Serious Eats: Drinks

Coffee Traditions: Scandinavian Egg Coffee

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Scandinavian egg (a.k.a. "church basement") coffee. [Photographs: Meister]

I've long been of the opinion that most things can be improved by putting an egg on it. Toast, for instance. A burger. A bowl of rice and beans. Roasted asparagus. But how about coffee? Just ask the Scandinavians.

Scandinavian egg coffee is a traditional brewing method originally popular in Sweden and Norway, now also common in parts of the American Midwest. The technique (which is sometimes lovingly referred to as "Church Basement Coffee," since the vast amount you can brew of the stuff at once is perfect for Sunday gatherings) calls for a whole raw egg to be mixed with the coffee grounds before adding them to boiling water.

Naturally, I had to try it for myself.

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Coffee grounds mixed with the egg white.

The idea is that the egg clarifies the coffee, creating a perfect separation between the grounds and the water used to extract them. (Some versions include the crushed shells and even a little salt crushed into the slurry, but I say hold on there a second, bub—let's try one thing at a time.) While most of the recipes I found were suitable for caffeinating armies of pious Midwestern church knitting groups, this one from The New Dr. Price Cookbook (courtesy of Vintage Recipes) mercifully allowed me to brew a mere four cups, rather than the standard 10 to 12.

The resulting pot is a beautiful golden-amber color, remarkably free of cloudiness or sediment. But it both smells and tastes, well, exactly like something you'd get in a church basement after a rousing game of Bingo.

Because of the extreme high heat and constant agitation from the rolling boil, the coffee tastes acrid, burnt, and overextracted: Kind of like a big, sloppy kiss from your chain-smoking Aunt Sylvia. The cup has an unmistakably clean and silky body, as the egg causes the grounds settle heavily in the bottom of the pot.

Have you ever tasted Scandinavian egg coffee, and did you fare any better than I did? I kind of suspect this stuff just doesn't taste the same unless Mormor is making it. (And, sadly, I never had a Mormor.)

Want to try it yourself? Here is a helpful instructional how-to video, courtesy of San Francisco's fantastic Ritual Roasters.

About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista and an audacious eater, but she remains a Nervous Cook.

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