When we talk about a “smooth” cup of coffee, we’re discussing a brew that strikes a perfect balance of flavors without over-aggressive bitterness or acidity. This flavor profile can prove difficult to achieve for amateur baristas, but an intriguing brewing style known as “egg coffee” might just help you reach that ideal.
What is egg coffee?
Egg coffee is made by cracking a raw egg ― shell included ― into a cup, mixing it with your ground coffee, and then simmering it on the stove. The egg clings to impurities in the coffee, removing them from the liquid you end up pouring out and drinking, supposedly making for the smoothest cup of coffee you’ll ever drink.
Anyone who’s gone to culinary school and made consommé hundreds of times can attest that egg whites remove impurities from a liquid. When making consommé, a mixture of egg whites and raw ground chicken are stirred into a cloudy stock. As it slowly cooks, that mixture forms a “raft” on the top of the stock, attracting proteins and particles in the stock that cling to the raft, leaving behind a perfectly clarified consommé liquid. The raw egg in Swedish egg coffee serves a similar purpose.
Where does egg coffee come from?
Many baristas and coffee experts refer to this drink as “Scandinavian egg coffee” or “Swedish egg coffee.” So that means that this type of coffee hails from Sweden, Norway or Denmark, right?
Well, yes and no. Denmark-based coffee expert Asser Christensen, founder of the blog The Coffee Chronicler, told us that “what Americans refer to as ‘Scandinavian egg coffee’ is virtually unknown in Denmark, Sweden and Norway today. I have never seen it anywhere in the region.”
That said, Christensen does believe that egg coffee might have origins in the 19th-century wave of immigration from Scandinavia to America. “Coffee has a very long history in Scandinavia, and it’s correct that some unusual substances have been used to ‘clear’ up coffee in the past,” he said.
He noted that in the 1800s, coffee was expensive, so people often reused the same grounds, making coffee dirty and gritty. “There were no sophisticated filtration methods available back then, so protein-rich substances like eggs, fish skins and antlers have all been added to coffee to help filter out impurities. The idea of adding eggs to coffee is most likely something Scandinavian immigrants brought to America, but today, it would be more accurate to name it ‘Midwest egg coffee,’ since that seems to be the only place [where] people consume it regularly,” he said.
While Scandinavian nations may get a great deal of the credit for egg coffee, versions of the drink can be found in other regions ― most notably in Vietnam, where egg coffee (or cà phê trung) consists of a cup of coffee topped with condensed milk beaten with raw egg yolks to create a sweet, foamy float.
What does an egg do to the coffee?
Can an egg really affect the taste and quality of coffee? According to our coffee experts and barista sources, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
Parker Russell, the owner and CEO of the subscription coffee service Black Ink Coffee, pointed out that the egg’s entire purpose is to change the flavor of the drink. “More specifically, the egg helps to remove the bitterness and acidity that accompanies poorly roasted coffee,” he said. “The egg white acts, in a way, to remove impurities from the coffee, resulting in a tastier and cleaner cup of coffee.”
In terms of the effects of the egg shells themselves, coffee expert and blogger Shabbir Nooruddin of Coffee In My Veins said they do inform the flavor, explaining that “egg shells neutralize the acids in coffee, greatly reducing the tanginess and intensity of the cup. The result is much smoother and easier on the stomach, especially if you have gastric issues. If you just add yolks and egg whites, you’ll get the creamy, frothy texture, but the cup will be more acidic overall. Acidic coffee is not a bad thing ― just a matter of personal preference!”
Is egg coffee safe to drink?
Americans are especially wary of using raw eggs in their food, so egg coffee elicits questions and concerns about food safety. Janilyn Hutchings, a certified food safety professional from StateFoodSafety, cautioned that due to the water temperatures used to make egg coffee, there’s no guarantee that the egg will be free of salmonella.
“On one hand, since hot water intended for coffee usually doesn’t reach a boiling point while brewing, the egg may not fully cook during the brewing process,” she said. “Eating eggs that are only lightly cooked increases your risk of getting salmonella, especially if you’re using unpasteurized eggs.”
On the other hand, she said a handful of studies indicate that coffee grounds may have some antibacterial properties. One study, from July 2011 concluded that coffee “was seen to have significant activity against the growth of food spoilage bacteria.” But Hutchings added that “the types of coffee these researchers studied weren’t as effective in preventing salmonella as they were in preventing other types of foodborne illness-causing bacteria.”
To bolster the overall safety of your egg coffee, she strongly recommended using the freshest pasteurized eggs possible. “The pasteurization process is designed to reduce bacteria like salmonella to safe levels, which will lower your chances of getting sick,” she said.
Recipe: Scandinavian Egg Coffee
Courtesy of Tom Saxon (Founder, Batch Coffee, United Kingdom)
A coffee expert who’s sampled a wide variety of brews from all over the world, Saxon urged curious coffee fiends to give Scandinavian egg coffee a try, especially if you want a cup with an extra kick to start your day off right.
“Adding the egg to the coffee doesn’t add caffeine, but because the egg eliminates bitterness, you are able to make the brew time longer than normal, extracting more caffeine from the grounds,” Saxon told HuffPost.
Ingredients (for one serving)
3 tablespoons coarse-ground coffee (the same grind that you’d use when brewing in a French press)
10 ounces water (for brewing)
3 ounces cold water
1 egg (yolk, whites and shell)
Pour the 10 ounces of brewing water into a saucepan and place on the stove over medium-high heat.
Add the coffee grounds to a bowl or mug. Crack the egg and put the whole thing (shell included) in the mug with the grounds. Mix until the egg is fully incorporated.
Allow the coffee-egg mixture to sit for 30 seconds. Saxon says this brief pause lets “the coffee ‘bloom’ so that some of the bitter CO2 can escape.”
Once the water begins to boil, add the coffee and egg slurry to the saucepan and turn the heat down to a simmer. Simmer for about 4 minutes (although, Saxon said, “this depends on your taste and the type of coffee you’re using, [so] feel free to adjust the brew time accordingly”).
Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to sit for 1 minute.
Add the cold water. “This should make the coffee and egg crust combination sink to the bottom,” Saxon said. “This doesn’t always go according to plan, and you may have to add a little more cold water. If it doesn’t sink, use a slotted spoon to carefully fish out the crust.”
The coffee you’ll want to drink has risen to the top at this point. Ladle or pour it through a sieve and into your server or cups.