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.
Address: Fredrikinkatu 55, Helsinki
How could I not include this den of fuzzy cuteness? I confess that I’m actually more of a dog person than a cat person, but I do like cats. Therefore I was very happy to go check this place out. To the best of my knowledge, it is the only animal cafe in Helsinki, although this will hopefully change in the future! I would be very pleased to see Helsinki take a page out of Tokyo’s book and open up a menagerie of cafes, from owl cafes to bunny cafes. Of course, this would only be OK if the animals were truly happy and well cared for, which the cats at Helkatti certainly were.
When I arrived at my reserved time (I would strongly suggest making a reservation to Helkatti, since it’s always full!) I was lucky enough to sit in a great place. A table surrounded by five chairs, four of which were soon occupied by cats taking their afternoon naps. The cats were all very friendly and gentle and appreciated a good scratch behind the ears. The resident tuxedo cat even jumped on the table to quickly inspect my food, but never tried to steal any away from me.
Speaking of the food! I was super impressed by it from the second it arrived. My cake sampler was very elegantly plated on a stone slab, like one you might get in an uber-chic bistro. The “kitty cappuccino” was exactly as advertised and had an adorable winking cat face drawn into the foam. Everything tasted great as well. Helkatti could easily have phoned it in with their food quality, letting their success ride on their uniqueness as a cat cafe, but they didn’t! Kudos to them.
Address: Sandelsinkatu 6, Helsinki
Cafe/shop combinations are actually a burgeoning trend in Helsinki, as evidenced by places like Andante, Plootu, and Lokal. But Relove stood out to me due to its combination of two of my favourite things: amazing baked treats and high-quality second-hand fashion.
You first see the cafe when entering Relove, and you can’t be blamed for wanting to take a seat. The tables are usually quite full of people who have had the same idea. I’ve been twice recently, and both times I was able to sit in the same place. I sat by the entrance, next to the curtain decorated with Relove’s beautiful minimalist logo. I got a plain filter coffee both times, but there was a very good reason why I never considered upgrading. Relove’s filter coffee is fantastic! In a country where people seem to drink their weight in coffee daily, it pays to have a good basic brew. This one is noticeably better than many. It isn’t bitter and has a lovely, warm, and smooth flavour. Relove’s carrot cake was also amazing. It was perfectly spiced and came with a tiny gem of an orange slice perched on top. Gotta love not only edible but delicious decorations.
When you wander further into the store you can immerse yourself in racks of clothing, shoes and accessories. There are both second-hand items which people have brought in to sell and selections of new items in “pop up shops” by different brands. Relove functions as a classy flea market, so you can bring your own stuff in to sell too! Check out more information about doing so on their website.
Address: Tehtaankatu 19, Helsinki
Factory St. Gallery is a small cafe, art gallery and framing shop which is tucked away on a side street in Punavuori. The first half of the space is the cafe, although art is already hanging on the walls here. There is also a selection of books and magazines on design and culture, as well as board games. Next to the counter is a case of jewellery and accessories from independent designers.
The counter is emblazoned with the words “Good Things”, which isn’t a lie. I ordered a cappuccino and a slice of banana bread and sat on the corner sofa to eat. The cappuccino was great, and it came with a bit of high-quality chocolate. The banana bread was flavourful and moist. I got an aftertaste of cardamom, which is one of my favourite spices, so that was an extra bonus!
The next room, with its white painted walls, is the art gallery. You can browse a printout with the names of the displayed artworks and the artist’s statements about them as you eat or as you look around the gallery. The artworks on display during my visit were large-scale paintings full of organic abstract shapes. Further back are rooms not open to the public, where I suspect the framing shop part of the equation goes on. Since art school ended, I’ve missed being immersed in this kind of scene. I should definitely drop by again!
The Helsinki cafe scene is great, and with some looking, you can find some really unique establishments. Start with these three and you’ll surely find yourself going back again, whether it’s for the coffee or for the cats, clothing, or fine art!