I’m from Minnesota but did not hear of Norwegian or Swedish egg coffee until long after I left that fair state. I was reminded of it again as I read, with interest, some of the impressions and posts of people attending the Minnesota State Fair. Folks I knew with a Norwegian ancestry swore that this was the best kind of coffee, but being skeptical and perhaps a bit of a whimp, I never fully put that claim to the test. Until now! The closest I came was (after learning that my grandmother used to add egg shells to her coffee) putting egg shells in my coffee filter, but I did not detect any difference and merely felt I was one step closer to composting than anything else. However, our coffee maker recently copped an attitude and now I never know when I flip the switch whether it will cooperate. Consequently, I’ve been experimenting with different coffee making techniques and in my investigations, I decided this method deserved a second chance, until I break down and purchase a new coffee maker.
What is it?
This traditional Norwegian method involves making coffee with an egg. Its that simple.
How its done
For a single serving, an egg is broken, whisked and mixed it with half a cup of water in a warmed saucepan. Add one cup of medium-grind coffee, and six cups of boiling water, and boil slowly for exactly three minutes, covered. Then add another half a cup of cold water, and let it steep for ten minutes, and serve.
What you get is a slightly rich, mysteriously clear coffee. Not only does the egg add a little richness, but the egg proteins bind with, and settle the grounds. This part of the process occurs when you add that last half a cup of cold water. Egg coffee makers all have their own adaptation, some people use the whole egg including the shell, others use the egg without the shell, or even just the egg whites. The results are consistent; rich, and miraculously clear coffee.
Egg Coffee around Europe via Bruno Sanches at baristaconnection.com:
Norwegian Egg Coffee
10 c water
1 ½ c ground coffee
¼ cup water
Bring 10 cups of water in a kettle to a boil on the stovetop. Combine coffee grounds, egg and ¼ cup water in a bowl. Add egg/coffee mixture to the boiled water. Boil 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 cup of cold water. (This will settle the coffee grounds to the bottom of the kettle) Serve hot.
Swedish Egg Coffee
10-12 c of water
1 c regular-grind coffee
1 c of ice cold water
Bring water to a boil and remove from heat. In a small bowl, mix coffee and egg. Add a little hot water to coffee and egg mixture, then pour mixture into hot water. Stir and heat until it comes to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and pour in 1 cup of ice cold water. Let set for 10 minutes before serving. (The egg and coffee grounds settle to the bottom, leaving the coffee a dark honey color.)
Hungarian Egg Coffee (found same recipe here)
1 # medium ground coffee
1 raw egg washed
1/8 tsp. salt
½ c cold water
Fresh whipped cream (optional)
Mix into one pound of coffee, the egg yolk, white and crushed egg shell. Add the salt and ½ cup of cold water, and mix everything together well. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator. Use coffee mixture as you need it. Keeps only a week in refrigerator. Bring the required amount of water to a rolling boil, and spoon in your usual amount of coffee grinds (with the egg mix). Stir rapidly to distribute the grounds in the boiling water. Let it come to a boil, and have a cup of cold water handy to throw into the pot to keep it from boiling over. Turn off heat and let coffee settle to bottom of pot. Keep the pot hot, but do not allow it to come to another boil. Serve “mit Schlag” (with whip cream).
Hendricks Minnesota (A perfect place for children) lays claim to Norwegian egg coffee, and offers up their recipes in true Midwestern fashion: family and Lutheran Church sized.
Another reason for adding egg shells
Egg shells are thought to reduce or neutralize the acid in coffee making for a mellower drink. The large particle egg shells do not have much surface area, which is needed to react with the acid. To increase that surface area, the shells should be ground or crushed so they react more readily with the coffee acid.
A writer on a coffee focused blog (coffefaq.com) posted:
I recently read a depression era cookbook, how to use eggshells to prepare a smooth cup of coffee. I do remember something of this from my childhood as well. I boiled the eggs peeled them then baked the shells at 350 for about 10 minutes, crushed them and placed them in [an airtight] bag. I placed about 1 teaspoon full with my grounds this morning. Wow, what wonderful smooth tasting coffee. I just love to find and use these old tips. Oh be sure and save these grounds for the spring flowers. Enjoy your cup!
Aside from the taste, other reasons that I have seen given for this practice include at least least for a lot of Swedish and Norwegian immigrants to the US, they were thrifty and this method allowed them to capture the grounds and used them over again. A counter argument came up that this method wasted a good egg, but perhaps, if thriftiness was the impetus for this method, coffee was relatively more expensive than eggs.
Some other fun and insightful comments on egg coffee from a Swedish genealogy forum:
I was watching Alfred Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND (1945) last week. To my surprise Ingrid Bergman’s character turns to her mentor and says, “Would you like me to make you some egg-coffee?” Of course, that doesn’t prove anything except that a famous Swede [knew] what egg-coffee was in 1945. Nancy Jones
My grandmother was from Gamleby, Sweden and she made Swedish egg coffee as dad did also. When I asked why he put egg in the coffee grounds he said that it was to hold the coffee grounds together. He put the coffee grounds in a bowl, added an egg, a pinch of salt, (to take the bitterness out ) and just enough water to make it pourable. He then added it to boiling water, let it boil for about ten minutes then shut it off and let it settle. The coffee ground settled to the bottom of the pot. I remember drinking the coffee which was rather sweet and he added cream and sugar to it as I was very young to be drinking coffee. He did use American coffee not Swedish. Glenna Malmborg Hoornstra
My Kajsas Kokbok from 1935 also says that the coffee could be mixed with raw egg white, then poured into cold water, and after boiling it all, you would have a very clear coffee. Nothing said about filtering afterwards. My theory is that this was never a widely spread habit in Sweden. To use an egg white like this, and throw it away without eating it, is really a waste of God’s gifts. In many homes the coffee was not wasted after boiling it either – it was “recycled” as long as possible, it was rather a matter of getting coffee at all then worrying about the taste and clearity of it. (My great great grandfather even recycled his chewing tobacco; he dried it after use on the stove, and then he smoked it in a pipe).
Well – even if it was not a widely spread habit, it was known, and so was the ideal of clear coffee. And when Svenska Kvinnor became American women, they could afford to make a little more out of things than they could ever do at home. So they could do egg coffee, and sweet cakes, and put butter on top of wheat bread with cinnamon. The ideal of clear coffee went to, and preserved by, such exaggerations as the coffee I was served this summer in a church hall in Minnesota. A coffee so clear, that it was just a little whiff of coffee beans from pure water. Hans Svedberg
The discussion on Swedish egg coffee is interesting. All of my ancestors came from Sweden, from various parts of the country, from the 1870’s through the 1990’s. Mother says her people would use the egg whites only to mix with the coffee gounds, moisten it with water, and add it to the boiling water. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes and remove from the fire for a few minutes. A small amount of cold water added to the hot coffee would aid the settling of the grounds. This method produced clear, delicious coffee.
I think it is entirely possible that this method started in Sweden. Many of the cultural habits and foods are already forgotten in Sweden today. I remember when I was a girl that a Swede came to America – Leonard Sederdahl – in the 60’s or so and toured most of the major Swedish American settlements in order to collect data on immigration. He came to our area of Kansas – around the Lindsborg settlement. He made the comment that it was advantageous for the Swedes to visit America because we have preserved many Swedish ways from the 1800’s that they have forgotten already. The Swedish immigrants clung to the old ways as a way of sticking together and preserving their heritage. Jennifer Veer