A Coffee Tour Around Vienna

Cafe Sperl

Confession: I, the self-confessed coffee-phile, nearly said ‘no’ to a trip to Vienna. After walking through Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo and Bergen, then hopping on a 6 am flight to Brussels before a boat to Amsterdam, the thought of relaxing in London for a few days pre-graduation was tempting. But, the promise of marzipan, pastries and coffee convinced me to clear my calendar and empty my suitcases for a trip to Vienna.

Although Vienna is a famous for its cafés, the city’s reputation as a coffee powerhouse has flagged in recent years. As lighter roasts and an emphasis on origin dominate coffee culture, grand Viennese coffee houses and their unique drinks have become background noise for the coffee tourist. Tim Wendelboe defines destination coffee in the 21st century: you travel for the beans, not the space. The opposite is true in Vienna: you go for the space, not the beans. Accordingly, UNSECO added Viennese coffee culture to their ‘Intangible Heritage List’ in 2011. Rather than focus on a perfectly crafted drink, Vienna coffee houses combine space, beverage, activity, discussion and time to distinguish themselves.

A Frommer’s guidebook might describe the Viennese coffee house as a hybrid of Starbuck’s sit-there-forever model and Italy’s coffee, food and pastry spots. Yet, neither comparison touches upon how the city’s cafés feel special. For that we need a bit of history. Although there is some debate as to how coffee became popular in Austria, it is generally agreed that the capital’s first café opened in 1685. Coffee served with milk and sugar quickly became popular, causing more cafés serving the drink to pop up around the city. Until the 18th century, the coffee house functioned primarily as a way to get caffeinated. Then, writers, artists, politicians and political activists began to use cafes as their offices away from home and the coffee house flourished as a place for intellectual thought and discussion. Unfortunately, its popularity couldn’t last forever and in the 1950’s, due to the influx of zippy international espresso bars, traditional Viennese coffee houses started closing at a staggering rate. While many remain from the café’s hey-day, they no longer exist in the numbers they once did, which gives you a pretty good idea as to the coffee house’s complete saturation in Viennese culture.

Today, Vienna’s coffee houses are a mix between old, nineteenth-century spaces and cafés updated for the 21st century. While the intellectual vigour may not match its nineteenth-century counterpart, they continue to be hospitable to thought, especially when compared to the Starbucks drive-thru. People come to study, talk, work on the computers, read a book, borrow a newspaper, observe the world, refuel or grab a meal. There’s no foot tapping or frenzied line like at Stumptown on a Monday morning. No matter how grand the space may seem, the activities going on inside seem to temper the opulence. A chandelier may be overhead, but at the adjacent table someone taps furiously away on their Macbook Pro with a kleiner brauner and apfelstrudel.

During my time in Vienna I visited three different cafés. Each represented a distinct sector of Vienna’s contemporary coffee scene. My first stop was the famous Café Sperl on Gumpendorfer Straße, which opened in 1880. After landing at Vienna’s airport and slogging to the apartment we rented on the outskirts, my parents and I needed to remind ourselves why we thought a trip to Vienna sounded like a good idea. We needed a coffee and a pastry. We hopped on the U Bahn and walked into an opulent café with the kind of aplomb reserved for those who have no clue what they’re doing. With a little pointing and lot of truncated Italian — the German phrasebook was still in a suitcase, we didn’t know which one — we figured out that we should to take a seat and a waiter would bring us a menu. The German phrasebook wouldn’t have helped with the menu, which was studded with names of drinks that do little to illuminate what you will actually be sipping on. We ordered a melange, a kleiner brauner, a kleiner mocca and a slice of sachertorte. The quality of the coffee wasn’t exactly high — I’d have preferred an espresso from Taveggia — but the simple white cups and silver tray elevated the experience beyond a routine coffee break. Given my obsession with apricots and chocolate, I should have loved sachertorte, but I found the chocolate cake meek and the apricot jam cloying. Before leaving, we asked our waiter for the bill, who we paid directly.

