I may have missed the Nordic Barista Cup last week due to a pre-scheduled vacation, but my week long road trip through Norway wasn’t without some coffee fun. After a day spent in Oslo visiting coffee bars (which I’ll be posting about later), I left for the Norwegian Food Festival in Ålesund, where I attended a coffee and chocolate pairing at a great little coffee bar called Brenneriet.
I’d never actually tasted chocolate and coffee together aside from what’s stuffed in the occasional croissant and it was a unique test of my palette in attempting to discern how well certain chocolates paired with certain coffees.
The 90-minute event began with an introduction to specialty coffee that briefly covered where its grown, how its harvested, proper roasting, grinding and brewing, and the importance of coffee freshness. One of the most interesting points made in regards to preparing coffee (translated from Norwegian), was how 4-6 months of hard work from the farmer can be ruined in 4-6 minutes of improper brewing.
During the coffee intro, glasses where passed around containing green beans, roasted beans, and ground coffee to illustrate the transition and to add a sensory experience to the mini-lecture, which was then followed by an introduction to cocoa and chocolate that set up the experience of tasting the two together.
Gunnar brewed up two coffees on a Hario V60—a Colombia, Omar Viveros and a Kenya, Tegu roasted by Kaffa in Oslo. We were asked to draw a matrix that included the two coffees and the three different chocolates—Bailey’s Truffle, Crème Brûlée, and Raspberry Dream. After taking a nibble of a chocolate and a sip of a coffee, we would determine if the pairing highlighted the coffee, the chocolate, or if they combined perfectly. I was surprised to find that the sweetness of some chocolates made one coffee bitter, but not the other—while the Raspberry Dream made the fruit notes in the Kenya extraordinary.
I usually drink my coffee by itself, and while I’ve heard of coffee pairing being done in some restaurants similar to wine, this was my first foray into the deliberate pairing of food and coffee myself. It’s a great way to test your senses and explore the effects that outside elements can have on a coffee. Some for the better and others for the worse. If you get the chance to try something similar, I highly suggest it.
The next day I went back to cup some Tim Wendelboe coffee I brought from Oslo and introduce Gunnar to the AeroPress disk. It was a great time with friendly people who are passionate about great coffee. If you’re ever in Ålesund, Norway and looking for a good cup, be sure to stop by Brenneriet.
I love to travel and thankfully get to do so quite often. However, my method for exploring new cities has changed over the years. Before leaving on trips, I use to bury myself in travel guides at the bookstore to map out what to do and see. But my strategy has shifted to combine my love of coffee with my love of travel to create much more fulfilling experiences. Coffee shops have become my bookstore and baristas my travel guides.
Coffee touring has many benefits, aside from tasting the best coffee a city has to offer. Here are some of the reasons why its become my preferred way to travel.
Many independent and progressive coffee shops can’t afford, or choose not to pay, rent near the city centers and tourist attractions. They tend to open shops in neighborhoods, art districts, and future up-and-coming parts of town. By visiting these shops, you find yourself in new parts of the city that a guide book may never lead you to. It also creates a trip unlike those who only visit the typical landmarks—most of which look the same as they do in pictures anyway, only with the mobs of people surrounding them. By allowing yourself to wander, you’ll gain a more unique and personal perspective of a place.
Baristas Know More Than Coffee
Any good barista will love talking about coffee, but there’s a pretty good chance they have other interests as well. If they aren’t too busy, engage them in a genuine conversation. They’re residents of the city you’re visiting after all, which make them wonderful people to talk with for recommendations on the best burrito joint, parks to relax in, art galleries to visit and even other coffee shops that aren’t on your list. I’ve learned about upcoming concerts, closing art exhibits and even parties to attend from talking with baristas. Just consider putting some of that money saved on travel guides in your barista’s tip jar!
A seasoned coffee drinker can easily consume three beverages a day. And if you get them all at three different shops, you can cover a lot of ground in between. When I travel I try to walk everywhere I can. Even in cities with great transportation, you will see much more while walking than if you’re underground or even on a bus. Walking also allows you to take detours down alleys and try on that cute dress you passed in the thrift store window. You’ll have plenty of time to sit and recover at the next coffee shop.
Most coffee shops have some kind of food. Whether its pastries or paninis, you should be able to find something to hold you over until following that burrito recommendation.
While it’s generally frowned upon to make a coffee shop your personal office, there’s always the chance that you can plug in long enough to recharge your phone or camera. If they have wifi, don’t forget to check a map of the area and tweet Instagram photos of you planking on the La Marzocco Strada. Just be considerate, obviously.
Locals In The wild
One of the best ways to gain authentic insight to a place and its people is to view residents in their natural habitat. It’s in those instances when I often realize we’re all human with many of the same habits and vices, no matter what country or culture you’re from. Since locals tend to avoid the overcrowded tourist hubs, you won’t see many of them at cafés in Time Square and Covent Garden. So its the coffee shops in unexpected places, where you’ll find and meet the people who live there.
Planning a Coffee Tour
So how should one begin planning a coffee tour? Being here is a great place to start. There is a category on the right sidebar that lists all of the coffee tours I’ve published so far, and will give you suggestions for coffee shops worth adding to your list. You can follow DCILY on twitter and ask me for recommendations and I’ll do my best to help you find great coffee wherever you’re traveling.
Once you have a few coffee shops on your list, you can begin plotting which ones to visit that allow you to see the most. Be strategic. Sometimes you’ll find a couple great shops within a block or two of each other. If you plan to visit all of those on the same day, you may not make it out of that neighborhood. Once you get to your locations, talk with baristas, talk with locals and let those conversations help shape your trip.
These tours are by no means complete and are to be seen as inspirational suggestions for your own travels. If you know of any shops in the places I’ve been that I haven’t checked out, please leave a comment and let me know about them. Enjoy!
Past DCILY Tours
New York, New York
Stockholm, Sweden: Part 1
Stockholm, Sweden: Part 2