My Global Fusion writer’s group has started up again after the summer. Our theme this month was coffee cultur which made me write this very subjective little piece about the café scene in Gothenburg. Do you fellow Gothenburgh habitants, past or present, agree?
There are about 900 cafés in Gothenburg, the second largest city of Sweden with a population of about 550,000, but Gothenburg is not even considered a café city. There are other much smaller towns that claim that title.
There are the trusted chains like Condeco, Le Pain Francais or Espresso House, where you can drink any kind of exotic coffee you can think of and you have a selection of teas that could rival a tea shop. There are the famous cafés in the old part of town, like the one that sell cinnamon buns large enough for four people to share. There are the traditional patisseries where you can only get tea in coffee cups and filter coffee with or without milk. To eat, there are the traditional open sandwiches with prawns, cheese and slices of peppers, or meatballs with beetroot salad. There are the new bakeries that also want in on the coffee crowd. The sweet smell of newly baked bread that mix with the more tangent smell of coffee. They will of course also happily provide you with your sandwich cake for those special occasions.
You have your favourites of course. My favourite used to be on Avenyn, smack in the centre of the city. Cramped in between all the nightclubs and bars was this little tiny place on two floors. All the furniture was picked up from the second hand shop, looking nice but proper old and eccentric. All the plates and cups were different with the only thing in common that they had blue details in their patterns. As a teenager, my friends and I would pop in there before or after going to the movies to have a bowl of tea and something sweet, usually a chocolate cake or a berry crumble.
Most cafés now a days serve proper lunches. There is the regular assortment of sandwiches that often come with a salad. There are quiches and couscous or quinoa salads. There are pasta and soup of the day. Usually, cafés are slightly cheaper too than going to a restaurant. Forget about Pret, Eat and Costa. They don’t exist. You have your mental list of where to go for coffee, where to go for lunch, where to go when you want a quiet space for a chat or to work on your computer. You know which cafés to go to that are open late; you know where to get your morning coffee on the go.
For lunch, I liked Kosmos, just off the main shopping street that served lovely Thai soups. There was the temptation to go to Steinbrenner & Nyberg for soup lunch and cake. They make the most fabulous cakes and if you go there for lunch, you get soup, freshly baked bread and can taste as many and as much as you like of their various cakes. The best part…their soups are actually amazing too.
As you might suspect by now, “having a coffee” is a way of life in Sweden. That is how I catch up with my friends. Whenever you want to meet up with someone and you don’t have any fixed plans, “let’s have a coffee”. You’ll meet somewhere that’s convenient and there is always a café around the corner. After the initial decision of having a tea or a coffee and whether to be sensible and have a sandwich or to treat yourself to something sweet, you’ll find yourself a corner to have chat. Tea often comes in the size of a small soup bowl and fresh hot water can usually be had for free. If you’re the Cafe Latte type, it can get expensive. ‘Cause, let’s face it, you’ll spend at least an hour there, catching up on life, love, work and whatever else might be going on. Issues will be discussed, dissected and turned over again. Tears might come, laughter for sure.
No matter how many cafés there are in Gothenburg they are generally busy. In the morning you have the early birds and the breakfast-and-coffee-on-the-go crowd. Then comes the self-employed and work-from-home people with their computers in tow. In between them, sit the diligent university students trying to do some homework before their classes. The Latte mums come at all hours with babies and their buggies blocking everyone’s way. Busy career women who can’t just stay at home and look after their babies, meet up with their maternity groups, having large Cafe Lattes and discussing how wonderful it is to be a mum, although I suspect most of them miss being at work. At midday come the office crowd and the shoppers to get lunch and a chat with their co-workers or friends. More students drop in, now of all ages and in groups. After classes it’s time for group projects and to help each other out with assignments. At 5-6 o’clock the after-work bunch starts to arrive, wanting to catch up with friends before going home. Better to have a sandwich and a coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in a while than to go home to the same boring stuff on TV. At eight, the first cafés start closing but don’t worry there are those that stay open until eleven at least.
There are things I miss about Sweden such as “having a coffee,” because, as I tried to explain to my American friend once, when she said Americans don’t like coffee enough for cafés, in Sweden cafés has nothing to do with coffee. There is always time for a coffee, that is to say, there’s always time to catch up with a friend.
Condeco Östra Hamngatan