It would be cruel of me to jump straight to my next, and favorite, café without describing Café Sperl’s interior, which manages to be simultaneously extravagant and shabby. The tables and walls are cloaked in a dark wood, but the walls quickly turn to a lighter colour as they climb to the high ceilings decked out with chandeliers. Large windows let ample light shine in, preventing the space from feeling claustrophobic on sunny days and giving it a pleasantly cave-like atmosphere on rainy ones. Yet all this seems to fade away as you sit down at your own cozy, nook-like table, which is most likely a booth. Invariably the seats are old, the wicker slightly fraying if it’s a pull out chair and the heavy cloth barely ripped if it’s a bench. That’s part of the charm. Despite the appearance, despite the fact that every bit of you feels like someone decked out in a suit and top hat should walk in at any moment, the café feels completely casual and welcoming.

Coffee Pirates

Although I like Sperl, I knew I needed to try a third wave café so the next day I headed to Coffee Pirates on Spitalgaße near the university. Despite being summer term, the large space was filled with young people sitting and chatting in lounge chairs, working on their computers, reading books and browsing magazines. There were plenty enough seats for us all to relax without worrying about someone coming in and giving us the evil eye over a conspicuous drained cappuccino cup. Unlike Sperl, ordering at Coffee Pirates was just like ordering at any other third wave café in Europe: you go to the till and, after glancing at the menu, order the drink you planned to. Then, you patiently sit down and wait for a barista to bring your coffee to you. To help ease long wait boredom, Coffee Pirates provides plenty of magazines scattered on tables and around the chairs. In the midst of reading an article about coffee and cheese pairing in Caffeine, my cold brew coffee arrived in a little decanter with a tall glass. I poured and took a dainty sip, with one eye finding out what kind of coffee paired best with Stilton. My cheese-free coffee was soft and sippable, with a pleasantly muted blueberry sweetness that fell into an almost velvety texture. Needless to say, by the time I left about an hour later, my mind had ceased to think about gouda with Guatemalan coffees and was focused on the uniquely delicious brews from Coffee Pirates.

Coffee at Phil

But had I stopped my coffee tour of Vienna at Coffee Pirates and Café Sperl, I would have missed out on a large sector of Vienna’s contemporary coffee scene. These are the cafes that cater to the in-between. They are the spaces where young people go to hang out, relax and drink a reliably good coffee without being asked to think about roast, unique names or origins of beans. To sample this café-style, I stopped by Phil, on Grumpendorfer Straße steps away from Café Sperl. Phil is a café-bookstore-music store hybrid with a full food menu. It was late morning and tables showed remnants of breakfasts well spent. More pointing and truncated Italian, this time with the help of a German phrasebook, helped us figure out that we should sit down and someone would be over shortly with a menu. It worked and we ordered two espressi macchiati, a melange and a couple of croissants. After a leisurely wait, our order arrived and we ripped into the croissants, a layer of non-buttery flakes falling onto the table. The coffees, like at Sperl, were fine, but not spectacular. Dark and toasty, they tasted like the dictionary definition of coffee. As we sipped our drinks and nibbled our pastries, we surveyed at the books that lined the walls and guessed how their German titles would translate into English.

Vienna’s coffee culture has long set it apart from other European capitals and continues to do so. Going to a café in the Austrian capital isn’t about getting the best cup of coffee or a transcendental pastry. It’s about changing the pace for a little while. Maybe you need to leave the library, get up from your desk, bask in a small slice of humanity collected together. And it’s refreshing. Even when the coffee doesn’t shine, even when you’d prefer something brighter and more acidic, the spaces satisfy. Of course, if you order an einspänner, long espresso topped with whipped cream, it’s pretty hard not to leave contented.

Grocery stores as sites of national identity (part two)

7-11

This is the second in a three part series examining how supermarkets across the world display national identities.  Catch up on the first part here.

