We have long lamented the lack of good quality coffee in the world of fine dining. One hears tell of these $100 (or much more) 11-course prix fixe tasting menus, with each component thoughtfully sourced and attentively prepared, only for the experiential meal to end with… dim black liquid squeezed out of a pre-ground capsule. The disconnect between nice dinner and nice coffee was once such a glaring oversight that when Copenhagen’s Noma began serving Tim Wendelboe at the end of 2013, it counted as landmark news. (I will be forever jealous that Eileen Kenny got to write this story.)
But over the last decade, those paragons of the fine dining world have happily discovered the joys and strengths of ending dinner with a proper coffee program. And there is no better metric for assessing this shift than the Michelin guide, whose recently updated Nordic Guide gives pride of place to restaurants with considered coffee service across Scandinavia. Indeed, among the 12 restaurants awarded new or additional stars, no less than 5 of them are making a point of serving beautiful, delicious coffee.
The Michelin guide is pretty much the premier compendium of fine dining around the world, with a focus on Europe, Asia, and select North American markets. Earning even one star is a huge deal for a restaurant. Achieving three stars, which the Michelin guide describes as having “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey” is simply otherworldly; according to the 2021 guide, there are only 132 restaurants on the planet right now that currently hold such a distinction.
In the new Nordic guide, two restaurants achieved the coveted third star, and both take coffee very seriously. One is the aforementioned Noma, by chef Rene Redzepi. Coffee has become such an integral of Noma that when Redzepi did an installation in Mexico, he tapped Wendelboe to provide an on-theme Chiapas for the service.
The second restaurant to reach three-star status is Maaemo in Oslo. The brainchild of chef/ower Esben Holmboe Bang, Maaemo had long been another purveyor of Wendelboe—including a tableside preparation using a traditional Nordic steeped coffee brewing method—before moving the roasting in-house. Posts on Instagram seem to show the brew method has changed as well, to a v60-style conical filter pour-over.
Three restaurants achieving their first Michelin stars also have ties to well renown roasters. Project in Gothenburg, for instance, has been known to use local roaster—and former Sprudge Roaster of the Week—Morgon. And in Denmark, both Aarhaus’s Substans and Sønderborg’s Syttende have served coffee from La Cabra at some point or another. (With the fluidity of the menus at these restaurants, it is difficult to pin down who exactly they are using at a given time, but the inclusion of these roasters is a good indication that the coffee service will be thoughtful to say the least.)
While I’d love to chalk up these new Michelin stars to coffee, I can’t in good faith. But that some of the best fine dining restaurants in the world are giving equal attention to the sourcing of their coffee as they do the rest of their dishes reamins a big deal. These high-concept and highly-regarded establishments are the trend setters that others will look to for inspiration. Their attentiveness to the coffee service is something restaurants may pick up on and attempt to implement, arguing forcefully for coffee’s culinary importance along the way.
And the thing is, it’s never been easier to have good coffee at any restaurant, from fine dining to fine diners. Specialty coffee roasters exist everywhere and is readily available to anyone willing to seek it out. Maybe it just needed to start at the top, and hopefully, like the high-quality pour-overs they are serving, the trend will trickle down.