by Rebecca Holland
Before arriving in Iceland, I was excited to read about its “famed coffee culture” and “vibrant coffee scene” in numerous blogs. Arriving though, my hopes for charming cafes and the scent of coffee wafting through the streets were dashed. We got into the Keflavik airport at 8:30am and picked up our rental car. Because we didn’t sleep on the flight and we had a full day of driving ahead, we planned to stock up on caffeine. “Oh yeah there are tons of coffee shops nearby,” said our rental agent, pointing us in the right direction with a word of caution about not driving the SUV off the main road (we did, and got a flat tire, and it was so worth it for the scenery).
The coffee shop he recommended wasn’t open, though it was now 9:45 on a Monday morning. Maybe Icelanders get a late start? So we moved on to the next one, which was actually a convenience store not unlike a 7/11. Here, we found an instant coffee machine. We filled paper cups, sneaking extra shots of espresso on top of the pathetic amount of coffee the machine sputtered out, and hoped for better as the trip progressed. We didn’t find better over the next 10 days, but we did get used to Nescafe. I don’t actually mind Nescafe all that much, if it’s the only option. But I do mind when I can’t mix it myself. When I have a Nescafe jar in front of me, I’ll heap spoonfuls of it into my mug, so that it tastes unpleasant but wakes me up. When it comes from a machine, it always ends up tasting more like coffee flavored water with sugar and no caffeine. Still, I drank several of these a day, fueling up every time we stopped for gas in hopes that one machine might be better than the last.
And then, on day 11, after driving clockwise around the entire country, we arrived in Reykjavik. People! Stores! Restaurants! Coffee Shops! And more coffee shops! The city seemed massive after 10 days of driving through farmland and mountains, but at 119,000 people it’s actually quite small. Still, here was the coffee culture we’d been seeking. We parked the car, dropped our bags, and headed immediately to Reykjavik Roasters (conveniently located across the street from our guesthouse).
We inhaled the scent of freshly roasted coffee and took in the menu. “They even have soy!” exclaimed Brianna, like the true San Franciscan she is. As seems to be the trend with all great coffee shops around the world, the baristas seem just a little cooler than the clientele, and indie records play amid whacks of espresso filters and buzzing grinders. Vintage tables and chairs fill every cranny, with a large Giesen roaster as the finishing touch.
The coffee itself is exceptional. Roasted on site, bought directly from farmers, and hand brewed. Flavorful and smooth, and great with one of the homemade pastries. (I’m not sure what exactly we ordered — it looked like a flat chocolate cookie, but had the texture of a macaroon – delicious!).
In the end, Reykjavik Roasters made up for all the Nescafe, but if I ever make another trip to rural Iceland, I’ll be bringing some of my own instant coffee packs for the road.
Kárastígur 1, 101 Reykjavík