For coffee lovers, it’s difficult to imagine starting the day without at least one cup of freshly brewed coffee. Vikings also valued their brewed drinks. The communal drinking and fellowship seemed to be an important part of their culture. As such Vikings prized a good drink.
But you may be wondering, was coffee among the beverages the Viking’s drunk in that period? If not, then what drinks were available in the Viking age? In this post, we analyze whether or not Vikings did drink coffee as well as the types of drinks that they did drink.
Did Vikings Drink Coffee?
Based on the timelines of when coffee became a commercialized product and the existence of the Vikings, it would seem unlikely that the Vikings ever drunk coffee. The Viking age lasted from around 709AD to 1066AD. The coffee plant was domesticated by the Arabs in 1000AD and its brewed form only became available between the 14th and 15th centuries. That means that the periods slightly overlapped but it wasn’t enough time for the Vikings to discover coffee.
The fact that the Arab nations only domesticated the coffee plant starting from 1000AD already reduces the chances that the Vikings would have known about it. Around the same time, the Persian and Ottomans nations began popularizing a beverage made of coffee green beans. The Arabs called this coffee-like beverage qahwa, and it had a distinct flavor from the coffee we know today. Still, the Ottomans and Persians were a considerable distance from the Vikings, meaning that the 66 years of existence they had left would not have been enough for them to have learned about brewed coffee.
Another reason it is unlikely that coffee was present in the Viking Age, is the fact that it wasn’t until the mid-15th century that the first roasted coffee beans were brewed. This was done by Yemen under the rule of Ahmed al-Ghaffar.
The location of the Vikings also made it impossible for them to have even encountered the berries from the coffee plant. Their settlements were only found in the present-day British Isles, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Iceland, and some parts of Greenland, Eastern Europe, Canada, and Scotland. These areas only had access to the coffee beans long after 1000AD. So, there is no chance the Vikings had any knowledge of the coffee beans’ existence, let alone how to brew them.
Some say that it is a good thing that the Vikings did not encounter coffee during their time. They were an already motivated nation of conquerors, who did not need another means of swiftly plundering by caffeinating their already hulking bodies. So, thankfully the brewing and trading of coffee did not occur in northern parts of the Scandinavian, European, and North American continents until the 5th Century. That was after the end of the Vikings’ conquests in those parts, so they wouldn’t have been able to take any coffee from parts of the world they no longer had access to or traveled to.
What Else Did the Vikings Drink?
If Vikings didn’t drink coffee, it then begs the question, what did they drink during their communal drinking and fellowship? The answer to this question is based on the kind of life they lived at the time. Although it was the Middle Ages and it wasn’t until seven centuries after when the microorganisms would be discovered, the Vikings were already adept at using bacterial or yeast cultures. They used this knowledge to make cheese, yogurt, bread and various forms of alcohol.
While spring water was something the Vikings prized, they mostly hydrated by drinking alcohol. This was because alcohol solved a lot of the problems with food contamination so they had it in plenty. This was a storage benefit that was especially crucial during their long sea voyages. Over time various beverages were associated with different lore. The following are some of the Vikings’ favorite beverages:
Also known as beers, ales are one of the principal drinks Vikings often took. They would drink ale all through the day starting from breakfast, and especially during special feasts. The ales were made by boil grains in water. The most preferred grain was barley, but any grain could be used. The mixture formed from the boiling grains was called wort which would be kilned over a fire until it produced a brown color and slightly smoky flavor. Hops and other flavoring herbs like horehound, juniper, and bog myrtle among others, would be added to it. What modern research refers to the Vikings’ multi-stage yeast would then be introduced from one brew to the next, using what is now known as a totem stick. Some believed that the yeast was able to make ales with 9-10% alcohol, although others insist that the medieval beers had relatively low alcoholic content. It is possible, however, that the milder beers were what they drank throughout the day, while the stronger beers were saved for celebrations.
This is another principal drink that is heavily associated with the Vikings. It is the world’s oldest alcoholic drink that dates back to the Neolithic period. It’s probably the first alcoholic drink the Vikings had before they discovered grains and how to brew them into ales. The drink was made by blending 2-3 pounds of honey per gallon of water, along with fruits and other medicinal or flavorful plants. The potency of the yeast determined how heavy and strong the drink would be. The alcoholic content ranges from 11-20+%. Because the amount of honey needed, to make a large enough supply of mead for everyone, was challenging to harvest, mead was not an everyday drink for Vikings. They also associated mead with Odin because of the famous story of how he stole the Mead of Poetry. He was said to gain the gift of understanding and creating beautiful poetry after drinking the mead.
During the pre-historic times, Wine was a valued drink by many nations. Thanks to the Romans planting vineyards wherever they went and took control, wine became a widely traded commodity. The trade, however, declined when the Romans lost control in the West. The trade was again revived by the Vikings begun raiding monasteries and churches and took their wine back to Norse ports. They would also ask for wine and vineyards as tributes or payments for their services. As a result, the Vikings re-established the wine trade and facilitated it between warmer and cooler regions. Although the Vikings did not have frequent access to wine, they enjoyed it when they did get it. Wine became a greatly honored drink in their culture.
During ancient times, distillation was used in alchemy and making medicine up until the late Middle Ages. At the dawn of the Viking age, however, distillation began being used to make Vodka which is said to have originated from today’s Poland and Russia. Vodka became a popular drink for the Swedish Vikings.
Aside from the drinks mentioned here, cider was also said to be one of the drinks Vikings enjoyed, although there is no proof to support it. Apple was, however, abundant where the Vikings’ settlements were, and they do not need any assistance to ferment. So, it is highly likely that it was something the Vikings would drink.
Drinking for Vikings was more than just for the fun of it. Their drinking culture would involve toasts both honorific and memorial, accompanied by speeches or taking of oaths and even exchanging of gifts. There would also be poems and music that they listened to until dawn when they would finally go to sleep. This kind of communal drinking is how they strengthened their community.