Good Coffee, Good Conversation, And A Good Cause
In a city brim-full with cafés and coffee shops, one local man—psychology student and long-distance cycling enthusiast Sverrir Rolf Sander—has, in less than two weeks, carved out a place for himself alongside Reykjavík’s more established barista talent. In late April, under the name Puffin Coffee, Sverrir opened the kitchen window of his apartment in downtown Reykjavík and started serving espresso drinks, aeropress coffee and his favourite, the ‘Kalita Wave.’
While the coffee (and window-side conversation) is great, what makes Sverrir’s concept so special is that he’s doing this not to make a little extra cash, but instead to raise money for charity, specifically the UK-based organisation Ambitious About Autism. In September, Sverrir will take part in the cycling company Rapha’s ultramarathon fundraiser: a 220-mile single-day ride from Manchester to London, England. In order to take part in the event, each of the 300 participants must raise £750 for the charity. But rather than sit on his sofa and ask people to just transfer money to him, Sverrir decided to take a more unique and personal approach to his fundraising.
Love In Every Cup
“I guess the natural thing to do would be to offer you a cup of coffee,” Sverrir said as he let me into his sunny, ground-floor apartment. “Have you heard of Kalita Wave?” I had to admit that I had absolutely no idea what such a thing was, so he began to explain the mechanics of a Japanese hand-drip pourover device similar to a Chemex coffeemaker (a sort of glass hourglass-shaped device which, happily, I was familiar with). It’s like that, he said, but better, with a smoother finish.
While the coffee-making set-up in his kitchen—a small, single-boiler espresso machine, aeropress brewer, and the aforementioned Kalita Dripper—might be considered spare for your average coffee shop, they immediately reveal Sverrir to be a true aficionado. Perhaps this is only natural given that he “has a history in coffee.” When Sverrir was growing up, his family owned Café Milano, a coffee shop at which his mother was the head barista and manager, his grandfather the bookkeeper and his grandmother the baker.
All the same, it wasn’t until he was living in Berlin a few years ago that he decided to take a more refined approach to his home brewing. “It’s not a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity. I start my day with coffee, so I better do it well,” he said, as he ground the beans for my cup. “I don’t want to just press a button on a machine and just do it for the fix. I want the flavour as well.”
He set a green ceramic cup in front of me, as well as the clear glass dripper, which he filled with the fresh coffee grounds. “I would rather do it once and do it properly then do it three or four times and not be satisfied or fulfilled,” he said.
I asked if perhaps he had gained his coffee-making expertise by working as a summer barista in his family’s business, but he shook his head. A number of his friends, particularly a barista named Torfi who is a co-owner at Reykjavík Roasters (from where Puffin Coffee gets all its beans), have taught him the ins and outs of coffee making. “The small things matter,” he said, admitting some of the limitations of his personal coffee set-up. “But I’m getting better every day. Of course, it’s not perfect, but I try to put love in every cup.”
The Coffee Window
It was out of this love for home brewing that the idea behind Puffin Coffee was actually born. After he moved back to Iceland, he decided to buy a specialty coffee maker which was more suited to making coffee for multiple people. His brewing talents were obviously appreciated, as he recalled: “Quite often, I would be here, in my underwear, making myself breakfast, and friends who lived close by and were walking to work would just knock on the window and be like, ‘hey, can I get a cup of coffee to take to work?’ Sometimes, they would just stand outside the window and try to drink it really fast before leaving,” he laughed. “Well, most of the time, I’d let them in.”
He paused in his story to offer me a thick oatmeal and chocolate chip cookie that his cousin baked. “Around that time, I signed up for the [Manchester to London] bike ride. I had an Icelandic friend who had lived with me in Berlin—he’s in Vancouver now—and he had this espresso machine. So I sent him a message and asked if I could rent his machine. He said, no just take it—it’s just sitting in my basement doing nothing. So I went to his house and got it and walked like 20 minutes back here…”
Sverrir’s narrative was interrupted by the arrival of the day’s first visitor. He popped over to the window and gave a friendly hello before offering the man coffee.
“What kind of coffee can I offer you?”
“Um, what is this Kalita Drip?”
“Listen—that’s my favourite coffee. Let me show you.” Here he proceeded to demonstrate the brewing method in animated detail. “Have I sold you on the concept?”
