Sweden used to have its own version of Irish Coffee: kaffekask. It was big in the 19th century and I believe it dropped from favour during our 1917-55 period of liquor rationing. Nobody seems to drink kaffekask anymore.

A kask is a type of helmet like the ones worn by English bobbies. But that’s apparently not the etymology of kaffekask. More likely it comes from Low German karsch, “harsh”, “abrasive”.

Kaffekask consists only of coffee and 40% (70° proof) potato schnapps plus optionally a sugar cube per cup. Swedish schnapps (brännvin, “burn wine”) is usually flavoured and does not to my knowledge go through the barbarous vodka process where you distill nearly pure alcohol and mix it down again with water. But that is not to say that it is anything like Irish whiskey. Brännvin nowadays is an old folks’ drink taken only at a few ritualised feasts a year to the tune of old drinking songs.

Should you still want to try this blast from the past, there is a traditional way to get the proportions right. You put a silver coin and a copper coin in your cup. Pour coffee into it until you can’t see the silver coin anymore. Then top up with brännvin until you can see the copper coin again. It will be harsh.

Comments

  1. #1 Ny Björn
    March 7, 2013

    -Oh, I wouldn’t say that it’s forgotten – it’s just a matter of WHERE you are in Sweden, just leave the larger towns. I know people from Bohuslän to Gotland who drink it regularly – including the wife’s grandmother (though since she’s from the outer islands she prefer to use whisky instead of vodka/brännvin).

  2. #2 Mu
    March 7, 2013

    That’s not harsh; extracting kava with everclear (US brand of 94% pure ethanol) and then using an espresso machine to steam extract any water soluble ingredient afterwards, that makes a harsh mix. So for some reason you don’t care so much after the first glass, maybe it’s similar with kaffeekask.

  3. #3 Martin R
    March 7, 2013

    Kava as in the Hawaiian plant stimulant?

  4. #4 Henrik
    March 7, 2013

    På dansk kaldes det kaffepunsch og drikkes fortfarende. Sølvmønten erstattes idag af en mindre lødig mønt, for eksempel en daler (2 kr).

  5. #5 Thomas Ivarsson
    Malmö
    March 7, 2013

    My grand parets sipped on this mixture in the 1960′s and 1970′s. In the province Scania of Sweden it is called “Kaffegök”. or the Coffee Cuckoo(?)

  6. #6 Kevin
    March 8, 2013

    What flavor is brännvin usually? Reminds me a bit of a Spanish coffee, but there the liquor is lit on before the coffee is poured into the glass, and spices are grated into the flaming mixture. In the dark, the spices ignite and look like a shower of sparks falling into the glass — one of the most dramatic presentations I’ve seen.

  7. #7 scidog
    minneapolis
    March 8, 2013

    here in Minnesota it’s known as putting a bump in your coffee.
    as in “how about a little bump in that Dave”

  8. #8 Daniel
    Lund, Skåne
    March 8, 2013

    As Ny Björn said. You can also add Skåne to the list of places where its still very popular (under the name Kaffegök). Ive been offered it countless times in my life and also served it to people who asked for it during social gatherings. Some people really loves it (I dont, at all).

    It must be a town vs countryside phenomena if you still drink it or not most likely. Not at all forgotten.

  9. #9 Mu
    March 8, 2013

    I learned about kava in Fiji, but yes, same stuff. The problem is that the main ingredient is not water soluble, hence the alcohol extraction. And the powdered stuff (only way it can be brought into the US) is very gritty unless you filter well. Things we do when we’re young …

  10. #10 Sten
    March 8, 2013

    I’m fairly sure it’s actually physically impossible to make Kaffekask according to the traditional way. Or you have the coins the wrong way around. Wouldn’t the copper coin be more difficult to see than the silver one?

    Unless your cup expands outward, like a cocktail glass, or there is some kind of weird chemical reaction going on, you will not be able to see any previously obscured coin by adding clear liquid to the mixture.

  11. #11 Birger Johansson
    March 9, 2013

    Mu, Kava is one of the few psychoactive substances that seem to have no bad effects. Unfortunately, people from Fiji often take it together with much alcohol, which negates the good effects (a big, aggressive drunk UN soldier from Fiji is difficult to subdue).
    Also, when kava exports took off, some unscrupulous farmers diluted it by including parts of the plant that are toxic to the liver.
    Now, let’s see if kava mixes with coffee…

  12. #12 Martin R
    March 9, 2013

    Kevin, There are many flavoured brands (and a common unflavoured one) and I don’t know which type was most commonly used for kaffekask.

    Mu, that sounds pretty disgusting!

    Sten, Wikipedia makes the same point. 19th century coffee cups are conical.

  13. #13 Sten
    March 9, 2013

    They were? Cool. I didn’t know that. I should probably check wikipedia before trying to sound intelligent.

  14. #14 Rolle
    March 15, 2013

    Pouring booze to coffee is quite normal, using vodka, rum or brandy; but doing so with akvavit is just gross.
    Anyway, the coins recipe does sound odd. The recipe i was taught was to put a Kuusamo Professor spoon lure into a mug; pour coffee on it until not visible and then pour brännvin (vodka-type) until visible.

  15. #15 Maya
    March 15, 2013

    I think I can guarantee that you all Norwegians know what karsk is.
    Personally, I think it is the ultimate drink. You can’t beat the combination of caffeine and alcohol when it comes to drugs, and if it is made with good coffee and a GOOD monshine it’s also wonderfully tasty.
    Also of course, there is the cultural heritage aspect of it, I see no reason why this should be forgotten.

  16. #16 Spiring
    Uppsala
    March 18, 2013

    As others have commented earlier, it’s still fairly popular in some areas – personally, though, I only have experience from visiting farmers on Lister (western Blekinge).

  17. #17 Spiring
    March 18, 2013

    Regarding the recipe: needless to say, it will not work with these modern coffee mugs that are more or less straight. No matter how much brännvin you add, the coin will not become more visible. But that just may be the point…

    By the way, the Kaffegök that I’ve been offered over the years has always been with unflavoured brännvin.

  18. #18 Mattias
    March 24, 2013

    My family and friends back Home (rural Östergötland) drink it frequently. It’s important to note that it cannot be made with filter coffee, but only from the previously much more common way of boiling coarsely grained coffee (kokkaffe), which produces a less transparent, brown coffee, very unlike the black and clear filter coffee. This also affects the proportions, of course. My older relatives used lake water for this in summer, when there was a shortage of water in their wells – the brännvin was thought to cancel out tastes and other problems of fertilizer, algae and other stuff in this heavily fertilized lakes

  19. #19 Birger Johansson
    March 27, 2013

    Kokkaffe… yes, in rural Sweden it is still the dominant form of coffee. Kokkaffe with brännvin was never used in our home but it was a frequent beverage in older films.
    And when you bring a thermos flask out to the field or forest, the bottom inch is supposed to be semi-liquid gunk.
    The problem is, boiling kokkaffe left unattended results in lots of cleaning, but manual labour was not at a premium in my youth.

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