Helsinki is the capital of Finland. Located halfway between Stockholm in the west and St. Petersburg in the east, the city draws influence from both. Originally established as a trading outpost under Swedish rule, it was revived and rebuilt in the early 19th century, when the capital was moved there by its then Russian rulers. Today, it is the largest city in Finland, with more than 500,000 inhabitants.
Its past is evident in architecture. From the neoclassical buildings in the city centre, erected in the style of St. Petersburg, to the early 20th century’s Finnish-influenced Art Noveau, as well as later buildings by world famous Finnish modernists such as Alto and Saarinen. During the Cold War, Helsinki was often used to double as Moscow and St. Petersburg for filmmakers who wanted to evoke the architecture and mood of both new and old Russia.
While the other languages of Nordic countries are germannic and fairly easily understood by each other, Finnish is completely different, and only finds close siblings in Estonian and Hungarian. In many ways, Finland stands apart from the rest of the Nordic countries.
However, as the capital of the world leader in coffee consumption and the first among equals in that respect within the Nordic countries, it’s fair to say this reflects more of a Nordic than it does an Eastern or Western sensibility.
Finns consume a staggering 12 kg of coffee each, per year (2008), and it is every bit as ubiquitous culturally there as in the other Nordic countries, if not more.
Compared to the other Nordic countries, Finland has had a slower start with specialty coffee. In recent years, this has begun to change, and is doing so rapidly. Going back as few as three years, Helsinki didn’t have any specialty coffee operations in the modern sense of the word. As of today, they have four different coffee shops and two roasteries. The level of coffee knowledge and quality is improving steadily, as both the competition and cooperation between the different shops and roasteries fuels development.
Kahvila Sävy: Located in the bourgeoning Kallio area of Helsinki, where sex shops and daytime pubs for the unemployed or disinclined currently dominate, this hole-in-the-wall coffee shop is doing its part to bring life back to the area. Serving coffee from the smallest micro roastery in Finland (Turun Kahvipaahtimo of Turku), the couple that run Sävy are a popular addition to Kallio. Read more about Kahvila Sävy in our coffee directory.
Kaffa Roastery: While first and foremost a roastery, Kaffa also features a full coffee bar, offering espresso and V60 brews showcasing their coffees. Currently, they only have one person staffing the bar, and close at 4pm. Read more about Kaffa Roastery in our coffee directory.
La Torrefazione: Located in downtown Helsinki, among venerable department stores and a smattering of restaurants, “La Torre” occupies a small, unobtrusive 2nd floor space overlooking the street. Despite its size, La Torre features a small 5kg roaster and a kitchen. Using a mix of their own roasts and coffee from Kaffa Roastery, they are mostly focused on espresso but do offer black coffee brewed on a Fetco. Read more about La Torrefazione in our coffee directory.
Ihana Kahvila: A coffee shop located at the far end of a dock, inside a converted freight container, Ihana is nothing if not novel. From the Kalasatama tube station, follow a painted bicycle path south, for about a kilometre, through a completely undeveloped area filled mostly by erected walls for grafitti, concrete barricades and broken bottles, and you’ll soon hit the end of the road. Surrounded by dry-docked boats on the left and a construction site on the right, two containers stand alone at the very tip of the dock, with some outdoor seating between them. On sunny days the area is a perfect oasis, where you can sit and have a cup of coffee while overlooking the city. The brewed coffee is delivered by Johan & Nyström. This is a temporary project and will only stay open for the summer. (Map)
Johan & Nyström Koncept: Making its first foray in another country, this is the flagship store of Swedish company J&N in Finland. Based in an elaborately designed space right on the water, they focus on showcasing their line of coffees to the Finns. In addition to espressos, they also serve all their filter coffees on the aeropress. Read more about Johan & Nyström in our coffee directory here.
Maybe it is because of the permeating presence of coffee in Finland that their specialty coffee scene exploded out of the gate. Regardless of the reasons, Helsinki today has one of the most vibrant scenes of any of the Nordic capitals. It is well worth a visit for the coffee alone, but you’d be remiss not to check out the other things Helsinki has to offer.
To see where everything is located in Helsinki, check out our coffee map.