A SWEDISH LAPLAND STORY

Arctic fika

Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi

Text: Håkan Stenlund

In Sweden, we love our coffee, and so-called boiled coffee (coarse ground and brought to the boil in a pan) is in many ways the national drink of Swedish Lapland. Preferably served with all the trimmings: coffee cheese, coffee meat, dried reindeer meat and reindeer tongue.

In the middle of the village square, in Arjeplog, a stone’s throw from Silvermuseet, you’ll find Arjeplogs Vilt & Kafé.

Step inside to try a coffee experience with a difference – and at the same time, something that’s very traditional in Swedish Lapland. Order the Kaffetår, and you’ll be served the kind of coffee we’ve been drinking in Sápmi for hundreds of years. Café owners Helena and Johnny Johansson ran a game store in Arjeplog for many years but dreamt of expanding the business by opening a café. In the store on Drottninggatan, it didn’t feel like a café would work though, so they waited. A couple of years ago, the old café premises on the square became available, and they saw it as an opportunity.
— As soon as we decided to make a go of it we also decided we’d do it our own way, Helena tells me one day as I walk in and order the Kaffetår.

Helena and Johnny Johansson run Arjeplogs Vilt & Kafé.

The ‘Kaffetår’

The two of them, Helena and Johnny, wanted their selection from the game store to characterise the café as well, of course. An obvious way of doing this is allowing customers to try all the tasty products, but they also wanted to keep old traditions alive. Their food philosophy is also evident in the names of some of the sandwiches they serve – it has to be done properly, and it has to be real.

How about a sandwich called Full Speed Ahead, Hungry at Sea, the Reindeer Bull, or the Elk Hunting Rifle?

It kind of goes without saying they’re not small. Obviously, they serve traditional boiled coffee. Still, if you really want to experience the classic coffee culture of the Arctic, they also serve that exceptional cup of coffee we mentioned earlier: the Kaffetår.

Boiled coffee with a refill, served with dried reindeer meat and coffee meat, reindeer tongue and coffee cheese – all the classic Arctic coffee trimmings.

Cheese and meat

Boiled coffee with a refill, served with dried reindeer meat and coffee meat, reindeer tongue and coffee cheese – all the classic Arctic coffee trimmings. I’m actually not always that keen on dried reindeer meat in coffee myself; it’s a bit too lean and almost always a bit too salty and slightly smoked. But I love the other three ingredients. Roast coffee meat, preferably with a bit of fat, soaking up the coffee and leaving an oily surface on top as the fat melts – a pure lifesaver on a chilly autumn day.

Reindeer tongue is, of course, always a good thing. It’s fatter and tenderer than other tongues. You have to boil elk tongue for hours, for example, but reindeer tongue is ready almost as soon as it’s cooked through. Reindeer tongue is also a classic on the Christmas smorgasbord. In a Kaffetår from Arjeplogs Vilt & Kafe the fat in the tongue is heated up and melts on your palate wonderfully.

KAFFETÅREN

It might be one of Swedish Lapland’s weirdest habits, our custom to put cheese and meat in the coffee. But it’s a very long tradition that we still cherish and just like Johnny Johansson says: It’s oh, so good.

Coffee cheese doesn't taste much more than normal mozzarella,
but it's excellent at soaking up the flavours nearby, and it gets a wonderfully squeaky texture while softening in your coffee.
Dried reindeer meat in the coffee ads a bit saltiness.

The coffee cheese

Coffee cheese isn’t anything unusual either. Unpasteurized milk is used to make a fresh cheese quite similar to mozzarella. Some fry it or grill it, and the cheese Helena and Johnny sell is oven-roasted. I prefer fresh coffee cheese.

Coffee cheese doesn’t taste much more than normal mozzarella, but it’s excellent at soaking up the flavours nearby. Whether it’s fried or fresh, the other major characteristic of coffee cheese is a remarkable consistency, and that squeaking sound between your teeth when you chew. Coffee cheese in coffee boiled over an open fire; this is the epitome of Swedish Lapland for many.

Arjeplog Vilt och Kafé is also called Viltbutiken. Don't miss it whenever you're in Arjeplog.

Refills

After enjoying both a refill and a second refill, I browse the game shop for a bit. I buy some dried reindeer meat – I may not like it in coffee, but I like it a lot on its own. And sometimes as a snack with a glass of whisky. A coffee cheese finds its way into my shopping basket. I have a side of elk calf ribs at home already so that I can make my own coffee meat at home. But what about the reindeer tongue?
— You’re lucky, they’re slaughtering these days, so we received four tongues yesterday, Helena says.
— Okay, I’ll take the lot. It’s nearly Christmas, and no Christmas smorgasbord is complete without reindeer tongue.
— It’s tasty, for sure.

Then I head home. This evening I’ll cook the tongue and make my own coffee meat. If you’d like to prepare it yourself one day there’s one piece of advice I can give with regards to the reindeer tongue: do not eat the tip of the tongue! Sámi legends forbid it. Because if you do, you’ll probably start lying.

Learn more

You can visit Arjeplog Vilt och Kafé, also called Viltbutiken, whenever you’re in town. And we do recommend that you do. Check out their Facebook-page (only in Swedish) for a look at what they have in stock. To learn more about where to stay in Arjeplog och what to do there, have a look at arjeploglapland.se.