In Helsinki, Sundays are usually a day to make your coffee at home. Most cafes are closed, and the pace of the whole city slows down for its day of rest. But Jarno Peräkylä and Kaisa Kokkonen saw the closed signs on cafes and became inspired. They run a pop-up that is only open on Sundays—Sunday Espresso Club.
Focused on espresso made with highly unusual coffees, such as an XO Fermented Colombia roasted by La Cabra, Sunday Espresso Club also stands out for its emphasis on exceptional service. Patrons are greeted and seated when they walk in, and the story of each coffee is shared. “We were inspired by dining at Noma,” says Kokkonen, “we want to bring that type of service to coffee.”
Peräkyla, Finnish Barista Champion in 2016 and 2017, looks to be part Finnish bear at first meeting—but his infectious smile quickly turns into the welcome of an old friend. Kokkonen, the 2019 Finnish Barista Champion, is the more understated of the pair, but their conversational style makes them feel like two parts of the same whole. Each idea proposed by one tends to be paired by an example given by the other. This builds into an excited flurry of words when they start talking about coffee, and their pursuit of sharing this joy has caused them to become familiar faces in the Helsinki coffee scene. This is still a bit of a surprise for Kokkonen, who says she didn’t even like espresso a couple of years ago.
Peräkylä and Kokkonen get particularly passionate when discussing the community they’ve fostered through Sunday Espresso Club. “There was one girl who came in with a group of friends, sat, read alone, and another group got seated with her,” remembers Peräkylä. “She said it was one of her favorite coffee experiences, just talking to different people all day.” They started the club just to share good coffees, but along the way have built an important space for Helsinki coffee.
Finland is traditionally a place for filter coffee, so the choice to focus on espresso was an unusual one. It came as an outgrowth of Peräkylä and Kokkonen’s experiences with coffee competitions. During the 2017 World Barista Championships, Peräkylä loved trying different competition coffees and learning the stories behind them. Then he and Kokkonen started thinking about how they could share that experience with people back in Finland. “At first, we thought about doing a cupping but these coffees are meant to be served as espresso,” says Peräkylä.
This provided both the inspiration and the raison d’etre for Sunday Espresso Club. Peräkylä hopes to elevate espresso culture in Finland, on top of sharing great coffee experiences. He confided, “Part of (my inspiration) was that I just wanted to drink more good espresso in town.” Through this vision, Peräkylä and Kokkonen have brought together a collection of Helsinki’s most passionate coffee aficionados and baristas, independent of their local cafe or workplace. After each edition of the club, there is a palpable energy at cafes across the city, which makes Peräkylä’s goal of better espresso seem likely.
Each edition of the club has a theme. These range from high-performing competition coffees, to featured roasters such as St. Petersburg’s Mad Espresso Team, to Peräkylä’s favorite, “The Art of Fermentation,” where unusual fermentations of coffee were paired with fermented foods from Chapter, a local farm-to-table restaurant.
“The Art of Fermentation” most fully realized their pursuit of a Noma-like experience, as they were able to challenge expectations of what coffee could be and how it related to food. This is not an easy task with an audience largely made of professionals and aficionados, but coffees with production techniques like the lactic fermentation from Populus Coffee, or a semi-carbonic maceration, make that possible. Although the espresso club isn’t and doesn’t intend to be an everyday experience, it challenges what we’ve come to expect from a cafe and helps remind people to dream bigger. Even on a Sunday.
Jordan Lawrence is a freelance journalist based in Helsinki. This is Jordan Lawrence’s first feature for Sprudge.
Photo by Gabrielle Iskandar