Filter coffee to the Finns is what tea is to the English: an essential part of life. Kahvi punctuates the day, as the average Finn drinks 4-5 cups a day from morning to evening. In the office, taking at least two coffee breaks isn’t just a routine, it’s stated in the collective labor agreement. According to data from the International Coffee Organization, Finns consume the most coffee in the world per capita yearly—a habit that not even a pandemic and two months of lockdown could change.
Consumption of coffee—at home—remained high throughout April and May, when cafes and bars across Finland were asked to close down. In Helsinki, where many people are used to getting free coffee at the office, cafes saw an increase in online sales. Locals showed up to support neighborhood cafes, ordering drinks and food to take away. By early June, cafes were allowed to reopen, with safety measures and distancing restrictions in place. Slowly, but steadily, coffee shop sales picked up again, thanks also to a new wave of domestic travel during the warm and long summer days. In the end, in an absence of foreign travel, it was really down to coffee lovers from across Helsinki and Finland that the city’s hospitality industry coped with the crisis and survived it better than expected.
In Finland, the drink of choice across the country is a light roast filter coffee, usually made from cheap coffee bought in bulk from the supermarket. Specialty coffee is still a niche market, but things have started to change. In Helsinki, consumers today look for more quality and variety in their coffee experiences. A growing number of micro-roasteries are shaping an exciting speciality coffee scene in the capital city; one of the most vibrant coffee scenes of the Nordic countries. The burgeoning culinary scene, centered on local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients, is helping the trend. You can expect to be served a pour-over from a local speciality coffee roaster at restaurants like Spis and Grön, and many speciality cafes in Helsinki turn into wine bars in the evening, serving natural wines and craft beers. Here is a list of the best coffee shops of this cool Nordic capital.
Cafetoria is one of Finland’s original Third Wave trendsetters. Opened in 2002, the company now has three cafes: a small and cosy one inside the roastery in Lohja (about 45km from Helsinki), a recently-opened cafe at Aalto University’s campus in Otaniemi, and the main coffee shop in a 1925 Art Deco building in Töölö. Co-founders Ivan Ore and Mia Nikander met when Ore (an authorized SCA trainer and Finland Cup Taster 2007), a native Peruvian, moved to Helsinki. A cup of Gran Palomar coffee during a trip together to Chanchamayo, Peru, changed the couple’s future: the couple decided to bring this coffee to Helsinki and that’s how Cafetoria was born.
Cafetoria was one of my favorite discoveries in Helsinki, not just for the coffee but because I got a real sense of community. Customers of all ages and walks of life came into the cafe over the hour or so I was there, greeting Ore and Nikander before sitting down for breakfast or grabbing a coffee to go. It’s obvious how much locals love this coffee shop. Before the pandemic, many tourists would stop here too, on their way to visit the Temppeliaukion Church, though for now the city’s tourism is quiet.
Inside, the space is bright and cosy: the teal hue of Cafetoria’s logo is repeated on the walls and on the custom-made espresso machine and grinder. An entire wall is lined top-to-bottom with coffee bags to suit any taste: single origins and microlots, blends, and seasonal offers, from light to medium/dark roasts. At the bar, the coffee on offer changes almost every week. At any time, you will find three choices of their lighter roasts for pour-over and one batch brew. For espresso, Cafetoria offers one Arabica lighter roast like the Caramelo Latin America blend or an “Italian style”robusta dark like Flores, Indonesia.
Kahvila Sävy is a cosy cafe in Kallio, a once-unloved and dowdy neighborhood on the eastern side of the city that’s now turned into a cute area with vintage boutiques and trendy restaurants. This coffee shop has been a part of the community for many years and is much loved by the locals. Originally founded by Helsinki coffee power couple Kaisa (2011 Finnish Cup Tasting Champion) and Mikko Sarén in 2010, the cafe is now owned by Aleksi Kuusijärvi (2017 Finnish Brewers Cup Champion) and Sanni Sointula (2016 Finnish Cup Taster Champion). Kahvila Sävy is also partnered with Good Life Coffee, Lauri Pipinen’s popular coffee roastery.
As I stepped inside Sävy, I was instantly reminded of the retro furniture and relaxed atmosphere of Reykjavík Roasters in Iceland. Kahvila Sävy is not a rushed place; it’s quiet and comfortable as your grandma’s living room. The kind of cafe you’d wanna spend your Sunday mornings in, reading a book, eating cinnamon buns and drinking a good coffee full of flavor. During lockdown, the owners created a takeaway window to sell coffees to go and built a new outdoor terrace for the summertime, which customers loved.
