Coffee, in Finland, is so ubiquitous that daytime meals there are often called Kahvi, Finnish for coffee, instead of breakfast or lunch. The Finns must drink more coffee than anyone else in the world. Two or three times a day, the table is set with a wholesome smorgasbord of breads (sour rye, oat and wheat), cheeses (Edam, bleu and local farmers), accoutrements (pickled herring, sliced cucumbers, smoked salmon, hard boiled eggs) and a pot of coffee. They drink it out of tiny, beautiful cups which makes it ok that they drink so many cups a day.
In fact, coffee there is not as much about caffeine as it is about community. If nothing else, the Finns love balance and being overly caffeinated would upset the rhythm and structure of life. Coffee is not typically taken “to go”, nor is it served in large or paper cups and it is always paired with food. Kahvi is, like tea in many parts of the world, an opportunity to gather with friends, family, neighbors and co-workers and to take a moment to disconnect, reconnect and recharge. There is my 96 year old grandmother, above, enchanting me, my mom and my boys with her wisdom.
True tea is far less common than coffee in Finland, but the magical, old forests and sweet, calm meadows there offer a bounty of nutrient-rich botanicals to steep fresh or dried. Birch leaves for the skin, forest berries for vitamins and minerals, nettle for iron and strength…Finland has an old tradition of staying well with medicinal botanicals. Two of my clever and beautiful Finnish friends, Mirka and Nina, create tea blends out of these arctic super-herbs for their tea company Nord-T, making tea more relevant in a coffee-loving country. There is their seabuckthorn, rooibos and birch leaf blend (called Polar Nightcap), in the image above.
Regardless of the relative absence of tea there, tea time, at least in our family, is is still set on special occasions, when guests come over and sometimes after a day sauna. Tea time is when Finland’s famous pastries are the centerpiece of the table, many of which also feature treasures foraged from the forest. Mustikka piirakka (a flat blueberry pie- click on link for my grandmothers recipe), pulla (the national coffee bread which is mildly sweet and often made with cardamom and cinnamon), Karjalan piirakka (the intricately formed, elliptical shaped rice pastries served warm with egg butter) and pannu kakku (an easy and surprisingly more-ish oven pancake)– to mention only a handful.
If you are lucky, there will be leipäjuusto on the table. Leipäjuusto is a mild, almost sweet, baked cheese from Lapland. When you chew it, it squeaks in your mouth, which adds to the fun of eating it almost as much as the golden Lakka (the elusive and indescribably divine arctic cloudberry) jam that it is served with. There is a liqueur made out of Lakka which is difficult to find outside of Finland, but which, when swirled into a glass of champagne, tastes just like a long, etherial, Finnish mid-Summer evening.