Locavore and terroir advocates would say that a country’s most exotic and marked products can be found in the produce bins, at the cheese counter and behind the butcher’s block. Once one begins to examine these products, however, it becomes apparent that the foodstuffs from these areas of the grocery store vary minimally between cultures. Broccoli, parmigiano reggiano and chicken are all widely available and barely hint at their uses in a region’s kitchens. Since raw ingredients are the building blocks of a national cuisine, one might expect culinary inflections to arise from them. While terroir may account for some variances in the taste of broccoli and chicken in various countries, the ubiquity of imported vegetables and factory farm-raised chickens globalises the taste of raw food. Globalisation also allows parmigiano to appear throughout the world in the single iteration as sanctioned by European law. Thus, international supermarkets demonstrate that familiar flavours can come from global, foreign sources. The correspondence between taste and place is not as strict as terroir and locavorism suggest.

If the movement from ‘other’ to ‘known’ is perceived as the transition from unmarked object to marked object, then the shopper should expect familiar foodstuffs to be the ones closest to their raw, unmarked, state regardless of the shopper’s relationship to a given grocery store.[1] Avocados may not be grown all over the world — one might argue they are marked as Mexican — but appear in produce bins in the USA, Italy and Mexico thanks to super speedy shipping (or, in the case of Mexico, indigenousness). Each country incorporates the avocado into their culinary discourse differently, layering on ingredients, preparations and usages that mark the raw product as belonging to a specific cultural dialogue. In the US, the avocado can be eaten split open with a sprinkling of salt for a no-fuss lunch. Italians might spread it on bread, sweetened with a touch of honey. Mexicans churn up their avocados into ice cream. No matter how divergent a raw ingredient is from a nation’s traditional dishes, minimally processed products are the easiest for each country to mark according to their time-honed culinary lexicon, allowing these foods to be incorporated into a countless number of dishes and preparations.

While ‘raw’ could easily be defined as uncooked, each nation possesses its own understanding of what level of uncooked is acceptable at the grocery store. In Italy, buying raw fish means purchasing un-gutted, whole fish. In the UK, fish is sold cleaned and purchased in discrete plastic packets. While the Italian and Briton might be uncomfortable encountering each other’s raw fish, how the fish is purchased won’t prevent them from transforming the uncooked, relatively unmarked ingredient into a nuanced cooked meal that attests to their national identity. Oven-roasted branzino with a dash of lemon illustrates the Italian’s desire for simple, uncomplicated flavours and preparations. Fish pie has a creamy texture and subtle flavour that parallels other English foods.[2] Given raw food’s ability to integrate into diverse culinary discourses as it adopts new preparations and takes on new flavours, the only limitation on an ingredient’s arrival in a new territory is culinary openness and importation laws.

Since raw products shift easily between culinary lexicons, the packaged and prepared foods present the strangest and most highly marked products at the grocery store. While the long shelf life of industrial products’ allows them to be shipped internationally, importation laws suggest cultural forces restrict a food’s international movement. Vanilla can’t be brought into Italy, sugary breakfast cereals weren’t allowed to be sold in the UK and Kinder surprise eggs are contraband in the US where they’re seen as a choking hazard. While these restrictions may not directly reflect the distinct culinary traditions of each nation, they shape, and are shaped by, a country’s tastes. Vanilina — Italy’s ubiquitous synthetic vanilla — is a distinct, marked flavour ubiquitous in pastry cases across the Peninsula. Lucky Charms may have been banned in the UK for a long time, but the arrival of Krave, a chocolate-filled cereal, suggests that the presence and absence of sugary breakfast cereals is more nuanced than just scepticism toward chemicals. The US may not allow Kinder Surprise eggs into the country, but they did allow Wonder Balls. These variations may seem small, but they are crucial in revealing how a country’s restrictions and variations on processed foods illustrates their collective taste: marked foodstuffs simultaneously show how a country eats and how it does not.

[1] One might argue that, as soon as a food is picked off the branch, it ceases to be raw and begins to be marked by human interaction. In this case, the avocado acquires a different taste through transport to varying regions. Nevertheless, the fruit will be used and perceived in its raw ‘avocado’ state and not as ‘guacamole’ or ‘avocado sandwich spread’. Therefore it seems wise to take the idea that the food remains ‘raw’ when it arrives at the grocery store.

