Ever wondered why Starbucks hasn’t expanded into Sweden? Well, now they have, but only on a handful of locations. And it was more of a rhetorical question. You see, in the nineties a couple in the south of Sweden started Espresso House – a US coffee culture inspired coffee shop. Then, they opened their second cafe. And third. And before we knew it, they were all over Scandinavia. But it didn’t end there. Today, you often see Espresso House in every direction of every block. Sometimes so close to each other, that you choose place based on where the line is the shortest. Does this whole “everywhere thing” sound familiar? That’s because I’m practically describing Starbucks of Sweden, if you will. I believe Starbucks’ only chance of getting into the Swedish coffee dunking marker is by acquiring Espresso House, and I think they will. Remember where you read it first!*
But how’s the eatable?
Some say that mass produced baked goods will never be as good as artisan dittos. And I’m sure that is true, if you look for the best anything. If you find that one cook or baker that makes things that are tastier than any mass produced stuff, good for you. But until you find him or her, you might re-consider your view of capitalism and imperialistic chains. I’m a firm believer of none-prejudice food criticism. If we imagine for a moment that you have no idea Krispy Kreme is a chain, and you just walk in to one of their stores to have a doughnut, you’ll love it. Krispy Kreme makes very good doughnuts. Definitely better than many of the self proclaimed artisan doughnut makers I’ve visited. And Hägen-Dasz. Don’t forget that european sounding ice cream brand. They make better ice cream than many small ice cream shops. Take the terribly over-rated ice cream parlor Stikky Nikky – a tiny artisan place with a couple of locations in Stockholm, Sweden. They make terrible, ice crystal filled, tasteless ice creams that locals, for some reason, keep visiting. So back to Espresso House… Despite being a chain, many of the baked goods are very good. The seasonal flavors such as the almond muffin with whipped cream, resembling the Swedish cake semla, is a great idea. Chocolate muffins, blueberry muffins, and the poppy seed muffin with lemon curd, are excellent. They do offer mini-muffins, but they’re quite dry. And if you’re unlucky, anything you pick at Espresso House has a risk of being too dry. Not because it was originally made so, but because they often seem to forget to throw away unsold items. If your cake isn’t moist, go back and say you want a fresh one.
Espresso House have the Swedish classics chokladboll (chocolate ball) and cinnamon buns. Both of which are worth a try. As for the rest of the more standard coffee shop items (i.e grilled sandwich and various sallads) the level of quality is acceptable, but no more.
* Since this article was written, it has come to my attention that the Swedish grocery chain ICA is planning on licensing the Starbucks brand, and open some kind of Starbucks shops in connection with the ICA supermarkets. I still believe Starbucks will acquire Espresso House.
** Several years after this article was written, Starbucks did enter the Swedish market. So far, it hasn't done very well. They are few and usually in connection with train stations and airports. The ones downtown seem quite empty. I think they'll… Acquire Espresso House.