There is nothing new about drinking coffee.
We have been doing that for hundreds of years. In fact, it is super Norwegian to drink a vast quantity of black coffee. Our grandmothers bought freshly roasted coffee, used manual coffee grinders and ceramic pour-overs that we are now buying from second-hand shops. We have always been spoiled with superior tap water, something for which well-travelled coffee enthusiasts are incredibly grateful. Consumer grade coffee in Norway holds a high standard compared to most other countries. So in order to be considered truly special, the specialty coffee in Oslo has taken a steep climb up the quality ladder. We welcome this new movement, seeking the absolute pinnacle of quality. We call it the “third wave” of coffee, a term that dates back to the early 2000’s. It is not specifically a Norwegian movement, but a global one that strives to constantly improve quality in every step of the coffee journey – from seed to cup.
The practice of direct trade and single origin dates back a short 15-20 years, and is therefore still a breath of fresh air in the rich history of coffee. Much could be preached on its importance, but for the average Joe and Jane let us just say it amounts to the difference between red wine and a G.D. Vaira Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2010 vintage, or whichever you may prefer. We now get to immerse ourselves in a wide selection of fresh crop coffee. Members of the Oslo coffee community have been some of the key players behind this major change. If you looked at Oslo’s specialty coffee selection back in the 80’s and 90’s, you would have found aged and monsooned (aging process practiced in India) coffee being poured into bags from silos, and sold as some of the finest coffee you could get.
Fast-forward to 2015, and we now treat coffee as a seasonal product, wanting to showcase fresh coffee when it’s at its best. This is why Oslo’s coffee roasters tend to favour a lighter roast, so you can explore all the nuances of flavour instead of roasting this rich palette away. It is also why our baristas will recommend Ethiopian coffee with your cake in springtime, coffee from Kenya for your brew over ice in July, Costa Rica for your dinner parties in September, or a Brazilian coffee to keep you warm in January. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed upon entering the best coffee bars in town. There are no flashing logos, in fact – there are hardly any logos at all. No intrusive blackboards showcasing coffee history or murals signalling you how cool they are. Oslo’s coffee shops don’t have something to sell wherever your eyes wander. None of them serve poached eggs on avocado toast. What you see is what you get, and that is lines of coffee bags, perhaps some cinnamon buns and a barista asking you what coffee you are in the mood for today. It is all stripped down to the core, to the reason why they started the coffee bar in the first place. They do not jump on the bandwagon of the latest coffee trend, and they are not in it to maximize profit. They seek to serve what they truly believe to be great tasting coffee, to the people in their neighbourhood. It is down to earth, honest and speckled with personality.
This coffee shop opened as recently as 2013, and you will find it on the edges of the still hip Grünerløkka. The space comfortably seats around 30 customers on wooden benches or back killing barstools. The tempo can switch in a second, going up and down like a rollercoaster – but even when it’s quiet, there’s a vibrant mood. The regulars are mostly young adults, ranging from pro-cyclists to mothers with strollers. You can wait at the bar and small talk while your coffee is prepared, sit down at a table and have an engaging conversation with a friend, or retract up to the Diedrich roaster and watch the bloggers blog and the baristas brew. At some point you might notice a small shelf with trophies. Take a closer look and learn that one of them says 1st place at the World Brewers Cup 2015. The trophy was awarded to Odd-Steinar Tøllefsen, who started Supreme Roastworks together with Magnus Lindskog and Joar Christoffersen. The latter two, previously shy of action within the coffee community, had been roasting under the same name for seven years. The trio offers their guests exactly what they themselves appreciate – quality products with no fuzz.
You can pinpoint the beginning of “the quality era” to around the time Java opened, back in 1997. The founder, architect Robert Thoresen, is quite the dreamer, an artist and a visionary. His aim was to create a space that could serve as a third hangout between home and work. Not only did Robert design the bar himself, he soon became a pioneer in the industry – also starting the coffee roastery Kaffa. With great service to match, Java would soon become a St.Hanshaugen institution. On the front door there’s a small note telling you their opening hours, which is the only place you will spot their logo. Once inside, there are just a few warm wooden stools lining the bar and windowsills. The tiled wall behind the bar grows from green to white, and is a sight to behold while drinking a V60 brewed Geisha from Esmeralda, or a woodneck brewed on coffee from Miguel Moreno. Paying attention, you might notice how some people upon entering seem to know practically everybody in the room; those are probably regulars who have been coming here every day for a decade. Java have recently started to serve some carefully selected wines come Friday afternoon, which together with guest chef appearances, makes for a great reason to kick off your weekend at this lovely neighbourhood spot.
