You may have heard the story of the lemmings up from the north, who swam home from Africa through the Gulf Stream in the darkness of the night with coffee beans to roast them just with their body heat in the Swedish mountains? No? Well, here it is.
hiny there she stands, the innovative dual circular portafilter machine for which you can easily spend a month’s salary, or even two if you have the right grinder. She builds up pressure, talking big and in the end, concentrated, iItalian 25 milliliters of extracted espresso are ending up in the cup. Great. In the meantime, the trend is also back to hand-brewed black, preferably with carefully weighed beans and slow infusion.
In the far Swedish north, lemmings have been roasting coffee beans for hundreds of years without human knowledge, in tunnels under the snow. We want to know more …
When we ask for an interview at the beginning of January, quite spontaneously, Markus writes: “Sure we can do that. But do know that we live way up north?” Yes, we do.
Gällivare. A town in the northern Swedish province of Norrbottens län and the historic province of Lapland, about 70 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. Almost ten thousand people are living here, most of them from the copper mine and better than average. And we can find Markus Lemke and Rolf Nylinder with their team and the mission to bless the world with dark roasted, coarsely ground coffee.
In the further correspondence, Markus referred impressively to really warm clothes, it was about -20 ° and we would run a good 20 minutes to a hut.
Then we visited the next sports store and stocked up the outfit by an even warmer jacket, gloves and a few HeatPads. Ready to start on a wonderful coffee-adventure.
2PM. The sun is sinking, as soon as it has risen. I’m getting nervous, after all I want to capture the experience photographically, carrying rather an uncreative accessory flash with me, an emergency solution. The roads are icy and we have to further slow down the already slow pace.
14:30 we’re standing at the old train station in Gällivare when we discovered the small black jeep with white inscription „Lemmel”. We’re following it conspicuously through the “night”. After a while we stop. The first goal seems to be reached. It takes a few more minutes to put on the warming clothes and the dog’s coat and shoes, then we dare to step outside.
After the native “Hej” and the following English greeting we realize that it can go on fine in German, thanks in part to Markus father. The conversation is now even easier.
What was following then wasn’t that easy. The snow is high and we can’t see why Markus is drawn to the right into the forest at some point. We plow our way, not without plopping at least once into the soft white. Falling down is easy, but getting up again is difficult. We have already learned this lesson from life. Then we were standing in front of the grandfather’s cabin.
While we strive to orient ourselves in the candlelight – a table, a bollero stove, two benches and chairs, no water, no electricity – Markus routinely shovels free the previously invisible fireplace. Somewhere down there must also be the lake where he goes fly fishing with his children in the summer. We feel like we’re in a movie. A mixture of “Into the Wild” and “Call of the Wild”. Are there actually bears here, I ask, while Markus nimbly lights a birch bark with a knife and ignition stick. “A few years ago, a father who was hunting elk here with his son probably disturbed a bear during his winter sleep; he didn’t survive.”
„When you ask 20 Swedes how to make KokKaffe, you’ll learn 20 different ways to make it. Some knock on the floor 3 times for good luck, others clarify the coffee with the scales of the perch skin.” Markus Lemke
Markus fills the kettle with snow, places it on the iron plate and once again purposefully blows air into the fire. The special tool was forged for him by a “fan” from Japan – Lemmel is conquering the world.
I wanted to know what exactly the lemming-story is all about. Markus’ face becomes serious, we feel that he will now disclose us the secret:
Now we only hear the crackling of the fire and are sure. Here, somewhere among us, they already are, perhaps looking forward to a warming cup of coffee just as much as we are. We are listening, looking around and gazing into the mischievous eyes of our “scout”. Suddenly we are no longer sure …
Steam rises from the kettle and has almost reached the boiling point. 95°-98° are perfect, says Markus. He opens the elk leather bag. It has been tanned with vegetable substances so that all the tannins are not absorbed for the coffee not to lose its aroma. That’s part of the Lemmel philosophy. He pours the freshly ground, coarse coffee grounds onto the water. When asked how much, he replies:
“Just enough, that a mouse can scurry over it with dry feet.”
Aha. Now adding 1 gr. salt. This is important and provides a unique taste experience. It reminds of the Ethiopian roots, where once the first coffee was drunk only with salt.
