Sprudge contributor Joanna Han recently spent a fortnight traveling across Scandinavia, visiting some of the region's very best coffee bars and roasteries. In the first of a four-part series, she takes us inside the predictably gorgeous cafe and roastworks for Drop Coffee, in Stockholm, Sweden.
This was my third visit to Stockholm, but I was no less giddy about it than the first. From depleting my funds at Acne to throwing a kräftskiva to utilizing approximately none of my college Swedish, every second of my stay in this gem of a city was thoroughly enjoyable. I was accompanied by Thomas, illustrator for Sprudge and my partner in crime, and the day we spent with Joanna Alm of Drop Coffee Roasters was a highlight of our trip.
My first visit to Drop Coffee was a few years ago on a dark and wintry January afternoon. The streets were quiet, it was shockingly cold out, and the sun, to my dismay, set promptly at 3:00 pm each day.
Inside the shop in Mariatorget, we were greeted and served by a bearded and bow-tied barista named Simon Westerlund. Mr. Westerlund would, stylistically speaking, fit right in behind the bar at Sterling, a notably stylish cafe in my home city of Portland, Oregon. He made us a few pour overs on their bar of red ceramic V60s, and we sat down to drink them with cardamom buns. We chatted with Simon about coffee and Portland, and we enjoyed our visit so much that we returned every day for breakfast or afternoon fika.
This time around it was early August, and things were quite different. There was sunlight, for one, and we were glad to trade in the heat wave in Portland for Stockholm’s perfect 70-degree weather. The Swedes on the streets appeared noticeably happier, and every pallet-turned-outdoor-table in front of the Drop Coffee shop was occupied by the cool kids of Södermalm.
Drop Coffee itself had changed, too. What was once a long hallway of a shop leading from the bar to the roaster now opened up into an entire new room to the left, and even more changes were in the works when we arrived. We met co-owner Erik Rosendahl, who was busy measuring, leveling and rearranging to make room for new shelving. A fresh paint job was in the works, and the team is still eagerly waiting the arrival of a brand-new custom La Marzocco Linea PB to replace their current Synesso.
We had the pleasure of spending the day with Joanna Alm, who co-owns the company and is in charge of its roasting and education program. After bonding over our shared name and chatting briefly with Benjamin Norman, an off-duty barista (super nice guy, and an excellent arm model), we sat down to drink some coffee.
With a handsome Sandqvist apron tied around his waist, the barista on bar poured us a V60 of the Colombia Cerro Azul, winner of the 2013 Swedish Brewer’s Cup. Because Drop Coffee doesn’t roast for espresso, there’s only one roast level for each coffee, and we tried the Cerro Azul as an espresso and in a cappuccino to taste it in all three forms. The resulting espresso was quite bright and acidic, while the cappuccino was soft, subtle, and reminiscent of sweet, nutty cereal milk. “We’re not really concerned with roast terms,” Joanna explained. “It makes sense to us to roast the absolute best way for the specific coffee rather than for the brew method—it’s been our philosophy from the very beginning.”
Next we tried the Ethiopia Wote, which had a dry, cranberry-like beska (the Swedish word for describing acidic, fruity bitterness, as opposed to the bitterness of dark chocolate—I guess the English equivalent might be “tart.”). My absolute favorite was the Kenya Tegu, which tasted deliciously of grapes and white wine (though honestly, towards the end, I think all the coffees just tasted like the cardamom buns we had with them).
Several V60s, espressos, cappuccinos and cardamom rolls later, dizzy from caffeine, we walked to a hip little taco place called La Neta for some food. After lunch we wandered through Götgatan, where everyone waited patiently as I took my sweet time contemplating buying everything at the Hope store. Then we stepped into the Slussen metro station to head to the roastery.
It’s impossible to miss the place, thanks the garage door out front—it’s bright white with the Drop Coffee logo painted in black in giant letters. Inside, the roastery is spacious and airy, with high ceilings, concrete floors and plenty of natural light. We admired the handsome turquoise and red Diedrich IR 25 roaster, where all the production roasting happens. (A 1.5-kilo Giesen back at the coffee shop is used for all sample roasting.)
Stored on several rows of shelves in one corner are bags of green coffee. Drop Coffee is one of several Scandinavian roasters who enjoy a partnership with Nordic Approach, the Oslo-based green coffee importer founded by coffee veterans Morton Wennersgaard and Tim Wendelboe. “We love our relationship with Nordic Approach. We have full trust in their experience and knowledge in trade and quality analysis—they’re extremely good at what they do,” Joanna told us. “Our partnership with them lifts a huge weight off our shoulders and lets us focus on the million other aspects of running a café and roastery.”
Joanna packaged up some green coffee for Thomas to roast at home, and Erik came by to show around a visitor from Lund-based Love Coffee. After our tour, we sat in the sun to share a pale ales from Sthlm Brewing Co, then gathered again later for dinner and drinks. We were delighted to reunite with Simon, who had left his barista job to work at an IT company since we first met but still frequented Drop Coffee daily. We chatted about craft beer, coffee and crayfish until Thomas and I were literally falling asleep at the bar (having just arrived in Stockholm the previous day, we were still impossibly jet-lagged). We exchanged hugs and made them promise to visit us in Portland soon, and sleepily made it back to our friend’s Nytorget flat.
From remodeling their shop to opening a roastery to reassessing their roasting and brewing techniques with critical eyes, Drop Coffee Roasters has come an incredible long way since they first opened four years ago. With accounts in Berlin, Budapest, London and New York as well as multiple cities across Belgium, Norway and Denmark, they’re more successful now than ever. “Obviously this is all an ongoing process—there are always ways to improve,” says Joanna modestly. “But we’re super proud of our coffees and completely stand by each of them. We’re really happy that we can look back and see how far we've come. ” As they should.
Another victory to add: Over the weekend, Team Sweden won the 2013 Nordic Barista Cup in Oslo, beating Norway and Denmark by about 100 points. Drop Coffee’s Oskar Alvérus was a part of the team, along with Daniela Capuano, Anna Nordström, and Tobias Palm. Grattis!