Before I landed in Helsinki, most people I encountered in Stockholm warned me that the coffee in Finland is pretty terrible and it may be hard to find anything good. Thankfully I came across the blog of Finnish barista, Kalle Freese, which led me in all the right directions including to the shop he works at—Kaffa Roastery.
Kaffa wasn’t the first place I visited, but it was without a doubt, the best. The shop doesn’t have tables, just bars, and it’s tucked in the back corner of a larger building that sells vintage and designer housewares. They have a pretty extensive collection of home brewing equipment displayed on the back of a miniature truck and a stack of Barista Magazine dating back longer than I knew they existed.
What made the experience even more incredible than the coffee, was Kalle’s hospitality. He invited my girlfriend and I to the shop and fixed us a syphon pot of an Ethiopian Nekisse they were test roasting for competition. It was an amazing cup of coffee that just exploded with strawberry. Definitely the best cup I had on this trip to Scandinavia. After the shop closed, we hung around for a bit while a few other baristas stopped by to train for the Finnish Barista Competition (where Kalle recently competed in the finals). There was good conversation and an endless stream of espresso shots going around.
Depending on the amount of time you have in Helsinki, Kaffa is a little bit out of the way, just west of the design district, but well worth the trip in such a small city. If you don’t have time to leave downtown (i.e. on a day cruise from Sweden/Estonia), you can visit La Torrefazione which offers press pots of Kaffa coffee as well as great salads and sandwiches for lunch.
Another shop worth a visit is a small spot in the old red-light district, called Caneli Café. It’s run by an Iranian guy who specializes in smoothies and herbal living, but also maintains a nice stock of coffee from Swedish roasters da Matteo and Johan & Nyström. I had an AeroPress and shot of espresso while we talked about his uphill battle against the terrible quality of traditional Finnish coffee. He actually seemed a bit defeated by it all, saying that Finns learned for so long that bad coffee is what coffee should taste like, it’s hard to get them to enjoy anything else. Something many of us can relate to.
Lastly, Kahvila Sävy, is a place I didn’t get to visit because they were closed for the weekend, but Kalle highly recommended it. They are northeast of the city center and they brew single origin coffees from Turku Coffee Roasters, which I have yet to try. The photos of their pastries and baked goods also look pretty stellar.
While there isn’t anywhere near the number of quality coffee bars in Helsinki as there are in Stockholm, it’s a much smaller town with a lot of room to grow. The few who are doing it right are making great coffee and won’t leave you disappointed on a visit to Helsinki. If they do however, the city’s amazing architecture will make up the difference.
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The first place I visited when I arrived in Stockholm, was the Johan & Nyström (J&N) concept store. J&N is the largest roaster in Sweden, which shows in the slick refinement of its flagship store. I showed up expecting to see a siphon demo, but the store was packed so (I assume) it was postponed to address the flow of customers. I began talking with Kalle about the Trifecta and his thoughts about it before ordering a cup of Hacienda La Esmerelda—as always it was sweet, juicy, and superb.
Kalle also prepared an AeroPress of the Kenya Kangunu, which I’d later try as espresso as well. The Kenyan was solid, but it’s incredible how much its flavors were dulled beside the Hacienda. As an espresso though, the Kenyan really shined. It was a bit tart, but still smooth and extremely juicy, like an electrically charged shot of black currant juice.
I decided to grab a couple bags to take home—an Ethiopian Harrar and a bag of natural processed El Salvador that is quite remarkable. As I was about to leave, they let me know they were preparing a cupping and suggested I stick around if I had time. Who could say no to that? The cupping wasn’t anything official, just of a hands-on demo for the public, but they’re always fun to take part in.
The cupping was called “The Coffee Belt” and took us around the world with 9 different origins—Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Jamaica, El Salvador, Brasil, Sumatra, Papa New Guinea, and Malabar. While it may seem a bit overwhelming, it was a great way to really experience the unique taste of each origin.
J&N may be a large company, but the quality of the coffee is still good and the baristas were some of the friendliest I’ve met. The concept store is as much a classroom as it is a coffee shop and they really make you feel welcome. However, when I got home I noticed that my bag of Harrar had two dates on it, “roasted on” and “expires on,” which was 10 months later! I took this as a sad reality of the company’s corporate growth.
Between all the coffee tasting, one must eat—but most people know that good food and good coffee are hard to find under the same roof. However, a couple Antipodeans have done a hell of a job combining the two at Kura Café, near Vasaparken. They specialize in “super salads” and fresh, healthy soups & sandwiches. I ordered a Gibralta, made with da Matteo on a La Marzocco, while I waited for my food. They don’t offer drip coffee here, but they can pull espresso well enough to compliment their fantastic lunches.
