Cake and Coffee at Askaffi in Glaumbær
Steaming tea or coffee is an essential part of Icelandic culture. Before cafés, the strong aroma of coffee brewing and freshly baked cakes came from grandmothers’ kitchens as they served guests who stopped by. A welcoming cup of coffee along with a slice of cake, filled with rhubarb jam, was given to every visitor who took the trouble of travelling the distance between farms to visit friends or relatives. Askaffi continues this tradition by opening the doors to a world seen by few visitors, an Icelandic grandmotherʼs cosy kitchen. Waitresses in period costumes bustle from a tea room with tables covered in floral patterns and checkered table clothes to fetch cakes made from recipes passed down for generations. “I have, at most, twelve recipes for cakes. Itʼs a huge decision to add anything because we want to keep the food simple, like it was in the old days,” says Herdís, manager of the café and the woman behind the scrumptious cakes and coffee. Unlike other tearooms, this one picks nostalgia over propriety with sheepskin coverings, family photos, and life-size mannequins in the national costume.
“The two women that opened this café didn’t want the past to fade away, so they decided to share peopleʼs everyday lives. Otherwise these items would stay stuffed in trunks or banished to peopleʼs attics,” explains Herdís. Rooms are packed with relics of domestic life from the nineteenth until the middle of the twentieth century, careworn heirlooms stored in chests carved from driftwood open to reveal prized possessions from another time: dolls, sewing kits, pipes, and countless photos housed in handmade frames.
The progression from open hearth to coal and finally electric stove marks Icelandʼs modernisation. By the 1950’s, modernisation was nearly complete and Iceland had most of the conveniences enjoyed in other countries, a testament to its self determination following independence. No kitchen was complete without coffee, a precious commodity throughout several eras. Yet, because beans were in short supply, various additives, such as chicory, were used to stretch out the beans until a new shipment arrived. Fortunately today there is no shortage of coffee beans to limit the quality of Askaffiʼs. “The one thing Iʼve changed since the nineteenth century is the additives in the coffee, but I think that all Icelandic grandmothers would approve,” chuckles Herdís.Áskaffi
Glaumbær • 551 Varmahlíð
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