Coffee As a Finnish Institution
Taija Ojaniemi, Spring 2010 (US)
A FAST-FIN-1 (TRENAK1) Finnish Institutions Research Paper
FAST Area Studies Program
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
The people of Finland are among the biggest coffee consumers in the world. Finns consume an average of 12 kilograms of coffee per capita yearly, which is over twice the amount of most other Europeans. Coffee cannot be grown in Finland, so why is it that Finns drink it so much? What has made this beverage such an inseparable part of Finnish culture?
In the 1950s, the electric coffee pot and the percolator were introduced to Finnish homes (Boström et al. 98). Nowadays most Finnish homes have an electric coffee maker with automatic drip-brew although the traditional method of heating the grounds together with the water in a pot is still preserved in some situations, like at summer cottages or on camping trips where no electricity is available.
Despite the high consumption of coffee and the fact that it takes time to brew it, Timo Voipio states in his thesis on the economic and social history of coffee, tea and cocoa (141) that instant coffee has never gained popularity in Finland: its share of the total Finnish coffee market is only one per cent (Voipio 141), while in the UK, 80 per cent of the population drink it (Starbucks). The fact that instant coffee is generally not regarded to be of as good quality as normal coffee (Moon 37) could explain why it has not succeeded in the Finnish market.
Furthermore, the demand for decaffeinated coffee is almost non-existent in Finland. Finland's leading coffee company, for instance, does not have any decaffeinated coffee in their selection. One of the reasons why Finns prefer their coffee with caffeine may be their Protestant work ethic: coffee's stimulating effect has been linked to productivity and efficiency (Tuomikumpu and Lehto).
Coffee Prohibition and RationingIn the 17th century, when Finland was still a part of the Swedish Kingdom, new exotic commodities like spices and sugar began pouring into the country (Ignatiew-Aukia and Manninen 26). In 1716, a luxury tax was imposed on many of these things, including coffee (Voipio 26). The new drink roused suspicions: coffee was seen as deteriorating the citizens' working ethics and the country's productive capacity, and it was even speculated that drinking coffee would reduce fertility. Moreover, concern emerged over the amount of money wasted on coffee, silverware and broken porcelain (Voipio 22). However, as even taxation could not cut down the consumption of coffee, in 1756 the drink was prohibited (Ignatiew-Aukia and Manninen 26). Coffee was banned altogether four times in the 18th century on the grounds of its negative effect on the national economy, public health and work ethics. Each prohibition period lasted from two to five years. However, the prohibition did not stop bootleggers from smuggling coffee into the country or people from drinking it. Finally, Sweden's King Gustav IV Adolf gave into his subjects' will, and the fourth and final ban was removed in 1801 (Voipio 21-22).
During World War I, the imports of coffee stopped almost completely because of transportation difficulties as well as the fact that Finland began to regulate the amount of coffee imported into the country. The imports were deregulated in 1919, but due to a lack of currency, they did not recover fully until 1921 (Sipilä 16). In 1939, the beginning of World War II led to a severe rationing period. The import of foreign goods into the country, coffee included, decreased dramatically. A sudden need for coffee substitutes emerged, and Finnish roasteries established an organization to promote the farming and drying of chicory, the distribution of which was not regulated in any way (Sipilä 119). In 1941, the selling of real coffee was prohibited altogether, as all the available coffee was used to make ersatz coffee (Sipilä 16), which was a mixture of real coffee and coffee substitutes (see the section on Substitutes and Ersatz Coffee).
In 1945, the first batch of coffee since the beginning of the rationing period arrived in Finland (Pulla 79), but it was allocated to loggers in hopes of speeding up post-war reconstruction and in order to get lumber with which war reparations could be covered. In 1946, the first batch to be distributed to the general public arrived at Turku harbor, receiving unprecedented attention (Jaatinen 40). However, as the importation of coffee was rationed, the imported amounts were small at first, and coffee could only be bought with ration coupons (Sipilä 19). The rationing did not end until 1954 (Ignatiew-Aukia and Manninen 52), when the importation of coffee was deregulated (Sipilä 58).
The prohibition and rationing periods seem to have made coffee even more desirable for Finns: coffee has never been as valued as it was during the strictest rationing period (Saarinen 11). Therefore the fact that coffee has been a "forbidden fruit" so many times may actually account for its popularity (Voipio 23).
Substitutes and Ersatz CoffeeIn addition to prohibition and rationing, the price of coffee has always limited its consumption. Not only have luxury taxes been imposed, but wars have also limited its availability.
However, as people wanted to drink coffee anyway, cheaper coffee substitutes were developed (Sipilä 9). These substitutes were also promoted by scientists who believed that coffee had a detrimental effect on people's health. In response, substitutes were invented from home-grown produce like peas, beans, malt, and dried bread (Ignatiew-Aukia and Manninen 25-26). A product called rye coffee became particularly popular in the late 1880s, and it was regarded as the Finnish version of coffee (Sipilä 21).
