We’re big coffee drinkers here in Scandinavia. According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), Finns drink the most, a massive 12kgs per person, per year on average. Then come the Norwegians, Icelanders, Danes (then the Dutch pop in), then it’s the Swedes, in sixth place. Perhaps it’s because of all the short, cold winter days when we’re in dire need of a wake-up kick. Whatever the reason, we like to enjoy daily cups of the dark stuff. Even when we’re outdoors.
“Coffee, like food, just seems to taste better when you’re outdoors,” says Chad Ellingson of Autobahn Coffee. “There’s a greater margin of error when your surrounded by nature.”
Last year Chad joined us for Fjällräven Classic Sweden, serving freshly-brewed cups of coffee to hundreds of coffee-withdrawn trekkers. “We took 24kgs of coffee with us, which is pretty crazy. Thankfully I didn’t have to carry all that. The event guys arranged for it to be air-dropped in 8kgs batches to each checkpoint.”
Chad is from Oregon in the US. He move to Sweden to do as Masters, then “life happened” and he ended up staying and working as a research assistant. But several years ago, when in Ethiopia with work, he had a life-changing moment.
“I just saw all these local coffee growers grinding and brewing their own coffee in little shacks and I just got inspired. And thought: I want to do that.”
He had no experience with coffee, aside from the fact he knew what he liked – “Kenyan coffee is my favourite; it’s light, flavourful and acidic”. So he couldn’t very well rock up to a coffee shop and ask for work. He concluded that he would go it alone. The result was a bike, a pretty hefty one, but still. A bike.
In the summer of 2014 Chad was serving coffee to the most refined (and hipster) coffee drinkers in Stockholm. But along came winter (ironically when we Scandinavians drink most coffee) and Chad had to store the bike and wait out the snow.
But he used his time wisely. He travelled, hiked, camped and generally spent a lot of time outdoors all the while drinking coffee (and sharing pictures on Instagram).
“And that’s when I realised that I wanted to make the company more about encouraging others to get outside, no matter the weather, and still enjoy a cup of good coffee.”
So how do you make the perfect cup of coffee outdoors? Here are Chad’s tips.
- “Always start with good quality coffee. Forget the instant stuff. Take ground coffee from your favourite roasters.”
- “Use clean water. At the Swedish Classic event I was pretty lucky. The water in the streams tasted good. But remember that the taste of the water will affect the taste of the coffee. So make sure the water has no discernible taste.”
- “Don’t bother with fancy gear; you don’t need it. Instead just ‘cook’ the coffee in the water. Add a few of spoonful’s of coffee grounds to a half a litre of water or so, then bring the water up to just below boiling (ideally around 96°C). Then let the coffee brew for around four minutes, giving the coffee grounds enough time to settle. Then pour, slowly – so the grounds stay in the pot – into a cup.”
If you don’t have any way to heat water, Chad suggests cold-brew coffee. “I just let the coffee sit in clean cold water over night, for at least 12 hours, then I have perfect, albeit chilled, coffee in the morning. Cold coffee is actually a great wake-up in the summer.”
Chad is now back in the US, but he’s still making and drinking coffee outdoors. You can follow his company, Autobahn Coffee, on Instagram.
Text: Sarah Benton