Winfield, Illinois resident Elizabeth Stoffel first heard about Swedish egg coffee from a friend.
Ruby, an older Swedish woman she met at church, would share stories with Stoffel about the Swedish Lutheran community she grew up with — and, in particular, a drink they used to make.
“She had lots of memories about this special coffee that she would get little sips of,” said Stoffel. “But because she was a young person, she was never in charge of making it.”
As Ruby’s health declined, Stoffel, who works as a speech pathologist, became one of the only people who could communicate with her. “We would kind of joke about coffee and … she would look at me with this twinkle,” Stoffel said. “And in that twinkle, I knew exactly what she was saying. ‘I want that egg coffee’ — it just became this sweet little string tied between us.”
Hoping to find the coffee drink, Stoffel wrote to WBEZ. She asked:
What exactly is Swedish egg coffee, and where can I find it in the Chicago area?
Our friends over at Reset recently started a project called “Reset Lost and Found” where they send producers to track down things in Chicago that Google can’t uncover. They took on Stoffel’s question a few months ago, and since answering questions is the heart of our show, we collaborated to bring the story to Curious City listeners.
To try to answer Stoffel’s question, Reset producer Claire Hyman reached out to just about every Swedish restaurant and church in Chicagoland. But she didn’t have any luck finding a place that served the drink.
Finally, she contacted Patty Rasmussen, chef and co-owner of Tre Kronor, a Scandinavian cafe in North Park, who knew about the drink’s history.
Rasmussen said when Swedish immigrants moved to the Midwest, they brought the recipe for Swedish egg coffee with them. It was a tradition to make a big batch for Lutheran church gatherings. That’s why it became known as “church basement coffee.”
So it’s not actually a drink you can find in Sweden. It’s almost exclusively a Swedish-American drink — and a Midwest one in particular.
Swedish egg coffee is basically coffee brewed with an egg to cut the bitterness, but there isn’t just one way to make the drink, Rasmussen said. She was given an old Swedish recipe book by a longtime patron of Tre Kronor that included two ways to make it.
“I never knew if it was the entire egg or if it was egg whites, if it was the shells,” she said. “But then, upon asking in more detail, and referencing some church cookbooks, it did vary. Some places put the whole egg in there, some just put the egg whites in, some put the entire egg with the shell in there as well.”
Rasmussen said when she first opened Tre Kronor, people could make requests for dishes or drinks they wanted that weren’t on the menu. “So I think that also prompted a lot of people to ask for the egg coffee,” she explained.
But today, it’s hard to find because there’s not a demand for it anymore, said Rasmussen.
“I think that population has aged, and either forgotten or passed away,” she said. “I don’t get too many requests for it anymore.”
Stoffel was happy to get the recipe from Reset, even though she wasn’t able to share it with her friend Ruby, who passed away several years ago.
Still, any time she thinks of Swedish egg coffee, it continues to be a string that ties them together.
Claire Hyman is the digital and engagement producer for Reset.