Whether it’s Danish beer halls, Icelandic cuisine, or handmade Swedish clogs, it’s hard not to notice that New York is having a bit of a love affair with all things Nordic at the moment. On a quick walk around Chelsea or Tribeca, you’re likely to see street style that looks more like a screenshot from Street Peeper’s Copenhagen page (albeit from 2010) than the recent Normcore trend so many are scratching their heads over.
Maybe it’s the fact that more people live abroad than ever before, creating new opportunities for cultural hybridization. Maybe it’s the widely reported successes of Scandinavian countries when it comes to everything from education to general happiness. Or the semi-recent proliferation of Copenhagen Fashion Week coverage among bloggers and stalwart fashion magazines alike. Whatever it is, Scandinavian culture is working its way into the hearts, stomachs, and wardrobes of many a New Yorker.
Given the special place coffee occupies in daily life here, it makes perfect sense that this blooming interest in Nordic exports has begun making its way into cafe culture.
Cue: Budin (Búðin, actually). Opened just over a year ago on Valentine’s Day, Búðin specializes in Scandinavian coffee and beer, and boasts a Nordic mercantile filled with a wide variety of design goods, kitchenwares, and clothing. To avoid any confusion about what you might experience, the sign on the door reads simply, “Búðin: Coffee Bar. Design Goods. Nordic.”
Located in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn (fitting given that Greenpoint’s first European settler was a Norseman by the name of Dirk Holgerssøn), Búðin first garnered attention for serving the most expensive latte in New York–perfectly steamed and made with specialty espresso, reportedly setting the drinker back $10.
But that’s part of the point.
Búðin isn’t trying to be the next corner store coffee, though you can still get a cup to go for $2.50. For owner and founder, Crystal Pei, Búðin isn’t about being caffeination pit stop. Rather, she sees it as a community place for people to explore new flavors and relax in a space designed to be a Nordic home away from home.
Pei doesn’t look down on the $1 cup of joe, she just believes that there’s room for an array of preferences and a diversity of price points accordingly. Búðin hires baristas who understand the artistry and science of making sure a latte comes out silky and light and full of complex flavor. They also brew coffees from roasters that work closely with their farmers to ensure sustainable land stewardship practices and that pay their workers and farmers ethically.
Such practices result in a product that costs a little more.
Pei likens specialty coffee to the wine and beer industry, “You can have a $10 bottle of wine or you can have a $50 bottle of wine. It’s really up to you and what you like to drink. I think the people who are going to purchase specialty beans understand that. Wine has always been that way, and beer is more recently getting there with microbrews, but coffee still has a way to go.”
Pei developed a taste for Scandinavian coffee, known in the specialty coffee world for its lighter roasting technique, when she was living abroad in Iceland and Norway. In the U.S., dark roasts have tended to reign supreme, but according to Pei, “the lighter roast lets you taste the flavors of the bean much more. So if there are hints of lemongrass, black currant, or black tea flavor–you can taste it.”
The Swedish Tim Wendelboe and Drop Coffee, and the Finnish Good Life–all brewed at Búðin–are among a community of Scandinavian micro-roasters responsible for putting light roast increasingly in the spotlight. To expose New Yorkers to the palate pleasures of Scandinavian coffee, Pei always recommends that people try a cup black at first so that they can really taste what it has to offer. Some go better with milk, others with a dollop of foam.
Front and foremost is the experience of coffee elevated to more of an event than utilitarian rocket fuel.
Embodying the Swedish tradition of fika (an afternoon coffee break accompanied by time with friends or coworkers similar to English tea time), Búðin manages to avoid the pretension that so many Americans still associate with “fancy” coffee. The space itself is spare, but warm and welcoming with communal tables, large windows, and a backyard. “We really wanted it to feel simple but cozy at the same time,” says Pei. “There are different words in Scandinavian languages, they all mean ‘cozy’ or ‘coziness.’ You know, it’s like inviting someone to your home–we want to create an environment for everybody.”
It’s become a popular neighborhood spot, with locals helping to taste test new products and weigh in, and in some cases even source goods for the mercantile, like the hand-knitted mittens that come courtesy of one customer’s Norwegian aunt. Pei laughs, “He was like, ‘Do you want to sell my aunt’s stuff?’ She’s just a Norwegian grandma, but it’s top notch quality!”
Wall shelves contain any number of Nordic treasures to browse through, from Salverk hand-harvested lava salt from Iceland, to Tonfisk tea sets, and Vik Prjonsdottir blankets and knitwears. According to Pei, Búðin is, “a little bit of a Nordic outpost. A lot of the color themes we chose are Scandinavian-based. Our stools and bar lamps are by Artek. Everything is also multifunctional–which I think of as being very Scandinavian–so when winter comes, we bring the chairs and tables from the yard inside so people can be cozy in the back and a little more private than at the communal tables.”
In the summertime they host movie nights, book release parties, and pop-up stores. “I’ve always been interested design and coffee and I also like talking to people. Most of the things that we carry are from friends. It’s all friendship!” Unlike many cafes that discourage customers from hanging out too long, Pei welcomes it, wanting people to feel comfortable working and chatting into the evening, when they can try a Scandinavian farmhouse ale or lingonberry mimosa.
Maybe it’s this combination of home away from home coziness and clean modern design that make Búðin and its Nordic sensibilities a naturally appealing alternative in a City renowned for its tiny apartments, go-go-go attitude, and propensity for drinking coffee while walking really fast.
That and the sigh-inducing cup of Scandinavian style light roast coffee.
Tags: Brooklyn, Budin, coffee place, Scandinavian coffee
Brooklyn-based writer and freelance culture hound Michael Braithwaite inherited an interest in design, objects, and personal style from her father and has a long-held love of the clean lines and color palates used by Nordic designers. When she's not writing, she enjoys spotting fashion and lifestyle trends and thinking about what they say about cultural shifts and interests. When she's not doing that, she's probably reading a book about ill-fated Polar expeditions of the early 20th Century.
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