The last place I stopped before leaving Stockholm, was suggested by the guys at Kura and it didn’t disappoint. Snickarbacken 7 is a small coffee bar set-up in the front of an art gallery, hidden in an alley. There was a range of offerings from Tim Wendelboe, daMatteo, Love Coffee, and even some Intelligentsia. I didn’t get to stay as long as I’d have liked, but I shared a couple shots and some conversation with one of the partners.
During my stay, I also stopped by Coffice, a coworking space that serves da Matteo, but only looked around out of curiosity. I also planned to visit Cupcake STHLM, which serves Love Coffee, but I couldn’t fit it in this time around. Stockholm has a large scene, but most of the better shops serve da Matteo or J&N, so I focused on visiting the source instead of each shop that uses quality roasters.
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Stockholm is the capital and largest city in Sweden, it also has the largest coffee scene. Of all the cities I’ve been to in Scandinavia, only Oslo rivals Stockholm for the number of quality coffee shops. However, most of them serve coffee from just a few of the same roasters. One of the newest roasters in town, Drop Coffee, currently only roasts enough to meet the demand of their shop at Mariatorget in Södermalm.
The space doesn’t look huge when you first enter, but it stretches back past the roaster to provide extra seating in a cozy alcove. I was fortunate to meet both owners—Oskar and Erik—during my visit, who were more than happy to talk about their love of coffee, their roaster, as well as the inspiration they draw from US companies like Stumptown. They’ve been roasting on their own for less than a year, but they’ve already begun building relationships with farmers and believe in paying fair prices for quality coffee.
I sampled a cup of the Brasil Villa Borghesi Daterra as well as a Kenya Ruthagati, which were both keenly brewed on the pour-over bar. While the newest barista, hailing from Tim Wendelboe’s in Oslo, served up a shot of their Winter Espresso that was soft, smooth, and packed with peaches & cream. As I was leaving, Oskar sent me on my way with a bag of Honduras Montana Verde that I’ve been enjoying all this week.
Drop is temporarily roasting on a 1kilo electric Giesen while their gas lines are properly installed, but it hasn’t prevented them from offering a quality product. I can’t wait to see how much things improve once they’ve got a more consistent energy supply.
Check out a video of Drop Coffee in action on SVT Rapport.
Drop Coffee – Wollmar Yxkullsgatan 10
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The people of Scandinavia drink more coffee than anywhere else in the world (they hold the top 6 spots)—and with the long cold winters, it’s easy to understand why. The local custom of “fika”—a coffee break that often includes friends and something sweet—also contributes to their high rates of coffee consumption.
The problem is, even with cafés being such a large part of the culture, it can be hard to actually find good coffee. People argue that going to a café is about so much more—the ambiance, the conversatons, the baked goods. Sure those things are great, but why not complete the experience with fresh coffee brewed properly?
Da Matteo is a Göteborg based coffee roastery and bakery that supplies its own cafés and several others across Sweden. Each one of their locations in Göteborg offer something a bit different. The first café I visited (Södra Larmgatan 14) is nestled in the corridors of a quaint shopping district where you can get brewed coffee from a pair of Clover machines or espresso pulled on a La Marzocco. My introduction consisted of a honey sweet Panama and a juicy Kenyan Chwele that granted my wish for good coffee in the city.
Just a few blocks away, you can sit down with heartier fare at their larger café, although I don’t think they brew coffee by the cup there. However, if you exit through the back door and cross a small parking lot, you’ll find yourself in an old warehouse that’s been converted into a sprawling showroom.
This spacious venue houses a bakery, roastery, and a shiny collection of home brewing equipment. You can pick up a fresh baked roll and order a pour-over of their latest roasts—sorry, no espresso here—while you relax at a table or tour the roastery. I had a fantastic cup of Ethiopian Nekisse here that could have almost passed for black currant juice.
Next time you’re visiting Göteborg, or if you live there now and haven’t discovered this local treasure, stop by da Matteo for your next fika.
Thanks to Tim Wendelboe for the tip.
This week, Aaron’s post on FrshGrnd reminded me that I never wrote about my trip to Copenhagen back in September—more specifically my trip to The Coffee Collective. This coffee bar, tucked down a pleasant residential street in the Nørrebro district, was one of my favorite stops. It’s also close to the sprawling Assistens Cemetery that’s used more like a city park than a final resting place by local residents.