[2] Why not fish and chips? Although fish and chips is stereotypically British, it is rarely prepared in the home. Fish pie, however, has more variations, ranging from home cooked to store bought, posh to cheap.

6 Cafés to try in Amsterdam

Two For Joy

All it took was one Google search to realise that finding stellar coffee in Amsterdam wasn’t going to be easy. Entering any combination of ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘coffee’ into the search bar brought up a side of the city that I preferred to leave unexplored. Thankfully Sprudge and Dear Coffee I Love You understood the kind of coffee shops that interested me and I managed to craft a list of what I hoped would be stellar Dutch coffee.

Upon arriving in Amsterdam on a rainy morning, my first stop was to find a good coffee and cosy cafe to prepare myself for a day of sightseeing. Unfamiliar with the city’s layout and confused by the distances (walking around in tiny Oslo has a tendency to skew your sense of space), I set out for Two For Joy on Frederiksplein, thinking it would only be a short walk from my Rijksmuseum-adjacent apartment. Fifteen minutes later, I found myself in the café, looking at a sign that clearly read in English and Dutch: ‘For our employee’s safety, we only accept payment via debit card with chip and pin.’ Once I finished wincing at the international fees I’d have to pay, I ordered a cortado and croissant. It’s becoming popular for Amsterdam shops to only allow card payment due to the risk of theft that comes with having a cash register stocked with money. Unfortunately, neither the coffee nor the ambiance was worth the hefty international transaction fee. The service was lackadaisical, the croissant limp and the coffee dark with toasty notes that teetered on the brink of over roasted. I left, caffeinated and fed, but not optimistic about my coffee drinking over the next four days.

Two For Joy

Undaunted, I set out to Espresso Fabriek on Gosschalklaan in Westerpark late the next morning. The café was suitably crowded, but had enough space to accommodate everyone and generate a pleasantly buzz-y atmosphere. Joining in their exuberance, I got on line to order a macchiato and croissant. Ordering a macchiato is always a gamble, and not just because it allows you to better taste the coffee and its possible imperfections. The macchiato can be one of two styles: Italian espresso macchiato or French noisette. This macchiato was Italian, with just a dollop of steamy milk on top of a double shot of espresso with a bracing, grapefruit-acidity. I enjoyed the initial burst of flavour, but after a couple syrupy sips, it became too intense and I craved a splash of milk to tone down the acidity. Meanwhile, the croissant lolled about on the side, helping to occasionally mop up a thick drop of coffee.

Screaming Beans

Remaining undeterred, later that day after a canal-side lunch at Broodje Bert, I walked over to Screaming Beans on Hartenstraat. This time I changed my approach and chose an iced filter coffee. I expected to receive something poured unceremoniously from a huge bottle, as happens at countless sub-par New York coffee shops. But it didn’t happen at Screaming Beans. Filter coffee meant pour over and pour over meant brewed to order at your table. The flavour was slightly floral with notes of smoke and tea and a touch of berry sweetness. If I hadn’t a long list of other cafes to try, I would have gone back the next day.

Coffee Bru

Instead, the next day I took the tram to Coffee Bru on Beukenplein in a residential area of the city. The light and calm space felt more like a well-decorated living room than a hip café. My cortado had enough milk to nullify more than a generic chocolate/toast coffee taste. With the buttery croissant, it was nearly dairy overload. Although Coffee Bruu doesn’t serve the kind of coffee that drags you away from central Amsterdam, the glimpse at the city’s calmer side makes the trip worthwhile. For a moment, I felt as if I had flown back to New York.

Headfirst Coffee

The next day I sampled a different side to Amsterdam at Headfirst Coffee on hip Westerstraat. Unlike other parts of Amsterdam that felt self-consciously styled, the street and surrounding area displayed more personality in their stores and houses. My macchiato had its own refreshing attitude as well. The drink was nicely balanced between lemon-y acidity and more muted flavours. The milk was evenly distributed throughout the coffee — French, noisette style — and was almost too easy to sip. Afterwards, I was content to face the rainy day brewing outside.

