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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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.
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).