat at the counter enjoying the scene. My flat white was tepid and weak. Before I ordered I checked with the barista and he showed me two cup sizes. He said my small would be strong, so I went with what he suggested.
Tepid coffee that was barely hot. This I didn’t understand. When I finished my coffee I went to one barista and told him by way of offering feedback that my coffee was barely hot. He asked if I wanted another coffee. No. I was just passing information along. Did I want my money back? No, I’m just passing along feedback. It was a strange interaction.
The woman I spoke with earlier in the week was there and saw me, but the place was too busy on this Saturday morning for us to talk. I waited until she seemed to have a break and told her about my coffee being tepid. She told me that locals want their coffee like this so they can drink it fast and go. If I need my coffee to be hot, I need to ask for it to be hot. This made no sense to me at all.
It was Saturday morning and I saw no one drinking fast and moving on. Every other cup of coffee I had in Copenhagen was served hot. As an aside, the people sitting next to me were Brits visiting Copenhagen. I asked why they chose Collective Coffee and they told me when they entered the food market the coffee kiosk had a long line, so they figured it must be good. YES, all four of them had coffee beverages that weren’t hot and they all thought it was odd, too. I told the Brits what I had learned about ordering HOT coffee and we had a good laugh, but still thought having to ask for hot coffee was ridiculous. It’s cold in Denmark. Who doesn’t want their coffee hot?
One observation I had was that this Coffee Collective location was too busy and maybe they worked too fast. They had 5 people working and yet it seemed chaotic. I did speak to locals who used to go there once a week, but over the past few months they’ve had bad coffee experiences and they’ve stopped going here.
Coffee Collective is a busy spot. They serve 2,000 cups a day. They believe in direct trade feeling it’s better than fair trade. The owners visit the farms, which are not necessarily organic, and meet the growers. You’ll have to go there and see for yourself. Just remember to use the code word “hot” if you don’t prefer tepid coffee!
Now on to my favorite two coffee spots that are MUST visits for great coffee and great service.
There’s an area of Copenhagen called The Meatpacking District. You can guess what it once was, and it’s still a bit edgy on certain streets. However, it’s booming with restaurants and art spaces so you’ll want to visit there when you’re in Copenhagen.
Make sure to find your way to Prolog. It’s been open 2 1/2 years and is open every day but New Year’s Day. It’s a great space and they have a nice set-up outside with tables. When I was there one of the owners was working along with a barista, Thomas. These guys are great. Super sweet, friendly, and it’s evident that customer service is top notch. Someone ordered an Americano and I heard Thomas ask if they wanted that with espresso or regular coffee. That’s how you make a customer feel like they are getting their coffee just the way they like it. They take their time preparing the beverages. My flat white was excellent, strong yet smooth. This is a local scene, though I hope more visitors to Copenhagen head here when they’re in the area.
Democratic Coffee has two locations and I love them both. They’ve been on the Copenhagen coffee scene since 2011. One location is central to where you’ll be as a tourist because it’s actually in the public library. Great spot. The other location, which they recently opened, is the one where I spent my time. It’s in the Meatpacking District. The library location is booming, but for a quieter more relaxing experience, the second space is great.
Of course, as any great coffee house does, they rotate their single origin beans. When I was there Democratic was using Kenyan and Guatemalan beans, which happen to be two of my favorites. The most popular beverage is either a latte or cappuccino. No pour-over scene in Copenhagen but drip coffee is popular. I went with my usual flat white. Perfect. Great blend of fruity and acidic.
I cannot, simply cannot, NOT mention the almond croissant at Democratic Coffee. Mark, the wonderful barista at the newer Democratic Coffee location, told me that they had incredible almond croissants modeled after one that the owner had in Australia. This peaked my curiosity for two reasons. One was that I am very picky about croissants, and almond ones in particular. The other reason was that one of the top two almond croissants I’ve ever had was in Melbourne, Australia. Mark advised I go to the location in the library because that’s where they bake, so I would get one right out of the oven.
The next day I walked from my hotel to the Democratic space in the library, picked up my almond croissant and then walked over to the other Democratic Coffee space to have my croissant with a flat white made by Mark. I wish I could have shared this croissant with all of you……well not really :) BEST one ever. Yes, it was that good. And I ate it really slowly knowing it would be a while before I’d be back in Copenhagen.
I spent a lot of time with Mark, talking coffee, drinking coffee, and learning about life in Copenhagen. You might recall me mentioning a coffee house in Dublin called Coffee Angel. It’s been my number one place for a few years now, and given all the traveling I do, coupled with all the coffee I drink and coffee houses I visit, that’s saying a latte! This Democratic Coffee space now ranks up there alongside Coffee Angel.
It has it all: great coffee and a wonderfully designed space that is warm and welcoming. The baristas are models for what baristas should be: friendly craftsman who care about your experience with the coffee as well as with your time spent in their shops. They create a feeling of home for their customers, and in exchange the customers feel like their time and money were well spent.
So there you have it. My very own caffeinated take on the current Copenhagen coffee scene. I had a wonderful time visiting these coffee shops and meeting the owners and staff, and I totally appreciated all they shared with me. Did I miss any local coffee houses in Copenhagen that you enjoyed? Have you ever tried the places I’ve mentioned?