Think of great coffee drinking nations and you’ll probably think of Italians sipping their cappuccinos or the Spanish enjoying cortados. One nation unlikely to even make your top ten, however, is Finland. You’ll be surprised to hear then that Finns are, in fact, the world’s number one coffee drinkers. Incredibly, your average Finn drinks 12 kilos of the black stuff per year, far ahead of Italy (5.7 kilos per year) and Spain (4.5 kilos per year). So, how did this obsession begin?
A 17th century super drug drink
We can thank Turks, imprisoned by the Knights of St John, on Malta for introducing coffee to Europe. But it wasn’t until a hundred years later, in the 17th century, that it finally reached Finland, via Russia and Sweden. At first, the drink was considered so fine it was only enjoyed by the upper classes and drank during special occasions. What’s more, the heady brew was believed to have medicinal properties. According to the Finns, it had the ability to cure ailments ranging from headaches to heart conditions and, consequently, it was only stocked by pharmacists. This was likely the main reason why Finns first fell in love with coffee. In their eyes it wasn’t only a delicious drink, it was a super powerful wonder drug.
Mesmerising the masses
By the 18th century, coffee had become an everyday drink for the masses. The prestigious beverage that was once only reserved for holidays was being consumed daily. As coffee spread through rural Finland, people began consuming it thrice per day. This was revolutionary. Now, java was being consumed in such large quantities that it formed an integral part of the main meals of the day. Traditionally, the Finnish would take coffee with pastries, dipping the pastry in the coffee. Others would pour the hot beverage in a saucer and drink it from there, as it would cool faster.
Cheers to java
Fast forward to the early 20th century and the popularity of coffee gained another boost. In 1919, Finland enacted alcohol prohibition, as one of the first acts after independence from the Russian Empire. Four previous attempts to institute prohibition in the early 20th century had failed due to opposition from the tsar. Now alcohol was banned, coffee became the best substitute and coffee culture become a mainstay of Finnish society.
The world’s coffee kings
Forty-three years later, the very first legislation on how coffee was prepared came into effect, when President Kekkonen pushed into law a directive to have coffee beans lightly roasted. This was a major change as people were used to dark roasted beans that produced a bitter taste. Now blessed with better tasting coffee, enhanced by the world’s best drinking water in the world, Finns could finally brew coffee to perfection. Later in the 1970s, party goers consumed coffee in the belief that it would keep them awake to dance all night. This took coffee consumption to all new level highs and Finland topped the list of the world’s leading java drinkers.
Old coffee drinking habits are quickly fading as younger generations travel across the globe and get exposed to new practices. As they bring home new customs, they impact the way java is consumed. New techniques of preparing and serving coffee have also emerged. Flavored java served in paper cups is common and a major break from the traditionally brewed coffee.
With the invention of coffee machines, life has become even easier for Finns. Brewing the magical coffee cup is easier than ever before. One can make a cup in seconds and enjoy it at any time of the day. As employers grant workers statutory coffee breaks, the rest of the world watches with appreciation as this great nation becomes the embodiment of a true coffee culture.
Rudy Caretti has more than 15 years of experience in the coffee industry, a passion that started in Italy within the family business and led him to found Gimoka Coffee UK with a group of friends.