Having looked at Australian and Japanese entrants to New York’s coffee scene, I’d be remiss not to touch on the impressive coffee heritage of Scandinavia, especially Norway, and its curious lack of presence in the city. If you managed to read all of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you’d have suspected correctly that Scandinavians have a thing for coffee (and lots and lots of sandwiches, although the implication may have been the editor’s fault). Scandinavia is more of a Northern European concept here, not purely geographic, since Scandinavian ardor for coffee and culture surrounding it extends beyond the peninsula.
The top six coffee consuming nations in the world are, in order: Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Netherlands, and Sweden. (The U.S. is #25.) In NYC, however, there is far from a surfeit of Scandinavian coffee culture, despite the city’s embrace of its woodland, foraged food trends. Sweden’s made inroads: Fika now has five locations throughout Manhattan, and Konditori joined the mini-Swedish wave with several cafes in Brooklyn and one in the Lower East Side, all festooned with the country’s vibrant yellow and blue flag. On the horizon, the newly opened Box Kite plans to introduce coffee from Denmark’s The Coffee Collective. But if you’re looking for a transportive and communal Northern European experience, head to Kaffe 1668 (Swedish roots again!).
Kaffe 1668’s name reflects both New York’s history and its founders’ heritage — 1668 is the year that New Yorkers’ breakfast beverage transitioned from beer to coffee. Two Swedish brothers opened their first location of the café in Tribeca (275 Greenwich Street) in 2008, then followed up with a second location two years ago, a few blocks north on the same street (401 Greenwich Street). The second café is particularly appealing in design and looks thematically Scandinavian; it’s spare and feels calm but not industrial, as it’s covered and framed in wood.
Part of Kaffe 1668’s charm is the brothers pay close attention to ancillary details: Their website is clever and uncomplicated, drinks are served in Finnish brand Iittala porcelain cups and saucers, and toy wooden sheep, festooned in white fur you’re drawn to pet (don’t), line an entire bookcase and appear as a motif — a pastoral nod to the homeland — on their pour over cones, outside signage, and framed wall art. On my first visit, one of the employees used a special dustbuster attachment to vacuum stray crumbs in the pastry display case, keeping the scones and muffins neat and tidy.
The owners emphasize making products in-house. They started roasting their own coffee several months ago — using single origin, direct trade beans — and they offer home-made baked goods, cold-pressed juices, and short breakfast and lunch menus. Both espresso-based drinks and pour over brews, likely half a dozen choices, are available. However, those who prefer tea will find over 40 varieties from Le Palais des Thes.
The northern Tribeca café does not offer wifi; its soaring ceiling and narrow layout of a single column of tables topped with twin bell jar candles seem to promote more intimate conversations and less laptop worship. In contrast, the southern location can be crowded and glutted with laptops; its square-ish shape, communal table, and large front window present an attractive out-of-home office option, replete with Scandinavian style cues.
Now somebody from Norway hurry up and bring your coffee proclivities to New York, please.