Koko Coffee & Design

Of course, when it rains and you’re a tourist, you need to find a way to get inside, which is how I ended up at Koko Coffee and Design in the red light district that afternoon. There are clothes in the front, but a sandwich board advertises coffee on the street, lest you should think that only style is inside. The space is light and, for a shop, the seating is surprisingly abundant, with a communal table near the till and some more, smaller tables in the back of the store. I ordered a macchiato, which came to my table a few minutes later in a delightful little earthenware cup. The macchiato had a dollop of milk on top, with just a tiny bit of steamed milk in the coffee. It was delicious and easily my favorite coffee of Amsterdam. The coffee was lemon-y and puckering, with just enough milk to take the edge off but not ruin the subtle nuances of the coffee. If only I had visited sooner.

Neither Amsterdam nor their coffee scene bowled me over, though I was happy to better understand this popular European capital. Sometimes difficult to navigate, whether for the bikes or the street layout, seeing Amsterdam puts popular European tourist spots into perspective. If your time in the city is limited, be sure to stop by Screaming Beans, Headfirst Coffee and Koko Café and Design, which would be among the tops coffee shops in any city with a good coffee scene.

Supermarkets as sites of national identity (part one)

Coop Supermarket

If you can’t tell, I’m a little obsessed with supermarkets.  This is the first of a three part blog in which I’ll be discussing the relationship between grocery stores and national cuisine.  Enjoy!

The supermarket is frequently overlooked as a site of national identity. What seems to be a homogenous experience across countries, divided into familiar categories, labels and products, reveals subtle differences between regions. Combined, these differences amount to large cultural gaps. Whether it’s the size of the store, way to bag vegetables or type of bread on offer, how a nation arranges their supermarkets illustrates not only their attitude toward food, but also their perspective on the relation between gastronomic tradition and everyday life. If the everyday is invisible to an individual as they operate within their culture’s social structures (supermarkets, schools, public debates, etc.), the everyday can be described as mundane. Despite the dominance of large international chains, such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour, grocery stores don’t promote a pan-cultural version of the mundane. Recognizing how each country manifests their unique cultural identity through the representation of the ordinary allows national and international supermarkets to preserve a unique, culture-driven experience of the everyday as they spatially guide the consumer through country’s specific cooking lexicon.

Although national cuisines organize themselves through different ingredients, cooking techniques and meal structures, the layout of the Western supermarket largely streamlined. While this can be seen as an extension of the American supermarket model introduced in the mid-twentieth century, it can also be interpreted as a reflection of Western cooking logic (Scarpellini, Material Nation 209). This logic manifests itself as a shared culinary lexicon, which turns once-exotic techniques and ingredients into the building blocks of various cuisines. Although the amount of foreign cooking terms in the English culinary lexicon has greatly increased in recent years thanks to air travel and new migration patterns, European terminologies provide the bulk of the Anglophones foreign cooking vocabulary (Riely, The Chef’s Companion, 2nd edition, viii). This shared language suggests that the more countries interact, the more similar their approach to various foodstuffs will be. Since most Western-European countries agree that produce and meats appear together at a meal, they are grouped together in a supermarket.[1] Both will appear far from the candy because savoury and sweet occupy separate courses, are consumed at distinct times of day and furnish different nutrition. Western culture’s shared cooking techniques and approach to everyday consumption means their supermarkets are organized in a largely comparable manner, causing what few variations there are to jump out starkly.

A country’s cuisine informs how a specific product integrates into a specific supermarket section. In America it’s customary for peanut butter and Nutella to share a shelf besides jam, which must be far away from the tinned tuna. Although they are both popular sandwich fillings, peanut butter falls into the category America’s favourite and tuna, while nostalgic, is slightly polarising. One might also make the distinction between sweet and savoury; serving tuna at dinner would be acceptable, but peanut butter (to say nothing of Nutella!) would be amiss. Scandinavian countries define these distinctions differently. There, the few nut and ample fruit based spreads overflow into the tinned fish section. Since both are essential components of a smørrebrød, smørbrøt or smörgås, albeit for different meals, the region’s understanding of a sandwich allows these spreads to be appear next to each other. While American and Scandinavian supermarkets both stock tinned fish, the product’s location shows how its culturally informed purpose places it within the supermarket.

