Come with us today to Denmark’s third largest municipality, a place with deep history and excellent coffee: the city of Odense, Denmark. Here in the storied birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen (recently named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Places in 2021), on the island of Funen, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve found someplace out of a fairytale, but now’s the time to look closer.
Before you start thinking the only reason for a visit is to follow in the footsteps of this 19th century writer (alternately a point of pride and chagrin for locals), let me say this: Odense’s candlelit cafes in cobblestone alleyways provide one of the most hyggelig (“coziest”) places in the country to drink coffee. After all, isn’t literature one of coffee’s best friends? Even better if both are accompanied by one of Denmark’s famous cinnamon buns (kanelsnegle).
Odense, with its protected old quarter, lively harbor, and well-kept bike paths, is home to a small but growing specialty coffee scene. The fact that Odense is located on the island Funen creates a close-knit community, and most of the cafes we’ll introduce you to get their coffees from micro-roasters on the island. From the eco-minded local chain Nelle’s Coffee & Wine to the light-roast pioneer Café Sølle to the rugged art and music cafe Analog, let’s shine a spotlight on an alternative city for coffee lovers just two hours from Copenhagen.
Nelle’s Coffee & Wine
Local Odense chain Nelle’s Coffee & Wine was founded by four friends in 2012, and is named after CEO Charles Saysette’s daughter Nelle. The Filosoffen location, on the bank of the Odense River across from Munke Mose park, opened in 2017. Its ample outdoor seating makes it popular for people-watching when the weather gets warm. Locals love Nelle’s cappuccinos; you’ll also find a V60 pour-over, cold brew, and coffee cocktails including espresso martini and iced latte Bailey’s.
The cafe’s contemporary and international design was created by the award-winning Stupid Studio as an expression of the owners’ desire to create a place where you instinctively feel at home. The bar is purposely placed in front of the entryway so staff can greet everyone who visits, complemented by funny posters sporting phrases like, “Did you know that 2-3 glasses of wine per day can reduce your risk of giving a shit [sic].” The cafe’s rotating selection of wines are selected by a sommelier who is also the manager at Nelle’s Odense Teater location.
The city’s culture revolves around this chain, it seems: They offer regular wine and coffee tastings and a running club for coffee lovers. Be sure to visit the Filosoffen culture house and art gallery upstairs for free after your coffee!
All five Nelle’s locations serve an organic dark-roast espresso blend from cooperatives in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Ethiopia and a medium-roast Brazilian filter blend brewed on Rancilio Classe espresso machines. The coffees are from a micro-roastery in Haarby on Funen.
A local darling of the light-roasted coffee scene, Café Sølle opened a week before closing down because of COVID-19, but is now full to the brim on the Wednesday morning I visit. According to co-founder Jonas Klindt, the name, whose direct translation is “cafe silly,” is based on co-founder Xenia Søllingvraa’s last name and former nickname.
The relaxed, “hidden” cafe is located in Nedergade, a street with “kind of a Paris or Berlin vibe” that people must seek to find—and are always greeted with warm, welcoming service. The cafe’s “rough” interior (Klindt’s words) features original concrete walls accented by a few wide brushstrokes of light blue paint. You’ll find large, long wooden tables where the owners hope people will gather and talk to each other (a big feat for stoic Denmark). If anyone can make it happen, though, it’s this plucky, colorful cafe that bans laptops after 2:00pm and serves its light/middle-roast Honduras COMSA espresso, brewed on a Simonelli Appia II, in speckled ceramic cups. All Café Sølle’s single-origins, which are changed out yearly, are from Holy Bean Coffee Roasters, a well-established and women-owned roastery in Aarup, on Funen.
The cups are for sale alongside “no bullshit” natural wine and mostly-Danish craft beers, and the three co-owners (Klindt, Søllingvraa, and Mads Klindt) bake all their bread and cakes themselves every morning. “We wake up early,” Klindt says—good thing they have fantastic cappuccinos and flat whites to keep them company.
