Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How to Make Norwegian Egg Coffee and Your Own Winter Spice Blend by Cleo Coyle

If your grandmother threw egg shells into her coffee filter, this post may give you a clue why... 

My story starts with a man in Norway. Martin Lersch has a PhD in chemistry and a passion for food and drink. Dr. Lersch stumbled upon Americans making "Norwegian Egg Coffee," and became puzzled. He was Norwegian, yet he’d never heard of it.

He described the method to his mother who said she’d never heard of it, either. But she did recall Norwegians using the skin (or swim bladders) from fish when boiling coffee in order to help clarify it.

The chemist’s conclusion was that Norwegians who came to the Midwestern United States replaced the fish skins with eggs. Eggs were a much easier source of protein to come by than fish in their new home, and the chemical results the same.

This is about the best explanation I have come across for why egg coffee may have become popular in the Midwest and among Americans with Norwegians roots. (Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments--and, yes, I do discuss egg shells in coffee grounds, keep reading.)

As for the scientific rationale behind this method of making coffee, it’s fairly simple; Dr. Lersch explains it this way: eggs contain proteins (as do fish skins, which is what Norwegians in Norway once used). 
Proteins help the coffee grounds to flocculate; that is, clump together, which helps to prevent the bitter grinds from ending up in you cup. Proteins also bind to the polyphenols in coffee, ridding it of astringency, which aids in clarifying it. That’s why the result is a pleasant, mild tasting brew.

If you find yourself with cabin fever this winter, give this method a try. I think you’ll enjoy the experiment. I did.

By the way - this method is also a fun way to make your own Winter Spice Coffee Blend. I'll show you how in the recipe below. May you drink it with joy and...

Helse! ~ Cleo

Cleo Coyle, java
egghead, is author of The
Coffeehouse Mysteries

Egg Coffee

This basic method is known by many names: Swedish Egg Coffee, Finnish Egg Coffee, Hungarian Egg Coffee, and (of course) Lutheran Church Basement Egg Coffee. In this post, I'll show you what I consider the best way to get the tastiest results. 

If you're a reader of my Coffeehouse Mysteries, you might recall the subject of “Norwegian Egg Coffee” coming up at the start of Billionaire Blend when coffee shop manager Clare Cosi describes the method as "cowboy coffee with an egg broken into it"--well, that's exactly what it boils down to (pun intended)!

Billionaire Blend:
A Coffeehouse Mystery
To learn more, click here.

If you are making large batches of coffee and your grinds are coming pre-ground in a can or plastic container, this is an excellent method of doing it, (which is exactly why church basements are famous for serving it). 

Canned, pre-ground coffees are mass produced and mass roasted, giving them much less dimension and complexity than premium (aka "specialty") coffees, roasted in small batches. In other words, if you're using cheaper coffee, this method of making it will give you a smoother and more drinkable brew. 

If you're making high-quality coffees, however, most coffee pros would recommend using other methods to preserve their complex flavors (and so would I). Use this method only for inexpensive, pre-ground coffees...or the occasional curious experiment. 

What about Grandma
and her Egg Shells? 

She was right, if she did it right. While some people like to use the whole egg when making this coffee, some use the egg and shell, too—the shell is calcium carbonate, which will neutralize acid. Here’s the thing, though, it only works if you really crush up the shell into the grinds. Simply throwing large, empty shells into a coffee filter does nothing to change the acidity level.

Once strained, the egg coffee produces a very pretty,
amber-colored beverage. Despite using inexpensive,
pre-ground coffee, the result is clear, smooth, and delicious.

How Cleo Makes
Norwegian Egg Coffee

Makes 10 servings (roughly ten 6-ounce cups of coffee)

(1) PLACE 2 quarts of water (eight 8-ounce cups) into a saucepan

(2) HEAT until the water boils; while you’re waiting for the boil…

(3) MIX a paste consisting of:
              1 egg + 3/4 cup ground coffee* + 1/4 cup water

(4) ADD this coffee-egg paste into the water as soon as it begins to boil. Give it a gentle stir with a spoon, and do not stir again.

