In any city there are lots of coffee shops but getting a good cup is another matter. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband are lovers of strong, robust, round coffee – usually an espresso or macchiato and, in very rare cases, a strong caffe latte. In Italy and Australia we’re spoiled for choice. Elsewhere in this small world, this style of coffee takes some hunting down.
Helsinki is, arguably, the most relaxed of the Scandinavian capitals. It’s not an enormous city and, with a few landmarks, it’s reasonably easy to navigate. Swedish is the second language here (although we didn’t meet anyone who didn’t speak English) and all the street signs are in Finnish and Swedish – neither language is particularly easy to get your tongue around if you’re not local but it wasn’t a problem. If you get disoriented, there’s always someone to ask.
The best coffee in Helsinki however, seemed to be a little tricky to find. Naturally, Greedy Girl had done her research online before arriving and on the way to our hotel, Greedy Girl took a moment away from looking anxiously for street signs to glance at a billboard on Aleksanterinkatu and did a jig. She’d found one of her targets – La Torrefazione.
This is one of the main shopping streets in Helsinki, so right in the tourist precinct. One trundles up the stairs and turns to the right to queue and order from the barista. There are a few high tables along the windows and a couple across from the coffee machine. More tables can be found on the other side of the landing and, at busy times, there’s a member of the wait staff on hand to try to find a position for you as you’re waiting for your order.
Being our first stop in Helsinki, we opted for our usual modus operandi – a double espresso with a jug of warmed milk on the side. All good. It was just the right pick-me-up for two jet lagged souls trying to get on local time. Because it was the closest option to our hotel, we went thee several times – and found the output slightly different depending on who was behind the machine. On our last visit, asking for our ‘custom’ order, the response was a flat ‘no’. Apparently this barista thought we were trying to scrimp by not ordering a coffee with milk. Gluttonous husband, not the most patient of people when faced with, ahem, difficult wait staff, said we were on our third visit and on neither previous occasion was there any problem with our request. He cajoled her into complying. It wasn’t about saving money; we were more than happy to pay for the milk (as we’d done in Russia) – it was about getting the right amount of milk that we considered worked with the coffee. Sadly, the episode left a bitter taste in our mouths.
But it didn’t matter, because we found other options. One was about a 20 minute walk from the hotel in the Kallio district, called ‘Good Life Coffee’. What a find! This is a little precinct with restaurants and cafes on one of the small hills to the north of Helsinki. We wended our way to Kolmas Linja and a cute little neighbourhood cafe and the very affable and knowledgeable barista just got us immediately. The decadent chocolate fudge brownie on the side was a pretty good option too as we found this just after a great lunch at Kolmon3n cafe (that’s not a typo – if you’re looking for an interesting take on a burger in Helsinki, Google it) a little further down the road. We went here twice – on the first occasion it was an excellent double espresso (went well with the brownie) and on the second stop, we took a macchiato. The motto of the cafe is that life’s too short to drink weak coffee; Greedy Girl concurs but she admits she needed to go back to the barista to ask for a little more milk. This was seriously strong stuff.
On our way to the delightful Hoku for dinner, we chanced on the Brooklyn Cafe and Bakery and promptly asked our server about it. She said it was run by two girls who’d come back from New York City and did a thriving line in good coffee and cupcakes. Sold. We fronted up the next morning. This is a little basement cafe on Frederikinkatu (less than 10 minutes from our hotel) that looks like it’s always been there, with an eclectic mix of mismatched tables and chairs and it’s a very easy place to sit, with free wi-fi. The coffee is brilliant (see the picture at the top of this post) – a perfect level of strength with a round flavour. We were very happy campers.
Whether you’re in the centre of the city, or slightly in the suburbs, there’s a few options for coffee lovers in Helsinki. Enjoy!
Good Life Coffee
Kolmas Linja 17
Brooklyn Cafe and Bakery