The coffee menu at Kahvila Sävy is comprises mostly Good Life coffee, selected from single estates and small producers that are officially evaluated as best 5% in the world. On the day of my visit, I had a flat white made with organic Finnish cow’s milk; the coffee was floral and delicate, the perfect match for a fragrant cinnamon roll. As a special guest, Kahvila Sävy was also serving a Brazilian coffee roasted for espresso by Dutch brand Friedhats.
Founded in 2011 by Benjamin Andberg, Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo (Finnish for Helsinki Coffee Roastery) has three sites: a roastery and two cafes, all of which remained open throughout the lockdown. The original coffee shop on Päijänteenkatu in the Vallilla district is a tiny room filled with secondhand furniture. The coffee bar is placed against the wall to maximize the space and there are just a couple of chairs and stools to sit down. Their biggest seller is batch brew filter coffee, of which they used to make about 50 liters a day, mostly between 8-10am, for a loyal clientele of office workers. When nearby offices switched to remote working, this cafe lost most of its income, but thankfully the roastery and adjacent cafe in Teurastamo—a former Helsinki abattoir, now a trendy foodie destination—thrived and made up for the losses at Vallila. Since cafes re-opened in June, the Teurastamo location has been busier than ever, on weekdays and weekends, with customers enjoying the outdoor courtyard space and drinking coffee.
Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo offers a wide range of coffees: those looking for an unforgettable taste experience on pour-over should ask for the barista for Ota/Jätä (“take it or leave it”): a light roast single origin coffee that changes seasonally and is available only in small batches. Traditionalists go for №3, a medium roasted filter blend of Brazilian and Ethiopian beans.
El Fant is a cafe popular with both locals and tourists, thanks to its central location just a few steps away from the Senate Square and iconic Helsinki Cathedral. The area, known as Torikorttelit, used to be occupied entirely by government offices but now is thriving with restaurants, cafes, independent boutiques, and Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo—the City Museum where El Fant is located. The space is narrow with windows running along the pretty Katariinankatu street, a small counter situated right in front of the door and two small rooms on each side. In the summer, the inner courtyard is open with a lovely terrace to enjoy your coffees in.
I first visited El Fant three years ago and I was pleased to find out this cafe hasn’t lost any of its charm and warm vibe. El Fant is a great place to stop at anytime of the day, for breakfast or lunch (they have a choice of open sandwiches, salads, soups, and poke bowls), for a slice of cake in the afternoon, or a glass of wine in the evenings. During the pandemic, they remained open for takeaway and extended their breakfast menu to all-day. Coffee-wise, El Fant serves Good Life Coffee, changing feature coffees every other week, and it also sells beans from Finland’s best independent roasters, such as Frukt Coffee Roasters.
Tucked away in a small lane behind the University of Helsinki, Artisan Cafe is popular among students and coffee lovers from all around the city. The founder (also head roaster and head barista) is Jani Mikkonen, the National Brewers Cup Champion 2018-2020. When he first opened Artisan in 2016, Mikkonen offered a variety of coffees from the best Finnish and Nordic roasters. Then, two years later, he began roasting his own coffee, focusing on three categories: filter, espresso, and limited editions roasted in small quantities. Every day, customers have a choice of a batch brew coffee on offer and two select choices for pour-over—Mikkonen prefers to use an Origami Dripper with a Kalita paper filter.
Inside Artisan, the space is divided in two small rooms with a modern and minimalist look. Kaisaniemi, the oldest part of the city where Artisan Cafe is located, is usually packed with students and tourists, but it’s now quieter than ever. As a result, the cafe was affected more by the pandemic than other speciality coffee shops in Helsinki. For now, they have reduced opening times to Monday–Friday and are closed on weekends.
Paulig Kulma stands out in Helsinki’s speciality coffee scene for not being an independently owned cafe. Kulma is owned by Paulig, one of the 10 top coffee brands in the world, which imports about 89% of total Finnish coffee imports. The outlet on Aleksanterinkatu in the heart of Helsinki’s commercial centre is home to a coffee bar, a small batch coffee roastery, and a Barista Institute where trainers provide training for professionals and coffee enthusiasts.
Paulig Kulma is a large shop, spread across two floors with a long bar counter running along the space. They used the two months of lockdown to shut down the store and renovate the space and make their coffee selection bigger. You will find modern furniture, white tables, bright lights, and an open corner leading directly into the Kluuvi shopping mall that conveys the feeling of being inside a coffee chain. Yet the 5kg Probat roaster, the brew bar lined up with coffee drippers, and the cupping room upstairs are all very Third Wave. Since Paulig roasts 60 million kilos of coffee per year, they have the opportunity to source the best coffees worldwide, using the Kulma sub-brand to highlight the best farmers, microlots and single estate coffees. Kulma’s head roaster, Tomi Nieminen, keeps their roasting is super light to work best with Finland’s soft water. Paulig Kulma usually offers four to six seasonal single estate coffees, some more nice and exceptional like a light roast Guatemala and others more traditional like a Brazilian coffee. Since the pandemic started here, Paulig Kulma has seen a drop in visitors, but also an increase in sales of high-quality speciality coffee beans: locals are seeking better coffee for their home offices.
