There are countless internationally recognized and iconic coffee shops in Scandinavia. Tim Wendelboe in Oslo, Coffee Collective in Copenhagen, Drop Coffee in Stockholm, Koppi in Helsingborg (with a Stockholm pop-up now too!)…don't forget Kaffismidja in Reykjavik, and back to Oslo for the Solberg & Hansen concept bar in Mathallen. We could keep going – how about a starched shirt brunch at Cafe Europa, or the best airport coffee on the planet from Kaffitar? We've got another one to add to the list and it's in Helsinki.
Finland drinks more coffee per capita than any other country in the world. That being said, a number of humble Finns have told us that a focus on education and quality is needed to bring the top end of Helsinki's coffee scene up to snuff. Happily it seems that process is well underway, and one of its leaders is 2013 Finnish Barista Champion Kalle Freese. Mr. Freese was part of the team that lead Finland to its first-ever Nordic Barista Cup victory (in 2012), and these days he's hard at work building out the first location of his own new cafe space.
Freese Coffee Company will be an education center during the weekdays, with intimate public coffee service available on weekends. Advancing coffee culture in Finland, while giving the rest of the coffee world an excuse to visit Helsinki? Sounds like one of those perfect two birds, one stone sort of situations. This is the future of Finnish coffee, and one of the most exciting new openings in 2013 for all of Scandinavia.
The following interview is as told to Sprudge.com by Kalle Freese.
Can you tell us a bit about your new space?
The space is located on a residential street in Central Helsinki, in the ground floor of an beautiful 1920s' apartment building. Featuring a gorgeous old tile floor, high ceiling and a large shop window it's pretty much exactly the space that I've been dreaming of.
We're only going to have 6-8 seats, mostly because of Helsinki health regulations. The only table is going to be a large communal one with two long benches on both sides. We wanted to use as much wood as possible and together with our carpenter settled to build the bar, table, benches and retail shelf out of minimally treated oak.
However, possibly the greatest thing about the space is the street it's on: Freesenkatu, or Freese Street is named after my forefather Jacob Freeze, a poet born in 1691 in Vyborg (then part of Sweden, now Russia). So the company, Freese Coffee Co., is not named after myself but after the street that I am named after. Simple, right?
What's your approach to serving coffee?
We want to educate our customers to understand coffee better so that they can enjoy it more – both at our shop as well as at home. We would like to see it more as a dedicated coffee learning and experiencing space than as a coffee bar.
To begin with we're only going to be open as a coffee bar on weekends. This is partly because I'm still trying to get something done at the University of Helsinki where I'm studying Marketing and Food Sciences. During the week we'll host and organize coffee courses, tasting, trainings and lectures. There's nobody really doing this kind of educational stuff in Helsinki and we believe there's a good market for it. Also, the street is a residential one and not very busy during the week. We doubt it would sustain an everyday coffee bar right from the beginning. If it all works out well we might extended our opening hours during next spring / summer.
Having the doors open only on weekends gives a bit more room to play. I hope it changes people's preconception of what we do and how we do it. There's going to be an immense focus on hospitality – if we want to gently educate our customers we first have to earn their trust, be nice to them and make them welcome.
Are you going to have any special equipment or coffees lined up? What gear will you be using?
There's not going to be one person just pouring water and making filter coffee. To paraphrase how Charles Babinski put it, if a machine can do the brewing it's so much better having that person interacting with the customers. And that's what we think it's all about, interaction and communication.
Both espresso and filter coffee will be ground on Mahlkönig EK-43 and brewed on our Nuova Simonelli Aurelia T3. The “coffee shot” is the way we plan to serve our filter coffee because it can be fast, consistent and extremely tasty. We're not going to talk about this new fancy way of brewing filter coffee but about what it enables us to do – extract the coffee better and produce a sweeter, more balanced and complete cup and how that reflects the coffee itself. [Ed. note: A “coffee shot” is a drink resembling filter coffee, brewed using the espresso machine. It was popularized by Australian Barista Champion Matt Perger of St. ALi in his 2013 WBC routine.]
Our coffees will change frequently, possibly every week. Brewing the coffee the way we aim to do gives us the opportunity serve more coffees as espresso and still be confident that it will taste fantastic. We'll mostly order seasonal coffees from our favorite international roasters but surely there's going to be Finnish ones too.
Pricing the coffee is an interesting subject. If I ordered Esmeralda from Tim Wendelboe (in our opinion one of the best coffees and roasters in the world) and tried to sell it for 8,00 € a cup in a normal cafe most people would be terrified how expensive a cup of coffee can be. However, we believe (perhaps slightly naively) that if you communicate it right it's not very expensive anymore – here € 8,00 buys you incredibly tasty coffee that's roasted very carefully to get those fantastic flavors of the beans. Down the street the same money hardly buys you two pints of crappy bulk lager. I think that's pretty expensive for watery lager and pretty cheap for great coffee.
What's your hopeful target opening month? What's the address?
We're having a soft one day opening on Sunday, August 18th. After that we'll be open sporadically and finally settle to be open on Saturdays and Sundays from late September / early October onwards. The address is Freesenkatu 5 in the Etu-Töölö district of Central Helsinki.