‘Maybe this is just a country where you need a hot drink,’ reasons cafe manager Ioannis Himonas, asked why Finns down more coffee than anyone else on the planet. ‘In the war, our grandparents drank boiled-up wood pulp.’ It’s a plain answer that befits his workplace. Cafe Ipi is a loftily ascetic white-concrete shrine to caffeine, filled at mid-morning with muted, monochrome worshippers perched neatly on retro birchwood stools. There are plenty of rivals springing up around the Kallio, a formerly ropey tenement district in the east of the city now completing the transition to hipsterdom. But Ipi has the most potent espressos and an enlightened USP: its workforce is disabled, offered a unique employment opportunity and supportive environment.
With four cups a day to get down (the national per capita average), Finns never like to be far from a fix. Back in the centre of Helsinki, even in late afternoon, the cylindrical Art Deco coffee stops guarding the shady comers of Kaisaniemi Park each have a queue, and each recidivist drinker offers a different theory on the national addiction. Caffeine is a chemical companion to the proud native ethos: ‘sisu’, which is best defined as fearless determination. Or it’s asocial lubricant for a famously reserved people. Or, perhaps, and in common with most of this nation’s very particular fixations, it’s just an inscrutable fact of Finnish life – as mysterious to them as it is to everyone else.