My favorite aspect of The Coffee Collective is the open design of their bar. There is no barrier or counter between the customer and the barista—everything, including a prototype of the sexy new La Marzocco Strada espresso machine, is displayed for all to see. There was a never-ending line that flowed out the door during my hour visit, but more than enough seating at the large wooden tables out front.
I started out with an AeroPress of Hacienda La Esmerelda, known by some as the best coffee in the world. The flavors were not as clear and pronounced as the cup I had at Tim Wendelboe, but still unmistakably sweet and fruity. I followed up with a really sweet, but extremely bright shot of espresso and ended with a deliciously tart cup of Kenya Gatina. The quality of the coffee, along with the relaxed atmosphere of the café and its neighborhood, make this a top destination for any coffee lover traveling to Copenhagen.
Check out FreshGrnd’s post about The Coffee Collective for more great photos of the interior and surrounding neighborhood.
Last week I visited Portland, Oregon to see friends, speak with design students at PSU, and drink as much coffee as I could. I hadn’t been to Portland in 3 years and the coffee landscape had grown quite a bit. With a list of roasters and cafe’s to visit—which grew with each person I met—I explored, tasted, cupped, and enjoyed some of the best PDX has to offer. I also met a lot of the super friendly, super knowledgeable people behind the regions top coffee scene who continue to experiment and push coffee into new territory.
Sadly I forgot my camera, so the only photos I have come from a lowly iPhone. Enjoy.
I spent an entire day visiting 4 Stumptown locations. Above, the Belmont shop had a new, custom La Marzocco Mistral on the bar. Lovely
Right next door to the Belmont shop is the Stumptown Annex. A brew bar with no espresso machine. Just a great selection of beans and a relaxed environment to learn about coffee brewing, buy some beans, or take part in a complimentary cupping (every day at Noon and 2pm). I took part in the first one with a spread of 4 different Colombian origins and for the second, I just hung around to watch the brew demo. The crew at the Annex were great and up for talking about everything from the export issues in Ethiopia, to their favorite AeroPress techniques.
The next day I stopped by one of Portland’s newest roasters, Water Avenue Coffee. It’s a nice clean shop not far from Spirit of 77 (the best sports bar I’ve ever been to). I really loved the custom concrete pour over bar and the blue neon coffee sign. Joe from Reno let me hang out a bit while he closed up and talked about the barista school they run in the back of the shop and brewed up a nice sweet cup of El Salvador for me.
Next up was Coava (koh-va), which isn’t far from Water Avenue, and home of the K-One Kone filter they designed for the Chemex. Also open for less than a year, this shop is absolutely beautiful, my photos don’t do it justice, so be sure to check out the gallery on their website. The entire space is huge with the coffee bar tucked into one corner. A wood shop studio shares the space and there’s a collection of amazing tables on display throughout it. At first I wasn’t sure if I was in a furniture showroom, a workshop, or a cafe and hesitated to sit down.
I had a cup of Costa Rican Helsar brewed up with the Kone. I really enjoy how well the Kone retains the bright flavors and a bit of sediment, but not as much silt as a French press. Matt then pulled me a fantastic shot of their Honduras El Limon while we talked about the Kone. He quickly began to speak more like an engineer than a barista. Keith was busy roasting, so I didn’t have a chance to meet him, but I’m sure they’ll still be there next time I’m in town.
I also stopped into Barista for a shot from Sightglass roasters in SF. I always appreciate cafes that serve a variety of beans. There are too many good roasters out there to stick with one. These are friendly guys worth visiting in a nice shopping district of Portland called the Pearl.
On the morning I left, I met some friends at Crema, a nice cafe and bakery that serves Coava and Stumptown. The barista, Skip, made me a delightful cappuccino with Stumptown’s Hairbender and then brought over a shot of Coava’s El Salvador Santa Sofia to send me off to the airport on a good note.
I know there are a lot of great places I never made it too, but it would take more than 4 days to visit them all. I really wanted to stop by Heart Roasters before I left, but I ran out of time. They just turned a year old and I’ve heard many good things about them. Feel free to share any other cafe’s or roasters in Portland in the comments. I’d love to know about the gems I missed, so I’ll have more reason to go back soon!
Two weeks ago Tim Wendelboe won the Nordic Roaster Competition for the third year in a row. A few days earlier, I stood in his shop drinking two of the very best cups of coffee I’ve ever had.
I began with a double shot of Tim’s signature espresso. It was smooth, sweet and pleasantly bright. More wine, less citrus and the sweetness lingered quite a bit. I followed the shot with a cup of Mugaga Kenya, recommended by Chris who was working the bar. Mugaga is a large cooperative in Nyeri, Kenya that I’d never heard of until now, and Chris described the roast as being much lighter than anything American roasters sell. I’m not sure if he was referring to mainstream coffee like Starbucks, or including the micro roasters as well, but it was interesting to know.
