The Finns and their twins

Volume 27, . Comments

The Finnish National Museum in Helsinki has an entire room dedicated to coffee. That would surprise just about anyone who hasn’t spent the last few decades working in the coffee business. But not those of us who know that Finland and its neighbor to the west, Sweden, are the “beating heart center” of world coffee consumption.

The Finns and Swedes collectively consume twice the coffee per capita as U.S. coffee drinkers and three times more than Costa Ricans.

Their collective thirst for the highest-quality coffee made the two nations a benchmark for us coffee brokers in the 1970s and 1980s. A top-quality, gourmet coffee was one we could sell to the Finns.

And was this great coffee destined for gourmet coffee shops? Nope. The Finns used it as their supermarket brands.

Finland and Sweden eagerly paid top dollar for the best coffee. They bought 15 to 20 percent of Costa Rica’s top export coffee back when I was trading. One of Finland’s top-selling brands is still called “Costa Rica.”

It’s fair to say that these two nations, who have been drinking coffee since the 1600s, were singly responsible for creating a gourmet niche market. In fact, Scandinavia was my inspiration for the name Café Britt.

That’s why it was so enjoyable to discover the National Museum’s coffee room, when I was in Helsinki recently for a tourism conference.

I learned there about a pivotal historic dilemma that occurred while both Finland and Sweden were still a single, united nation. In 1756, coffee was banned. A top trading house, the Swedish East India Company, wanted to increase market demand for tea.

A national outcry ensued. King Charles XII took a definitively monarch-style approach.

According to the legend, he demanded that the people bring him two identical twins. One twin was to drink only coffee, and the other only tea. Finland’s coffee-drinking future hinged on which became the healthier twin.

Imagine the anxiety that must have consumed the nation! Switch to tea?

A museum watercolor called “Coffee Ban,” depicts a woman hiding coffee in her kitchen, while police search for it in another room.

After all, this is a nation that even today drinks its coffee black. True, as a part of the European Union, Finland and its offerings have become a mainstream. In shops today, you’ll find espresso machines. You can buy a latte, a mocha.

But the Finns drink coffee for the taste of coffee – the taste that continues to inspire all of Café Britt’s gourmet roasts.

Switch to tea? All of Finland waited. Sipping coffee on the sly, until the fateful moment that secured their coffee-drinking future…

The twin who drank the tea died first.

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About Steve Aronson

New York coffee broker Steve Aronson founded Café Britt in 1985 to market roasted Costa Rican coffees to the world.


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