Analog, which replaced Baboon Coffee in January 2020, is the aloof, undercover cool kid of Odense—home-grown, down-to-earth, and located right at a turn in the newly-built light rail.
Owner Peter Møller Kristensen, who knows much of his age-diverse clientele personally, wants his cafe to be “a low-key spot with soul and commitment […] a room in the neighborhood” where happy employees go the extra mile to provide great service and where he can host local art, yoga, music, and community dinners. The name Analog (“ah-na-lo”) is a vector for Kristensen’s commitment to quality and tradition; he makes everything by hand—from the desserts to the sourdough bread that complements delectable homemade sit-in or take-home lunches.
The cafe brews a variety of organic, fair-trade single-origins from Middelfart’s The Brew Company on their Carimali Diva. I recommend parking yourself on one of Kristensen’s hand-built benches or the reclaimed ’60s-era courthouse chairs next to a sunny, wall-to-floor window, and enjoying a nutty, chocolatey V60 pour-over, their delightful cold brew tonic featuring a homemade lemonade concentrate for an extra refreshing tang, or their locally-brewed “stout coffee” (because it’s more coffee than beer). If you’re lucky, Kristensen will add a cup of free carrots, which he calls his “contribution to national health.”
If you care about “swans and flowers” in your latte art, Kristensen says, this may not be the place for you—but it is for anyone who cares about the quality and quantity of milk foam served on coffee at the perfect temperature, in pre-warmed cups.
You’ll always be welcomed with a smile at Café UNIKA, where the reigning motto is, “Always remember that you are absolutely unique—just like everyone else.”
The cafe varies its white walls with notes of pink, gray, and seafoam, and is filled with furniture found in secondhand shops and flea markets. I love sitting at the wooden stools in the window that face the Albani Breweries. If you’re looking for a great brunch place with perfectly plated, be-flowered meals that source organic ingredients whenever possible, look no further than UNIKA. You’ll find a perfect complement in the customer-favorite cappuccino and iced coffee that feature Guatemala Finca Ceylan with notes of pistachio, caramel and blood orange from burgeoning coffee wholesaler Copenhagen Coffee Lab. (If you’d like to cheat on your coffee for the day, you can also get a matcha, golden, and beetroot latte.)
The sisters have received the Best of Odense Award for their attention to detail, and ensure coffee is always brewed to its best on their Dalla Corte, on which Nathalie and Mathilde cut their teeth working in the London coffee scene. They hope to expand and open more “unique places” around Denmark, including their second Odense location, the juice bar and cafe Bar UNIKA.
While we’re on the topic of uniqueness, Velodrom Kaffebar has been a work in progress since owner Kåre Loll began renovating the defunct train station—which dates to 1876—alongside a cycling path in the residential Fruens Bøge neighborhood in 2015. Loll used the “corona times” to further restore the building to its roots before reopening in early 2022. The cafe has an industrial yet cozy feel that includes a station clock and coupé-style seating areas with wooden doors and benches. Some of the 19th and 20th-century period fixtures, with authentic patina, are original, and some date to an earlier 1952 renovation.
Visiting Velodrom requires a short bike ride from the city center towards the Odense Zoo. In fact, this mode of transportation is perfectly in the spirit of the cafe’s founding: “Coffee and cycling always complement each other,” Loll tells me. For your perseverance, you’ll be rewarded with a hyper-local cafe patronized by all-age residents socializing over coffee in one of the cafe’s three rooms (the caffe latte and cortado are bestsellers).
Everything Loll brings to the cafe is steeped in history, from roaster Kaffe Lars, just four kilometers from the cafe, slow-roasting since 1912 with a traditional gas-powered, 1941 vintage German “Ideal Gothot Rapid 90Kg” to his choice of machine in a Faema E61, an Italian brand Faema formerly sponsored a cycling team that included professional cyclist Eddy Merckx, among others.
Chloé Skye Weiser (@apostropheskye) is a freelance writer based in Denmark. This is Chloé’s first feature for Sprudge Media Network.