Backcountry Coffee: Swedish Style

Photo By: Kristoffer Astrom

For many of us who like to spend time in nature, chasing elusive wild fish, climbing high peaks, or charging powder lines, we often want good backcountry coffee.

I have tried many ways of making backcountry coffee from a French Press (heavy and breakable) to a Melita style pour-over (can be time consuming if you are making multiple cups). I am a big fan of observing systems in places where there is a strong culture and tradition of whatever I am looking for. In other words, if you want a great chef’s knife, look to Japan or Germany. If you want good snow tires look to Finland. If you want good coffee in the backcountry, look to the Scandinavians. You thought Italians or Americans drank a lot of coffee? They aren’t even in the top 10 in terms of per capita coffee consumption. Five of the six top per capita coffee consuming countries are Scandinavian.  

Furthermore, part of the Swedish national identity is spending time in nature. Swedes aren’t always trying to scale the highest peak or do a 50 km trail run. They just enjoy being outside (in virtually all weather conditions), and they often do so without a strict goal in mind. Eating a meal cooked outside (as simple as sausages roasted over a fire on sticks) and enjoying a cup of backcountry coffee cooked on the open fire are a way to linger and to enjoy nature. 

I had the good fortune to live for a year in Swedish Lapland, above the Arctic Circle, while my wife was completing her dissertation work in anthropology. I learned that most Swedes and Sámi drink strong coffee all day long. So how does a Swede or a Sámi drink coffee when they are skiing across Sarek National Park, hiking the Kungsleden, fly fishing for Arctic char on the Vuojatadno River, or taking a short walk out their backdoor?

Enjoying some backcountry coffee in Swedish Lapland
Photo by: Aaron Schorsch

They make kokkaffe (literally “boiled-coffee”) using coarse ground coffee, a birch fire, crystal clear water from a nearby stream or lake, a kaffepanna, and often a wooden cup.

A kaffepanna is a lightweight, durable steel, aluminum, or copper kettle. Make coffee by placing the kettle full of cold water with a generous amount of coarse-ground coffee directly on the wood fire (or stove). Slowly add the kaffepanna to the fire and allow it to come to a gentle boil, then remove. This process is often repeated a few times to cause the grounds to settle, and the coffee is left to sit for a few minutes to extract more of the flavor. When you are ready for your coffee, a little is poured out, as there are often a few grounds stuck in the spout. Alternatively, you can place a sprig of spruce or fir into the spout as a filter, which lends a bit of floral, piney, woodsy taste. Then, you are ready to pour your strong, dark, ground-free coffee.

Swedes greatly appreciate coffee made in this way. The wood fire lends a wonderful smokiness to the coffee. It is interesting to note that fancy restaurants in Stockholm will occasionally serve kokkaffe, made over a woodfire in the back of the restaurant as a special treat for their patrons. For Swedes the taste evokes the wilderness, time spent next to a river, on a mountain, or in the forest. When the weather is bad and you are chilled to the bone, a small fire and a hot cup of coffee can mean the difference between heading back or continuing to cast for that wild fish that is waiting out there in that wilderness and water.

By Aaron Schorsch, Fishing Consultant for Got Fishing

Featured Image taken by: Kristoffer Astrom