The simplest way to describe Mugaga is a buttered bowl of juicy berries. So smooth and sweet, I’d never had a cup of coffee remotely close to it. My girlfriend, who admittedly hates coffee, was adamant in consuming more than her share. Rightfully so. It’s a fantastic coffee—the coffee that won the Nordic Roaster Competition.
Before we left, I had one more item I needed to try. The famed Hacienda La Esmeralda—which claimed the record breaking price of $170/lb at this years Best of Panama auction—was calling my name. Chris brewed it up with a Chemex as a few guests in town for the upcoming Nordic Barista Cup wandered in.
The space was cozy, tucked away on a corner of a residential block, not far from a bustling park surrounded by restaurants and cafes. The roaster sat front and center of the shop, while a door tucked away behind it led to a sterile, but high-tech looking lab where classes and cuppings take place. As the Hacienda was served, I took my time to absorb the aroma. It was very tea-like, most likely because of the floral array of jasmine and honey floating from the cup. I took my first sip of what had once been called “god in a cup” and thought, “man, that Mugaga was really good.”
Not to down play a deliciously sweet and lively cup of coffee, it was very good—one of the best—and better than the following two cups of Hacienda I had at Stockfleth’s and in Copenhagen. But I guess I expected more for the price it demands and the hype it’s claimed. It could be that I was so overwhelmed by the Mugaga, which was a tough act to follow, that I didn’t give it the attention I should have. Either way, it was still fantastic.
Tim’s was definitely the highlight of my time in Oslo. However, I had a pleasant cup that morning at Fuglen (The Bird), but found the evironment a little too much like a stranger’s living room that I wasn’t really supposed to be in. Their espresso machine was also down, which left me with what they already had brewed.
On my last morning, I stopped by Stockfleth’s which has a few locations around Oslo. I had my second cup of Hacienda La Esmeralda here, brewed with an AeroPress, which seems to be the preferred single-cup brewing method in Scandinavia. Though it was good, it must have been roasted darker than Tim’s and lost some of the liveliness and transparency in the body that I experienced previously. I should have taken the opportunity to try one of their offerings from Solberg & Hansen.
Oslo was great and had exceptional coffee in far more places than other cities I visited. I would have loved to stay a couple more days if it weren’t so expensive! Next time.
Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be posting some of the coffee highlights from my travels through Scandinavia (and Germany), including cafe suggestions for when you find yourself in any of the same places.
My first stop was Iceland, and apart from arriving in the most beautiful airport I’ve seen (it resembles a modern art museum more than a travel hub) I was most excited to see an airport cafe (a Kaffitár) at 6am with a La Marzocco espresso machine. No automatic crap here! I had a nice double shot to start my day before heading into downtown Reykjavik to visit, what I was told, is the best coffee shop in Iceland, Kaffismiðja.
Kaffismiðja is owned by Sonja Björk Einarsdóttir Grant, a international barista judge, and Ingibjörg Jóna Sigurðardóttir, an Icelandic National Barista Champ and two time participant in the World Barista Championships. Both owners talent as baristas evolved while working at Kaffitár which has a number of locations around the country, including two in the airport where I first arrived.
The atmosphere is extremely casual, like a good friends living room, but adorned with the many awards from barista competitions from around the world. The center piece of the cafe is hard to miss, once you leave the bar you’re confronted with a hot pink Geisen roaster. It doesn’t really match anything else in the environment, but somehow ties everything together. They roast just a small selection of coffee, but what they offer is quality, including two beans from Colombia that have been in the Cup of Excellence finals multiple times. I got a bag of the Colombia Bella Vista, which is the first coffee that Kaffismiðja has begun importing themselves directly from the farm.
The shots were well pulled and the milk art was beautiful. The cafe is located in the heart of the city, just a block north Hallgrimskirkja (the highest building in the city) so if you ever visit, you shouldn’t have trouble finding it. An Architect friend of mine also just finished an installation in front of the cafe. From most angles it looks like an array of random, geometric wooden benches, but if you find the green square on the sidewalk, it spells “torg” meaning “market square” in most Scandinavian languages.
Any one of the Kaffitár locations will also provide you with good coffee. It may be a chain, but a small one run by talented baristas. So you shouldn’t have much trouble finding somewhere to get a quality cup in Iceland (unless you’re hiking on a volcanic glacier or something of that sort).