[1] Evidently this is also deals with refrigeration; however, it’s interesting to note where there are variances from this traditional model and what it means. Natural food shops, both small and large, in the US and UK tend to allow a greater proportional space between produce and meat than do traditional grocery stores. This suggests that the positioning of refrigeration and freezer cases is based in part on logistics and in part on ideology.

 

What everyday bounty do you take for granted?

They said they knew they were in America because when they lifted the milk carton, it landed on the counter with a thud.  The jug was too heavy, not like what you’d find in Italy, where milk is measured out in smaller, arm friendly cartons.  Each country has a food product or category they enjoy buying in bulk.  Americans love their jars of peanut butter and boxes of cereal; these are some of the products that make up our everyday bounty.

 

Every country has an everyday bounty that’s invisible to its inhabitants.  This invisibility means the product size is interpreted as normal, not plenty.  Within each country and city, there exist ample variations in size that are invisible to one sub-culture and extravagant to another.

Could you imagine buying a large package of cheese like a Norwegian?

 

Or perhaps you’d like a box of Yorkshire tea with 240 tea bags?

 

Sometimes this bounty manifests itself as plenty of options, like in the pasta aisle at an Italian grocery store.

via Italian Intrigues

 

Their biscuit aisle is also impressive.

Italian supermarkets

Flickr via Mário Troise

 

This is to say nothing of the various styles and brands of espresso on offer.

espresso aisle, Bolzano

Flickr via neil banas

 

Then again, in Sweden coffee is bought in bricks nearly twice the size of those in Italy.  The options are less, but that doesn’t mean the bounty has diminished.

ICA Supermarket in Sweden  Coffee aisle

Flickr via candleshoe

 

American milk cartons may be large, but I’d argue that the cereal section is a more astonishing display of plenty.

A small portion of the cereal aisle

Flickr via mroach

 

While Americans debate which cereal to have for breakfast, the French do the same with yogurt.

via City of Annie

via City of Annie

 

Nearby, the Belgians are buying family sized jars of Speculoos spread.

Speculoos in Brussels

 

Could you imagine navigating this seaweed selection in Japan? The knowledge required to make the appropriate choice doesn’t exist in the standard Western cooking dialogue.

Seaweed

Flickr via Robert Izumi

 

Regardless of the culture in which we exist, regardless of where we choose to buy our groceries, each space and society has an invisible abundance. This abundance may be enjoyed or lamented. In the context of a specific cultural dialogue, this plenty is seen as a given. To go without it, to be removed from it, wouldn’t be seen as moderation, but as lack. What’s your invisible abundance?

A coffee lover’s tour of Helsinki

Johan & Nyström

The search for coffee in Helsinki starts with a fact: the average Finn drinks 5-6 cups of coffee per day. Unfortunately, you quickly realise that the majority of these cups aren’t crazy good as the number for speciality cafés in the capital barely reaches Copenhagen and Stockholm’s quality café overload. I went to Helsinki for a few days leading up to midsummer when the weather was ‘as cold as Christmas’, or so the greeter who showed my mother and I around the city said the Helsingin Sanomat’s headline read. Frequent coffee breaks, kahvitauko, were the perfect excuse to escape the highly changeable, and constantly chilly, weather.

