This week the backstory of my post is deeper than just sharing my favourite places. I’m still sharing some of my favourite places, but all of these places have an important connection. This week, I will share cafes in Helsinki which contribute to good causes. This contribution can be in the form of donations to charities that the owners are passionate about, or a philosophy that they weave into their business model. All of these cafes show in some way that they value much more than just personal profit.
The inspiration for this post comes from a very important event that I participated in recently. On 24th March, there were hundreds of March For Our Lives protests held around the world. As you likely know, March For Our Lives is a movement for gun reform in the United States. A Sustainable Community organised a protest in Helsinki on the 24th. We marched in solidarity with the hundreds of other protests happening around the world. Helsinki might be thousands of kilometres from the United States, but we hope that every little bit of support helps bolster the efforts of the movement.
When I started this blog I had to remind myself to not make every week’s post about cafes. Because honestly, I probably could. Cafe culture is going strong in Helsinki, perhaps fuelled by Finns’ insatiable thirst for coffee. Reviewing all of them might get a bit stale for all involved, so I’ve only done a couple of posts about cafes so far. But now, I can’t resist sharing a few cafes which I’ve fallen in love with in the last few years.
These cafes are not just ones where you drop in, grab a latte, and drink it on the go. You’ll want to order a bit to eat, curl up in a nice corner with a magazine or phone, and relax. You might even want to join the crowd of digi-savvy students and entrepreneurs who sit for hours and work on their laptops. These cafes have an indescribable ambience that keeps you there and makes you come back. Is it the creative but comfortable interior design? Is it the crowd of regulars? Or perhaps it’s just the awesome food and drink. Whatever makes these cafes so irresistible, I hope it’s never lost. The city deserves these little dens of wonder and delight.
Most of us sort our household rubbish and put paper, plastic, and glass in their appropriate bins. That kind of recycling is great, and we should definitely keep doing it (or start, if you haven’t yet!). But this is recycling on a whole different level. Helsinki knows how to recycle whole buildings! Well, technically “repurpose” would be a better word. There are several old buildings and industrial areas in Helsinki which have been repurposed to create centres of culture. We can transform any kind of space, from the sterile hallways of a hospital to the gritty machinery of an electrical plant. And theatres, art galleries and working spaces rise from the ashes like cultural phoenixes.
I can’t completely explain why I’m so attracted to these areas. Maybe it’s the concept of creating something new and flourishing out of a cold and abandoned space. Maybe it’s the intriguing juxtaposition of factory buildings and collections of fine art. But I really do love these locations. They’ve got an indescribable but infectious vibe. They may not look like much at first glance, but once you’ve spent some time exploring them, these places will draw you in.
Admittedly, I’ve never really celebrated Valentine’s Day myself. Also, it’s one of those holidays that isn’t very big in Finland, so it’s pretty easy to avoid floods of pink hearts and teddy bears in February. That being said, there’s one aspect of Valentine’s Day that I love: chocolate. Like a great many people, chocolate has me all atwitter, especially a lovely high-quality bonbon. I don’t eat chocolate all that often though, so when I do, it’s even more exciting and irresistible.
For this post, I decided to focus on shops or cafes that specialise in chocolate. All of these places have a glass case of chocolate bonbons and truffles as their crowning glory. Try not to salivate!
Hamburgers may have risen to fame in the States, but these days you’d be hard-pressed to find a country without a hamburger restaurant. Finland, and especially Helsinki, are no exception. International chains like McDonald’s and Burger King are well known here, as are Finnish chains and smaller independent restaurants. But having a good basic hamburger is only the first hurdle. What about vegetarian options – and not just ones that taste like wallpaper paste on a bun?
I’m not fully vegetarian, but I rarely eat meat. I won’t refuse a regular hamburger every now and then, but I have a soft spot for a great meatless patty. And here’s a confession: even though I’m mostly vegetarian, I don’t particularly like tofu! So I seek out choices made of other proteins such as beans and grains. I did some restaurant hopping in Helsinki to find a few choices that I can wholeheartedly recommend for someone who wants to do the same.
If there’s one type of place I like to frequent, it’s cafes. I’m an extremely active purveyor of everything related to coffee- and tea culture, and there are few things that make me happier than finding a great new cafe in Helsinki. In an effort to go a bit further than just listing my three favourite cafes in Helsinki, I thought I’d focus on a specific type of establishment: a concept cafe.
A concept cafe, at least for the purposes of this post, is one that goes a step further than just serving coffee, tea, baked goods and sandwiches. It might combine the cafe with some other kind of business, or maybe just immerse every aspect of the cafe with some sort of theme or style. Below are three places in Helsinki which fit this bill, and are definitely worth the visit if you’re looking for a memorable coffee time experience.
Cupcakes, the formally dressed cousins of the humble muffin, are just beginning to take a hold in Helsinki. Even before I left the US in 2012 to return to Finland, a cupcake craze was in full swing in the states. These days, a search on Yelp for “cupcakes” returns over 3000 results in New York City alone!
Over the course of the current decade, cupcakes have slowly begun to gain recognition in Finland. We will always have room in our hearts and stomachs for a classic Finnish korvapuusti, but we’re also up for a bit of innovation. That readiness to try new things has allowed a few bakeries in Helsinki to either add cupcakes to their menu or build their identity around cupcakes from the start.
I sampled the goods from three bakeries/cafes in Helsinki which are known for their cupcakes and gave them scores in several areas. I ate many cupcakes within a couple of days to gather these results. A gruelling, unbearable task, I know! ;) After the crumbs were wiped away, it was time to put my years of experience as an amateur baker – and even more years of experience watching cooking shows with strict judges – to use.