Looking at the shining white corian and dark wooden walls, all in perfect condition, it’s hard to believe that this shop has a 120-year-old soul. Stockfleths was established in 1895 and have been with us throughout the different stages of Norwegian coffee culture. At one point, a long time ago, they had an actual coffee vending machine for bags of coffee beans. In 1998, our national coffee guru Tim Wendelboe started his coffee career at Stockfleths at age 19. Internationally, “the Stockfleth’s move” is a well-known technique used when brewing espresso. There is even an expression called “to Stockfleth” – to clean a bar so thoroughly that you can see your own reflection on every surface. This rich heritage still lives on at the modern Stockfleth’s. Today, the small-ish coffee chain consists of 10 shops, all with their own take on their style of black, gold and wood. This shop in Gamlebyen, opened its doors in 2012, and has a range of seating areas that can handle any mood you might be in. Sit at the window and watch people and busses go by, or retreat to a quiet corner for a private conversation. Here, they offer manually brewed coffee to order by V60 and Aeropress, and their coffee is roasted by Solberg & Hansen. I am always excited to try their new espresso as it changes with the seasons, and you can trust it to always be a single origin variety. You should also know that in the summertime they offer perfectly mouth-watering frappes.
This small shop with its short and simple menu is nothing less than world famous, thanks to Wendelboe himself and his impressive merit list. Tim Wendelboe has won multiple world championships, built his own roastery and coffee bar, written books, and he is currently working at his newly started coffee farm in Colombia. It is safe to say that Tim Wendelboe does not make compromises with his coffee, and there is not even a single chocolate cookie to order on the side. Entering the shop, passing the two small tables and their Probat roaster, walking up to the bar on the other side of the room will take just a few seconds. The small space is easily filled to the brim, spilling onto the sidewalk, with people patiently queuing up for coffee. Some are locals waiting for their regular brew, while others come from afar in order to tick Tim Wendelboe off their coffee bucket list. At quieter moments during weekdays, you are welcome to chat up the baristas and fire away any coffee questions you may have. The best place to sit is in the windowsill next to the bar. And did you know that the wooden front of the bar actually used to be the old ceiling of the hair salon occupying this space in previous times? Since the opening of Tim Wendelboe in 2007, except for a short period of time when using the Clover machine (may it rest in peace), the baristas have only brewed their black coffee by Aeropress. Their lattes are the size of a cappuccino at Stockfleth’s, and the espresso is of a much lighter roast now than just a few years back. When visiting with a friend or two, you do wisely in treating yourself to an Aeropress coffee tasting. And as soon as the first sunrays tell you it’s summer, don’t miss out on the Cappuccino al Freddo.
When stepping into Fuglen, it is time to leave the city behind and lean back into the 60’s. Everything you look at will remind you of the days when they first opened shop, this includes the original structured bamboo wallpaper. Although Fuglen translates to “the bird” it has existed in the same spot since 1963. Just as you enter and the door closes behind you, you will find yourself standing right in front of the bar, and behind it you’ll find a barista greeting you in a matching vintage outfit. Fuglen is a multifaceted and conceptual space. Coffee shop by day, cocktail bar by night. Most of the furniture, paintings and design objects can be purchased, which is why the seating groups get switched out every now and then, but luckily the jukebox always seems to stay. Fuglen specializes in selling Scandinavian vintage design, and exports these highly sought-after pieces to the modern metropolis’ of New York and Tokyo. In Tokyo, Fuglen has also opened a second coffee shop and coffee roastery. If in luck, you might find Fuglen’s own beans sitting proudly on the shelf alongside roasters like Tim Wendelboe, Kaffa and Solberg & Hansen. The excellent selection of Japanese green tea should neither be missed. Follow up with their silky smooth cappuccino, before finishing off with a ginger daiquiri. But be warned, it can be difficult to order just the one, as you are in fact at one of Oslo’s absolute best cocktail bars.