Paulig Kulma wasn’t originally on my list, but after a few people mentioned it, I decided to pay a visit and I was very impressed. The great thing about Kulma is that people who wouldn’t normally care for specialty coffee, can get an introduction to it here, try different coffee varieties, get a taste of single origins and also watch the roasting process closely.
Andante is the cafe that pretty much every other barista and roaster in Helsinki will recommended you visit. There is something special about Andante: it is warm and cozy, spacious and comfortable. It’s also full of cute little touches such as a collection of traditional Finnish ceramic cups and saucers on the wall, shelves lined flowers and plants hanging from the ceiling—even steamy glass windows add to the overall charm. Andante’s founders—Nikko Liu and Mia Fang—are themselves expats in Helsinki originally hailing from Tsingtao, China. They opened Andante five years ago in a former flower shop in Punavuori in the Design District, an area full of design and antique shops, fashion stores, museums, art galleries, restaurants, and showrooms.
After the lockdown, Liu and Fang streamlined a previously rapid-rotation roaster lineup and are now serving single origin coffee from Denmark’s La Cabra Coffee and Samples Coffee (a Helsinki roaster). The food menu is small but interesting: yoghurt bowl, avocado toast, banana toast, granola toast. Andante bakes all its pastries in-house, choosing organic seasonal ingredients, sourced from small suppliers around. I’ve been told that Andante’s cinnamon buns are some of the best in the city, a claim I will make sure to prove next time I am in Helsinki!
Founded in 2010 by Svante Hampf and Benjamin Andberg (who now owns Helsinki Coffee Roastery), Kaffa Roastery is perhaps the most notable name in the Finnish Third Wave scene. It’s located in Punavuori, a neighborhood of cute independent shops, vintage boutiques, and designer housewares in the southwestern part of Helsinki. This is also known as the Design District and it’s a haven for coffee lovers; Andante and We Got This are also around here. The Design Museum, which serves Kaffa Roastery at their cafe Taito, is ten minutes away on foot.
More than just a roastery, Kaffa also houses a coffee bar and—before the pandemic started—also a coffee school. The roastery and shop fully reopened to the public in June (with distancing restrictions in place), but at the moment classes are at the Helsinki School of Coffee are suspended.
The main room is occupied by a long bar counter surrounded by high tables and stools. The cupping room and roastery are adjacent and separated by glass. The Probat 45kg roaster used to roast between 4,000–5,000 kilos of green coffee per week is visible from the cafe. Wall shelves display a wide range of coffees on sale, all chosen by Kaffa’s buyers with great attention to origin, quality, and sustainability. Kaffa’s commitment to good coffee is clear as I take part in a cupping with 2019 Finnish Barista Champion Kaisa Kokkonen. To help customers choose their favourite coffees, Kaffa color codes the bags to distinguish between “fruity & floral,” “smooth & chocolatey,” and “sweet & dark berries.” Kaffa coffee is sold in cafes and shops around Helsinki, but I recommend you to pay a visit to this neighborhood cafe and reward yourself with an excellent coffee and cinnamon roll (by GreenBake bakery).
We Got This
A newcomer on Helsinki’s coffee scene, We Got This is an all-day cafe and wine bar that opened just last December in the Design District. The person behind it is Samuli Ronkanen, a well-known figure in the local coffee community as he was master roaster at Good Life Coffee for four years. In 2018 he started his own wholesale coffee roastery just outside the city: Loud Coffee. This cool cafe spans two rooms with checkered floors, black tables and chairs; one wooden sharing table occupies the space before the bar. It’s dark and warm, with pink and green walls and black tables, the kind of space where you want to hang out with friends—incredibly cozy. One corner was lined up with wine bottles and ceramic mugs handmade in Portugal by French artist Cécile Mestelan, and the shelves displayed Loud Coffee bags. A Victoria Arduino Black Eagle and Victoria Arduino grinder sit atop the counter.
The menu at We Got This is short and simple: batch brew and V60, espresso-based drinks, tea and glögg, a traditional Finnish hot spiced drink. Also on offer: natural wines, small brewery beers, and kombucha. On the food side, there are pastries from GreenBake and Karelian pies from Piirakkaleipomo Räty. When the Finnish government closed down restaurants, bars, and cafés for almost two months and only takeaway was possible, Samuli decided to close down completely. We Got This reopened in June and customers started slowly coming back, and sales are back to normal now.