As the coffee dripped, Sverrir offered his guest a cookie and showed him the various drawings that adorned each to-go cup. The decorations on these cups were done by a young artist named Sunna Ben, who volunteered her skills when she first learned of Sverrir’s project. One afternoon, she actually took illustration requests from people via the Puffin Coffee Facebook page. Among the various requests: a line of ants, a bear wearing a t-shirt that reads “METAL,” the Predator, and H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu.
Another man approached the window while Sverrir and the man were chatting. “Are you selling coffee?” came the question.
“No, no.” Sverrir replied, “I’m giving it away.”
Some people, inspired by the cause, have given as much as 5,000 ISK for a single cup of coffee, Sverrir said, although most people give more like 600 ISK. “That’s what’s cool,” he says. “I’m putting my trust in the good will of people. And I trust their judgment.”
Puffin Fans, Near And Far
Having added his newest donations to the large salad bowl where he keeps all of his funds, Sverrir returned to the kitchen. “At one point, a few days ago, there were six people waiting in a queue. It was crazy. Of course, if people come and ask for three lattes, it takes awhile. But it’s okay—people understand that this is not a business.”
Another woman walked up to the window and thanked him for the coffee she had the day before. Sverrir asked if she’d like another cup, but she said no, she didn’t have any money. “Well, do you want a cookie?” he asked. “My cousin baked them—they’re really good.” She left with the cookie, agreeing to come back soon.
“The reception has been much more than I anticipated,” Sverrir said coming back to the table. “But it’s been fun. For instance, yesterday I was open for three hours and there were maybe 12 or 15 people here. That was quite nice because I would read for 30 minutes and then I’d have a five minute break to have a conversation and clear my mind.”
He stood and rinsed the Kalita Wave. “I’ll tell you a funny story. After I opened, there was this guy who started writing a lot of messages and then he added me personally on Facebook. All right, I thought, he is obviously a fan of Iceland and Puffin Coffee, so why not? But he kept asking about the exact address and sending me pictures from Google Maps. ‘Is this the house?’ He was quite persistent and I was a bit afraid at first—is this guy going to come in the middle of the night and demand coffee or something? But then, I found out he’s from Hawaii, and they have quite a famous coffee there called Kona. So he’s sending me two huge bags of coffee beans! Soon it will be on offer here.”
On another occasion, Sverrir was awakened early in the morning by a “ruckus” outside. Rushing out of his room and half expecting to find someone breaking into the flat, he found instead a tourist standing outside his kitchen window. “He was like, ‘I heard there was a guy serving coffee here.’ And I said, ‘Um, yeah. It’s kind of closed right now. You just woke me up, but it’s cool, I’ll see you a little later.’”
Right as Sverrir finished his story, two cops, on bikes, cycled up to the window. He laughed, “Well, the police are here,” and then, over at the window, “Hello, guys—can I offer you some coffee?”
The officers opted for the favoured Kalita. “I thought you were here to arrest me,” Sverrir joked, while selecting two cups for the officers—a seal and an elephant. They complimented the coffee before posing for a picture and returning to their rounds.
Riding the (Kalita) Wave
So, I asked, why has he decided to dedicate his time and effort to raising money for autism research? As with the idea for Puffin Coffee, the fundraiser idea came together rather organically. “Last year, I rode on my bike from Berlin to Paris in nine days,” he explained. “That was the beginning of my ‘real’ bike career. It made me mature in ways I couldn’t have imagined and it was really good for me mentally and physically to just focus on one big thing and try to challenge myself.”
It also happens that autism is a cause that is close to Sverrir’s heart. “My best friend’s son was diagnosed with autism. And as a psychology student, I can see that the causes of this development disorder have not been researched thoroughly enough. So I saw this as an opportunity to do something good. Bike my ass off and raise money for autism research.”
As of this writing, Sverrir has managed to raise nearly £500, and he still has four months to raise the remaining £250. In the very likely event that he meets his fundraising minimum, however, he believes that he will continue with his efforts, possibly even after the Rapha ride is over. “I can’t say for sure—right now I’m just trying to ride the wave.”
Puffin Coffee is located at Baldursgata 26. Its hours vary considerably from day to day, but are posted on the Puffin Coffee Facebook page and Twitter feed.