Any particular substitute was not usually used as such, but was mixed together with other substitutes in order to achieve a flavor that resembled real coffee. For instance, the roots of an herb called chicory were thought to imitate the taste of real coffee the best, but as such, its taste was too strong. A mixture that includes coffee substitute as well as real coffee is called ersatz or "replacement" coffee (Sipilä 10).
In the late 1880s, small coffee substitute roasteries were founded in different parts of Finland, and their products were advertised as being much cheaper than real coffee (Sipilä 32). During World War II, coffee roasteries began to manufacture substitutes instead of real coffee due to the strict rationing (Sipilä 61). Many people also made their own substitutes (Jaatinen 53).
Already during the late 18th century, due to the prohibition periods and high coffee prices, it became customary to use the ground coffee twice in order to make the most of the scarce coffee that households were able to buy (Ignatiew-Aukia and Manninen 28). Especially in the countryside, used grounds were often left in the bottom of the coffee pot, and some fresh grounds were added on top of them the next time coffee was being prepared. The ever-accumulating grounds were only thrown away when no more water could fit inside the pot. Records show that this practice was common still as late as the 1950s (Sipilä 29). However, it has since disappeared, presumably thanks to a higher standard of living, a desire for better coffee, and consumer education.
Nonetheless, some elderly Finns settle for lower-quality coffee even today: for instance, they might use less coffee grounds than would normally be required, and add some salt to the coffee in order to make it seem stronger. During the hard times of the war years, these people may have gotten so used to the scarcity of coffee that they still skimp on it.
Finnish Coffee Parties: a Female DomainBefore the late 19th century, the coffee culture of the Finnish gentlefolk differed greatly from that of common people. In the 18th and 19th centuries, smaller and bigger coffee parties were popular among gentlewomen (Ignatiew-Aukia and Manninen 31-32). Women were particularly fond of coffee for two reasons: it did not contain any alcohol, and coffee drinkers were considered to be sophisticated (Pulla 64).
The coffee parties were important social events where the hostess regaled her guests with coffee and a variety of cakes and confectioneries. The women socialized and played games all evening, with the elderly and the most prestigious women seated in the lounge and the young and the unmarried women sitting on benches that were arranged along the side of the walls and in other rooms. Even though these parties were called coffee parties, their main purpose was not just to drink coffee, but to meet friends and to hear the latest gossip (Ignatiew-Aukia and Manninen 30-31). However, the coffee was always expected to be of good quality: if it was not, the guests would make mean remarks about it. Nonetheless, especially in the late 19th century, many hostesses had to resort to ersatz coffee, as real coffee was very expensive (Pulla 74).
Another example of the close relationship between women and coffee are the women's organizations of the 19th and 20th centuries. The meetings of these organizations centered on coffee-drinking and knitting, but important projects relating to things like schooling and the workers' movement were also initiated and put into action by the women. In the 20th century, women from all social classes belonged to these organizations. The organizing of coffee parties became a showcase for many women, and records of these meetings show that many attempts were made to curb the competition over whoever served the most pastries and had the best silverware (Ignatiew-Aukia and Manninen 41-42).
As the 20th century advanced, the coffee cultures of the gentlefolk and the common people became more uniform, and also the peasantry started to have coffee parties to celebrate name days3 and other special days. Serving coffee became an integral part of weddings and funerals of all social classes (Ignatiew-Aukia and Manninen 41). Important guests were served first, and the coffee was brought to them on a tray or they were given their own table in a separate room (Boström et al. 93).
A certain etiquette was also expected from the guests. It was not appropriate to take more than three pieces of pastry or cookies onto one's plate, and guests were supposed to raise their coffee cups by the saucer not the cup handle when they were being served more coffee. Pouring coffee into the saucer, blowing on it or drinking it noisily were frowned upon. Cooling the coffee off with a spoon was acceptable, but not leaving the spoon into the cup (Jaatinen 93).
Reports from the late 18th century reveal that guests were served coffee several times a day already then (Voipio 19). The practices have not changed: serving coffee is still regarded as the most important act of hospitality in the 21st century (Saarinen 9), and not serving coffee to a guest may be taken as an insult, especially among older generations (Eihän).
From Homemade Roasts to Commercial Coffee RoasteriesEstablished in 1876, Gustav Paulig's wholesale business was one of the first in Finland to sell imported products like coffee, sugar and spices. At that time, there were no coffee roasteries in Finland, but people roasted the green coffee beans at home. Mr. Paulig was confident that, in the retail trade, green coffee would eventually be supplanted by roasted coffee, and therefore he decided to start up Finland's first commercial roastery in 1904 (Voipio 68-71). However, Mr. Paulig was not the first person to sell roasted coffee: there had been some coffee shops before Mr. Paulig that roasted the coffee before selling it, but they did not survive the depression caused by World War I (14 Sipilä).