(5) BOIL for 3 full minutes.

As the coffee boils and the egg cooks,
the coffee grinds clump together
and the brew is clarified. 

(6) REMOVE the pan from heat. (Don't just turn the heat down, take the pan off the hot burner.)

(7) LET STAND for a full 2 minutes.

(8) STRAIN coffee into a carafe (I use a fine mesh sieve). 

Serve the egg coffee hot or iced, as you like, with or without cream and sugar.


* COFFEE: I suggest a bold, dark roast for this method, which will give you a rich coffee flavor. In my experience, medium and light roasts yield a cup that’s not as rich, even a bit on the watery side. The amount of coffee I'm using works for me. You may want to use less coffee or more water. Experiment with your own taste.

* STEP 6 - Many recipes for "egg coffee" direct you to add cold water during step (6). But in my experience this does little to benefit the brew. Instead, I find it makes the coffee more watery and lessens the pleasant impact of a wonderfully hot, steaming cup. 

Cleo's Easy
Winter Spice Blend

To create a winter spice blend using this method, simply add your favorite whole spices to the pot during step 1.

Here are the whole spices that I like to use...

3 cinnamon sticks, 2 whole cloves, 1 teaspoon of crystallized ginger, and 1 star anise. You can mix and match your own with one warning...

WARNING: Do not use ground spices. These will float in the coffee and will not give you the same nuanced flavoring as whole spices.

Drink with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
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  1. This sounds deliciously amazing. I am going to try this. Except I am out of eggs right now and as we all know my part of the world is snow bound. But I will try it soon

    1. Lori - We're shivering here in New York, too. The deep freeze is on. A good day to pour some hot coffee, cocoa, or tea and open a cozy read.

      Take care and stay safe...

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  2. Ah, a warming drink on a cold morning. I may be in south Florida, but like much of the country the temperature dropped over 40 degrees from yesterday's high. And then you add in the windchill.
    A hot tasty beverage is just the thing.

    1. Up here in New York, they're calling it weather whiplash. Unseasonable warm followed by "Okay, where are the polar bears?" :) Thanks for dropping by, Libby, keep that coffee cup full and enjoy your week!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. That's fascinating, Cleo. I have some vague recollection of my Hungarian grandmother doing something with egg shells and coffee. I was too young to drink coffee so I didn't pay any attention!

    1. Peg - It surprised me to learn that Hungarian Egg Coffee is much the same as the Scandinavian (Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian). The difference is that the Hungarian method crushes the shells into the paste and adds a bit of salt, as well!

      Coffee-drinking cultures have found so many ways to make bean juice, it truly is fascinating. Thanks for dropping by today, stay safe and warm!

      ~ Cleo Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. What a perfect winter surprise, Cleo! I must try this. As usual, you have given us a real visual treat as well.



    1. You're a sweatheart, MJ. This one was fun to put together--and drinking all that coffee definitely kept me warm and awake. :)

      Thanks for dropping in today, have a great week...

      ~ Cleo Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  5. What an interesting history! Love all the spices.

    Daryl / Avery

  6. Loved the history behind this interesting method, I really enjoyed it :)

    1. Thanks, Karen, that's so nice of you to let me know. It's easy and fun and (as I mentioned to Daryl below...) it's a surprisingly delicious method of making coffee!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  7. Thanks Daryl/Avery - I have to admit, I was skeptical about this method (and so was Marc)! But we were very pleasantly surprised. The egg coffee is smooth, rich, and delicious, especially with those coconut macaroons in the background--which didn't last long after I finished taking the pictures!

    Have a great week and thanks for dropping by today...

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  8. I just was looking for this recipe. The idea of eggs in the coffe foreign till I was reading another baking murder mystery. I have just found your website! All I can say is OMG! I am so very excited to explore all of the books and recipes! Thanks! Having my coffee right now! Delissha!