“There are no rules, the Finnish coffee culture is very liberal – as long as you drink coffee,” says Design Stories columnist Hanna-Katariina Mononen when commenting on Finns’ habit of building their days around steaming cups of joe.
“YOU KNOW, this is – excuse me – a damn fine cup of coffee,” said FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper while enjoying his first breakfast in Twin Peaks. A rave review, although I don’t remember him thinking differently about any cup in the history of the TV series.
It’s no news that Finns seem to be equally passionate about coffee as Special Agent Cooper. Finns are known to consume exceptionally large amounts of coffee. We are accustomed to enjoying a cup on many occasions, such as after voting in elections, after Finland has won a sports medal, at the marketplace and – last but not least – during statutory coffee breaks at work. To support the culture, we naturally have an extensive glossary of coffee related words: “tassikahvi” (coffee drunk from the saucer), “santsikuppi” (refill) and “maitovara” (room for milk in the cup).
Despite its long history and strong roots, the Finnish coffee culture is not manifested in just one, but in many ways. The drink is equally likely to be had at fancy tables covered with starched cloths and outdoors, sipped from a checkered blue-and-white cardboard cup. Coffee can be enjoyed through a cube of sugar or as such, with oat milk or any other milk, for that matter. There are no rules, the Finnish coffee culture is very liberal – as long as you drink coffee: I’m ashamed to admit, but I’m also taken aback a little whenever someone behaves in a very un-Finnish way and says no to a cup when offered.
“It’s probably no coincidence that particularly coffee mugs adorned with Moomin characters have become such a popular collector’s item among Finns.”
Anything goes, also when it comes to the method of brewing, regardless of whether it involves a moka pot, percolator or dripper and whether the coffee is measured generously or to the gram. At home, most people have a favorite cup or mug from which coffee seems to taste the best. My personal favorite is an old, shallow earless cup, perhaps made by Arabia and originally designed for tea. It’s probably no coincidence that particularly coffee mugs adorned with Moomin characters have become such a popular collector’s item among Finns, since what else would we collect with such vigor than more things related to our beloved pastime.
Whether I’m going on a camping trip or packing the first moving-van load for a new home, the first thing I plan is how to make coffee at the destination. I recently caught myself in the act while drawing up a list of things to pack. I had placed the coffee machine and related accessories even higher on the list than hygiene products.
The most peculiar thing about all this is that I don’t even think it’s about the drink at all. I think that the culture of endless coffee drinking has been born out of necessity to compensate for the insecurities and lack of social skills of us Finns. Having coffee gives us something to talk about and do with our hands, as well as an excuse to meet people and a way to establish a daily routine. The habit of drinking coffee, considered important and essential in many moments, brings people together. Sometimes it even feels like the only way of narrowing the gap between generations: off the top of my head, I cannot come up with a safer topic to discuss while visiting relatives than the preferred brand of coffee.
And sometimes I even think that the persons to whom I feel the closest are those who remember how I take my coffee. (Black.)
The author, Hanna-Katariina Mononen, reflects on the issues of a beautiful and sustainable life in her monthly column for Design Stories. She thinks that just like in life, in the home, the most beautiful parts are unplanned – and often relatively ordinary as well.
Text and image: Hanna-Katariina Mononen