28 June 2013

The Helsinki Caffeine Chronicles Part I

The thing about travelling to Helsinki from London is that although Finland is only two hours ahead of the UK, the time difference is really hard to get used to, especially around midsummer, because it stays light so late. You think it's about 10 pm and then look at your watch and realise it's gone midnight. Oops. And then when you have to get up at 6.30 in the morning, your body feels tricked and is convinced it's really still 4.30 am. Four late nights and early mornings in a row meant I was in serious need of a constant supply of good coffee during my trip, and to my delight, Helsinki more than delivered.

Fratello, Helsinki

When I did some initial online research a few months ago, I didn't come up with any London- or NYC-standard espresso bars, but luckily, I did manage to find a few interesting places. The first was Fratello, which turned out to be a five-minute walk from both my hotel and the conference venue — the University of Helsinki's city centre campus. Although its older sister, La Torrefazione, was only a few blocks away, it was Fratello to which we kept returning.

They serve really good coffee in a modern, stylish café, with a few outdoor tables for those sunny summer afternoons. I had a double macchiato there almost every day, and the coffee was good. They get their beans from Kaffa Roasteryfull review here — and the macchiato was strong and rich, which was just what I needed to jolt my brain into gear.

I also wanted to try the siphon brew, and a colleague and I shared a Colombian coffee. Sadly, because we were sitting outside, we didn't get to see the magic happen. It was really tasty and flavoursome though, albeit a little too hot for a 28C day. You can tell it's a studenty area, because you get a discount for take-away, and the prices are pretty reasonable anyway.

I had thought that Fratello might be my only chance to sample the local caffeine, but soon realised how tiny the city centre was and that it was only a 15-minute walk to Johan & Nyström's concept store, on the harbour from the university and main central area. As we walked up to the café in the afternoon sunshine, I knew that Helsinki was my kind of city.

Johan & Nyström's concept store

I love this café. The design is lovely: colourful armchairs inside and bistro chairs outside with a view over the water, a great selection of coffee, a beautiful, typography-tastic menu (drawn by the barista), and a selection of beans and posh coffee goodies — including stylish machines and grinders — for sale.

Baristas hard at work at J&N 
It would also be lovely here in winter.

The first time I went, I ordered an Aeropress filter coffee. It was too hot a day, really, but I wanted to see how they fared. The baristas, who look as though they just arrived from Brooklyn, fared well, although it would be hard not to have a great time while you sit in the sunshine, staring out at the boats. I can't remember where the coffee was from, but it was a subtle, delicate brew.

My Aeropress, with my boss's iced coffee.

The double mac. And the view.

I went back the following day when it was even hotter, and was almost tempted by the iced coffee, but I really wanted to see what their macchiato was like. Although there was a dash more milk than I prefer, the coffee was excellent: smooth and rich and tasty. Unable, as always, to resist the call of chocolate and peanuts, I also ordered a slice of Snickers cake, which was rich and delicious — a very guilty pleasure. What a great place.

Snickers cake on a gorgeous plate.

Fratello. Yliopistonkatu 6, 00100 Helsinki. Website.
Johan & Nyström Konseptiputiikki. Kanavaranta 7C, 00160 Helsinki. Website. Twitter.

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