Good Life Coffee

Our coffee tour began at Good Life Coffee in Kallio, Helsinki’s Greenpoint. Our greeter helped us find our way along two trams, winding paths and hills. The space isn’t huge, but has a minimal atmosphere that’s immediately welcoming. You can cuddle up on the long corner bench and place your coffee on a low white table while gazing out the huge window. If you prefer a tall table, there are two on the right side. The one in front seats about four people, the one behind, approximately three. When the sun is shining, you can enjoy one of the tables out front. We ordered a filter coffee, an espresso macchiato — be specific, they also serve latte macchiato — and a croissant. The filter coffee was what you want filter coffee to be like: bright and lemony but not astringent. After stomping around Helsinki, the macchiato’s creamy texture and sweet, milk chocolate flavours was more satisfying than it otherwise would have been. The croissant was buttery, though a touch bready and lacking layers, paired well with the coffee. Good Life Coffee might not be in the centre of Helsinki, but it’s only a short walk from the central train station and art museum — not to mention next door to Hakaniemen Kauappahalli, the modern market hall — making it the perfect excuse to see the city’s residential side.

Kaffa Roastery

Across Helsinki, in a different neighbourhood with a different ambiance, you’ll find Kaffa Roastery, located next a housewares shop. The space, which just-not a basement, is small, cosy. Order your coffee at the till and hop up on a white plastic folding chair situated in front of a bank of windows. Don’t worry, it’s not dark. The windows are just high enough to let light filter in. I chose the house coffee, which was brewed on aeropress. As the barista brought me my coffee a few minutes later, she told me about their current blend, made from a mix of Guatemalan and Indonesian beans. The first sip tasted like red berries with a balanced, sweet acidity like you find when eating cherries or currants. While the flavour was quite intense at first, it gently melted away, leaving a whisper of coffee and no heavy, syrupy aftertaste. I gleefully sipped away at the entire cup while reading My Struggle: Book One with no regard to the fact that it was quickly approaching six pm. That was fine because, around midsummer in Finland, the sky gives few hints that the evening is about to arrive.

Fratello Torrefazione

But arrive it did, as it always must. Not that my body realised that and so, when morning arrived, I was exhausted having barely slept. After dragging myself out of bed and shoving some rye bread topped with kermajuusto cheese into my mouth for what I felt amounted to a Finnish breakfast, I ran to Fratello Torrefazione on Yliopistonkatu 6. Unlike other cafes in the city that serve up light, Nordic-style brews, Fratello Torrefazione is heavily influenced by dark, Italian bars and that’s just describes the décor. The cappuccino I had there was notably darker roasted than the other coffees I had in the city. It was rich and chocolaty with that slightly dull, toasted flavour you can find at any number of Italian cafes across the world. Fortunately though, it did the trick and fuelled me for a stop around Seurasaari Ulkomuseo, Helsinki’s open-air museum that’s hidden in the woods just a short bus ride away from the center.

Johan & Nyström

As everyone knows who drinks coffee, caffeine’s energizing effects soon wear off, especially after climbing around old buildings. After returning from Seurasaari and having lunch at Vanha Kauppahalli, the recently refurbished old market, I walked through the harbour and crossed a bridge to Johan & Nyström. Although I’d previously visited the Swedish roaster’s flagship café in Stockholm, I wanted to visit their Helsinki café because it’s frequently cited in article discussing the capital’s best coffee spots. Located on a pier, the room is large with low lighting and cave-like in the best way possible. There’s a bookshelf dividing the bar from some seats, which displays different coffee-related merchandise such as aeropress, logo-ed mugs and bags Johan & Nyström beans. The seating is varied, with some proper chairs and tables on one side and sofas and chairs elsewhere. What the seating lacked in coherence, the coffee made up for. My macchiato was rich with a blackberry flavor that held the depth of a good, slightly bitter chocolate. It sustained me throughout the afternoon, but fortunately not into the evening. When my five am wake-up call came, early enough to make a nine am flight to Stockholm, I was relatively well-rested.

Although Helsinki might have a ways to go to catch up with the complete saturation of brilliant coffee spots that you find in Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen, the city has an interesting selection of cafes for the coffee-enthusiast. And those were just the ones I visited. Had I planned my trip exclusively around coffee, I would have visited Freese Coffee, which, until recently, was only open at the weekend. If I had more time, I would have visited Kahvila Sävy on Aleksis Kiven Katu, a good tram ride outside of center. Add in some pulla and you’ve got the makings for an unforgettable stay in Helsinki.