Do not filter, do not stir or press. Markus pushes the kettle onto the surface with only the embers glowing underneath, just right to maintain the temperature. Now it’s a matter of time. While the coffee brews, you can indulge in something meaningful: a nice chat, enjoy the beautiful view, think about life – that’s also part of the philosophy.
Time flies by. In the meantime it has become too cold for the dog, he has retreated into the cabin on a reindeer skin. After about a quarter of an hour we follow him, the coffee is ready.
“Fika” is the swedish expression for the indispensable coffee break in the afternoon. What we experience here high above the Arctic Circle is the adventurer’s version.
Markus unpacks a few ingredients: dried reindeer meat from a hunter friend, freshly baked kanelbulle that his girlfriend has made for us and – “Kaffeost”.
Coffee-cheese comes from the tradition of the Sami people, who, traveling for days with their reindeer, had no opportunity to cook. They brewed coffee over the fire and put hard cheese in it, which provided them with nutrients.
I’m a bit of a chicken and reach for the pastry first, then the meat. Both tasted excellent. I enjoy the gently cooled coffee from the traditional Finnish Kuksa made of maserbirch, Pia chooses the shiny and well insulating copper mug from Lemmel. (By the way: The merchandising also makes adventure hearts beat faster).
I hear a slight squeak. My looks are going back to Pia. She was already a bit more courageous and is obviously chewing with pleasure the small pieces of cheese, of which more are still swimming happily in the coffee. It doesn’t have much flavor of its own, rather it takes on some of its aroma and it squeaks like halloumi when chewed. Of course, I’m not a wimp, certainly not at -22 °, and becoming also richer for this interesting experience.
We’re not only soaking up this special coffee-tasting, but also all the extraordinary impressions and are very aware of what special moment we’re experiencing.
Markus tells us how he came to coffee as an athlete: As a professional snowboarder, he was on the ski slopes around the world until a knee injury ended his budding career. He switched sides and worked as a distributor in the SnowBoard industry. The fun didn’t last long, however. His buddy Rolf had a similar experience. He was also very successful as an active snowboarder. But he didn’t want to travel the world anymore. Best starting position for a new start.
The two men met in Markus’ office in Stockholm. While brainstorming, they drank coffee. KokKaffe. The two men love the long winter, fishing and the traditions of the Scandinavians. But whenever they wanted to drink coffee, they only got specialties from all over the world, just not KokKaffe.
In 2013, Lemmel is born, in the name of lemmings. It is the first dark roasted KokKaffee, committed to tradition and with an almost unbelievable history.
Markus Lemke & Rolf Nylinder
Meanwhile, the two are very successful, still having fun. This is due in no small part to their attitude and approach to work, which does not seem to be the most important thing in life (for Swedes in general). Free time, friends, life in nature and family have a high priority. So is taking pleasure in what you do. You can see and taste that at Lemmel!
The success proves them right and yet it seems rather unpleasant to them. So the two cancel many interview appointments, in order not to arouse envy outwardly, also typically Swedish.
Today Markus and Rolf employ 3 people and grow year after year at the pace they feel is appropriate, selling their specialties as far away as Japan.
The Swedish retail chains knock on the door again every year. But they definitely do not want to see their coffee there. For the young fathers, it is important to live in harmony with nature, of which they consider themselves a part. They get their two different beans from Peru and Honduras, dark roasted, from a Swedish importer who knows his coffee farmers personally.
Outside, the time of day has meanwhile adjusted to darkness. The coffee is drunk, we pack up and wade through the deep snow with our headlamps back to the cars. Markus gifts us his leather bag, full of KokKaffe, which is now a permanent item in our Explorer.
We are moving on further to the north in search of the aurora borealis.
We spend the night at the foot of the mountains of Gällivare, a popular ski resort. In fact, there are some ski-crazy permanent campers here who use every minute of daylight for sports, although the slopes are lit in the dark.
We enjoy breakfast, with a KokKaffe, of course. After all, you can also prepare it on a gas flame, which is less romantic, but also tasty.
Then we set off. As we turn the corner with “Karlsson”, a black jeep pulls up next to us. It’s Markus and his girlfriend, on their way to go snowboarding. A last, friendly “Hejdå” and a huge thank you for this unforgettable experience.
Markus Lemke & Rolf Nylinder
- Lemmelkaffe AB