The Nordic Passion for Coffee

By Matthew Yglesias

I’ve been reading Steig Larsson on my China-travels and I’m generally obsessed with Sweden (long story short, it’s very different from China) so that’s why you’re seeing an improbable amount of Sweden-blogging even while I’m over here. At any rate, David Kamp reviewing The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest writes:

Larsson’s is a dark, nearly humorless world, where everyone works fervidly into the night and swills tons of coffee; hardly a page goes by without someone “switching on the coffee machine,” ordering “coffee and a sandwich” or responding affirmatively to the offer “Coffee?” But this world is not dystopian. The good guys (or, I should say, the morally righteous people of all genders) always prevail in the end.

It’s worth pointing out that as best I can tell from my limited—but much more extensive than the average American’s—experience with the Nordic countries, that this coffee-obsession is an authentic quirk of Swedish life and not of Larsson’s prose.

File:Coffee consumption map-en 1

The Swedes are actually a bit less coffee-mad than the Finns, Norwegians, Danes, or Icelanders but as you can see here all the Nordic peoples drink a ton of coffee, in the Swedish case a bit less than twice as much per capita as Americans do. The Södermalm area of Stockholm where Mikael Blonkvist and Lisbeth Salander live and Millenium and Milton Security are headquartered is just littered with coffee houses like nothing I’ve ever seen in America (incidentally, this is where I stayed when I was in Stockholm on the recommendation of a blog reader—it’s a hugely fun neighborhood, definitely stay there if you visit). Personally, I drink way more coffee than the average American and find this aspect of Swedish life congenial. Even I, however, had to balk at the extreme quantity of coffee I was served in Finland where consumption is absolutely off the charts.

China, conversely, has been a real coffee dystopia where American junketeers stagger about zombie-like and decaffeinated. Even at fancy international business hotels the breakfast pours are comically stingy, and I’m amused by not surprised to see that Wikipedia lists average Chinese coffee consumption as approximately zero coffee per person. That said, the Ming Tien Coffee Language chain has a few outlets here in Dalian and is quite good.