 

 

Drinking Coffee in Bergen

Apple cake and cappuccino

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the coffee lover’s Grand Norwegian Tour finishes at Oslo. The journey doesn’t have an obvious next leg. If you had to think of one, you wouldn’t choose Bergen, with its twisting lanes, large cruise ships and hilly landscape. But, should you find yourself in Bergen, you’ll discover there’s a surprising amount of charming cafes to sample in this small coastal city.

Det Lille Kaffekompaniet

Googling ‘best coffee in Bergen’ sends you down a one-way street to Det Lille Kaffekompaniet. One visit and you’ll understand why. Although the café is steps away from the crowded funicular up Mt. Fløibanen, the immediate surrounding area transforms from crowded tourist confusion into coffee oasis. White clapboard houses line the street, flowers bloom spontaneously between cobblestones and some are artfully arranged in window boxes. With the beautiful scenery, and neighboring chaos, it’s easy to walk distractedly past Det Lille Kaffekompaniet. But when you do spot it, you’ll find it impossible to turn away. Not because the interior is attractive; it isn’t. There’s a smattering of tables and chairs with a bar area that is suffocating-ly dark for summer, but acceptable for winter. If it’s a nice day, drink your coffee outside where there are some tables nicely arranged around the door. Fortunately, the two times I stopped by were lovely and I was able to enjoy my cortado and filter coffee outside. The coffee is deeply flavoured but not over powering with a nicely mellow finish that complements the laid back environment. But the stellar slice of apple cake, and cinnamon roll, could have influenced my opinion.

Cortado and cappucino

After getting a taste of less-touristy Bergen, you’ll likely want more. Make your way down a hill to Kaffemisjonen on Korskirkeallmenning. The café is big and surprisingly cosy given its high ceilings, concrete floors and metal tables. When I went on a sunny Wednesday morning in late June, the space was nearly empty except for a few people reading the newspaper and working on computers. My cortado was a touch milkier than I’d prefer and the taste verged on milk chocolate drowned in milk. The cappuccino was a similar milky disappointment. If I went back, I’d choose either a filter coffee or an espresso. They serve plenty of different roasters, enough to make you become a regular without ever having a go-to coffee. But if you’re pressed for time, Kaffemisjonen might the place to miss.

Cortado

Because you won’t want to miss Bastant and nearby Bryggen, the UNESCO world heritage site and reconstruction of medieval Hanseatic trading village which draws cruise ships from all over the world to Bergen. You can wander through alleys, admire the restoration work and gawk at wooden beams all while dithering on whether or not to buy a commemorative reindeer sweater. When you grow weary, wind your way to the middle alley and look for Bastant. Bastant is a proper café, the kind you’d be happy to find in any neighbourhood in any city, not to mention a reconstructed medieval city in Norway. Inside is a dimly lit sanctuary. There’s a bar immediately to the left of the entrance with ample seating scattered through out the café. They serve meals and pastries as well as a hot drinks menu that includes things like hot chocolate and chai in addition to coffee. If you’re eager to immerse yourself in Bryggen’s unique atmosphere, nab one of the tables outside. Even if you want to avoid the crowds with cameras, Bastant’s coffee merits a stop. My cortado — a shot of espresso with regular milk poured in according to my preference— was my favorite of the coffees I had in Bergen. It was rich with hints of blueberry and blackberry that were reminiscent of wine. Had I more than a day in Bergen, I would have returned to try a pour over with a cookie, regardless of whether I could sit outside.

Bastant

Drinking coffee and walking around Bergen reminded me of Bristol and not just because of the hills. The coffee scene is small, but has the kind of cafés at which you’d be happy to be a regular. I’d love to enjoy the streets around Det Lille Kaffekompaniet a few more times. If I went back to Kaffemisjonen, I’d know what to order. When I needed my dose of history, I’d eagerly sip a cortado and nibble on a cookie at Bastant. Bergen might not have Oslo’s reputation for high-profile coffee, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great cups hiding behind a few select corners.