Church Basement Egg Coffee

Swedish and Norwegian communities in the upper midwest are known for their deep nordic culinary roots and their food-focused church socials. In the days when inexpensive coffee was brewed up in big urns, the church ladies came up with a way to smooth the flavor, reduce the bitterness, and make sure that the grounds didn’t end up in the cup. What they did was to add raw eggs, ground up shells and all, to the pot. If you’ve ever clarified a consommé with egg, then you know that this makes sense. This egg coffee was also called Swedish Coffee, Hungarian Egg Coffee and Norwegian Coffee, but my favorite name for it is Lutheran Church Basement Coffee.

I found out about Egg Coffee because of this tin that I have in my collection (look closely and you can find it in Tillie Lays an Egg.)

I love the lettering in the yellow egg, the cheerful polka dots and that busy hen.

Here are the directions.

Does anyone have memories of Lutheran Church Basement Coffee?


  1. Seems like I remember there being a ‘cowboy’ variety, too.
    I’ve not had the honor of sampling this brew. Since
    finding the tin, have you?
    Also, we found your book, before this blog, and if I haven’t mentioned this
    before, then I should add: Thank you. My daughter and I enjoy “Tillie Lays An Egg,”
    very much.

    • Cowboy coffee, as I understand it, and have had over campfires, is simply grounds boiled in a pot of water. Sometimes, reused! No, I haven’t tried making coffee like this (I’m a bit of a coffee snob in the morning!)

  2. Love this find, Terry! Are you familiar with the Luther Church Basement Women Cookbook? I love this book with the recipes for “Green Jello”, “Red Jello”, etc. Plus the advice on proper apron etiquette for various occassions! Delightful reading and a glimpse, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, of these “sturdy” women. Thanks for sharing this image!

  3. Terry, you made me laugh so hard! My sister is Lutheran and they still do the coffee thing!

  4. Wonderful post, Terry. I would never have thought of this. I have always heard that Swedes make their coffee with egg shells in the pot. However, I never knew they put in the whole raw egg!!

    • I’ve read that since the shells are a base, and coffee is acidic, that the shells and dissolved calcium carbonate from them de-acidify the cheap coffee. I don’ know if it’s true, but it’s a good theory!

  5. Hi Terry,
    In the 50’s and 60’s my mother used to put a raw egg shell in her percolator now and then to improve her coffee. As a young child I thought it was SO GROSS!

    I remember when many cans were still of the type where you had a turn key glued to the top, which you then used to turn and tear off that metal strip all the way around the can. (I wonder, are sardines still packed this way?) From the polka dots to the chicken and coffee pot graphics, minimal colors and select fonts, that is a beautiful can design!

  6. I remember seeing cowboy coffee made on family camping trips but I was too young to know about the taste. I do remember seeing the whole egg go in!

  7. So will the acid in the coffee kill any in salmonella in the eggs, because otherwise I am seeing a lot of sick people especially from a communal church coffee pot. Ew, no matter what the taste.

  8. On an old I love lucy episode, lucy throws eggshells into the coffee pot then states to a puzzled ricky “my grandmother was swedish” I was always curious about that scene, now I understand it

  9. Egg coffee was not reserved for Lutherans or Swedes. My Finnish grandmother in Middleborough, Mass., would stir an egg into her coffee inside her kitchen using the eggs from her chickens–no special brand needed, just the 8 O’Clock from the A&P. The resulting coffee was better and looked clearer. At least that is what the family and her visitors said (we children were forbidden coffee). Of course, the water was freshly hand pumped from the well. Finns, well known as the greatest coffee drinkers in the world, came to drink pots of it in America. Always there was afternoon coffee with wonderful treats. My favorite time was bringing Gramma’s “egg coffee” down to the pickers on the cranberry bogs in the fall. Unbearably hot or cold outside, they always drank fresh coffee!

  10. Many years ago I met a man who told me when he moved here to Redlands he went to all the church services and chose the one that served the best coffee. I did not know that is how some people picked a church :-)

  11. Hey! I was flipping through Tillie Lays an Egg with my son tonight and realized that this handsome can is pictured in your book. Cool!

  12. Yes, this is how I learned to make ‘cowboy coffee’ on camping trips. Bring the water to boil in the kettle on the Coleman Stove (or campfire), add grounds and a raw egg, then let it ‘set’ for a few minutes. Strain through teeth and drink with plenty of cream. Served with burnt/raw pancakes, greasy bacon and slam-fried eggs cooked on the griddle, it is The Breakfast of the Gods as far as we are concerned. Damn. Gotta get me a griddle for our new teardrop trailer. We have our first road trip in a couple of weeks. Cowboy coffee a must. This will be a first with home-grown eggs. Thanks for the explanation. BTW neither I nor my husband is remotely Scandinavian. Somehow I learned this from my hillbilly mother?!