Mr. Paulig's roastery business did not succeed immediately: people were skeptical about ready-roasted coffee for quite long, since they were accustomed to picking out their green coffee beans and assessing the beans' quality themselves (Voipio 72). Knowing how to roast coffee was considered every wife's basic skill. Furthermore, the beans were only sold in 5, 10 and 20 kg packages, which was a big amount of coffee for one household to buy (Boström et al. 117). Hence, it was not until the mid-1920s, when Mr. Paulig started to sell roasted coffee in smaller and more convenient ½ kg packages, that its sales really took off. At the same time, the sales of green coffee dwindled rapidly (Voipio 73). Salesmen also lured Finns to buy roasted coffee by appealing to their price awareness: as roasted coffee weighed less than the green beans, its price per kilogram was lower (Sipilä 24).
The selling of ground coffee began in the late 1920s (Sipilä 16). However, as coffee loses much of its aroma once it has been ground, people opted for non-ground coffee until the 1950s, when vacuum-packed coffee came to the market (Sipilä 53). As smaller roasteries could not afford to invest in vacuum packing machinery (Sipilä 53) and as the nature of the production became more technical, the number of coffee roasteries dropped from nine in the 1970s to three in the early 1990s (Voipio 146). Nowadays, however, several small specialty roasteries have been established, and the number has risen again to about a dozen (Kahvi). Mr. Paulig's decision to sell roasted coffee in small packages proved to be the right one, and Gustav Paulig Ltd is Finland's leading coffee company even today (Boström 117): its share of all the coffee roasted in Finland is approximately 60 per cent (Jaatinen 32). Another big Finnish coffee company is Meira, which roasts around 30 per cent of the coffee consumed in Finland (Meira). Some of the smaller companies include names like Robert's Coffee and Mokkamestarit (Kahvi).
The Paula Girl as a Promoter of Finnish CoffeeEven though coffee cannot be grown in Finland, Finns perceive it as a Finnish product. "Finnish coffee" is something Finns miss when they are abroad, since the kind of light-roast coffee most Finns drink differs a great deal from other types of coffee.
Advertisers have also intentionally wanted to associate coffee with Finnishness. Especially Paulig has aspired to do this with its famous icon, the Paula Girl. Appearing on the side of a coffee can for the first time in 1904 (Paulan), the Paula Girl wore a national costume, giving coffee an air of Finnishness (Jaatinen 34). In 1950, the first live Paula Girl was selected to promote Paulig's products; since then, 16 more Paula Girls have appeared on advertisements and toured around Finland, advising Finns on how to make good coffee. Especially the Paula Girls of the 1950s and 1960s were incredibly popular (Paulan), and people would travel a long way to see the Paula Girl when she came to a nearby town (Koskinen).
One the best-known Finnish brand icons (Paulan), the Paula Girl could be regarded as a Finnish institution in her own right. In any case, she has certainly reinforced the position of coffee as a Finnish institution.
Coffee-related Superstitions and BeliefsSimilarly to other European countries, coffee was first introduced to Finland as a medicine. Tax records from the 17th century reveal that coffee was first sold at pharmacies (Boström 8-9). People believed that the drink would cure headache and dizziness and that it would make blood thinner. Most Finnish scientists, however, backed up the revered Swedish scientist Carl von Linné's opinions on the negative effects of coffee, among which were insomnia, loss of appetite, faint-heartedness and hand tremors. They promoted coffee substitutes, claiming that the coffee plant was poisonous (Pulla 57-58).
Besides being used as a medicine, coffee has also been utilized as a means of fortune-telling. People used to believe that they could foretell the future from the froth that formed on their coffee's surface. If a bubble formed on the drink's surface after it had been poured into the cup, and if the bubble moved towards the drinker, it meant more money. If the bubble moved away from the drinker, it meant they would lose money (Jaatinen 59).
Fortune-telling has traditionally been practiced by the Romany population of Finland (Varokaa 3). In her book Povaustaito ["The Art of Foretelling"], published in the 1940s, a Romany lady named Aini Saga Lindberg gives careful instructions on how to tell a fortune from the coffee residue that has been left at the bottom of the coffee pot. She explains the meaning of a number of shapes formed by the residue: rectangular shapes, for instance, foretell distress (Lindberg 5), and bird figures mean success or sudden fortune (Lindberg 8). However, the habit of telling one's fortune from coffee residue has not persisted, as nowadays almost all Finns drink filter coffee.
Coffee: Undisputedly a Finnish InstitutionSince its introduction into Finland, coffee has been a central part of the Finnish culture. From maintaining strict Lutheran working ethics to being an essential part of the most important events, coffee has gained an important role in the Finnish society.
The fact that coffee has been scarce until just a few decades ago may explain its current popularity: it has often been the forbidden fruit that Finns have craved, and its allure has remained even today in times of plenty, making Finns the biggest coffee enthusiast in the world.
Many coffee-related customs persist in Finland: serving coffee to guests is still regarded as the most important way of expressing hospitality, and therefore coffee is served at every occasion. On the other hand, the Finnish coffee culture is gradually changing: new coffee trends are being introduced to Finns by a growing number of internationally influenced cafés, and the younger generations are open to these influences. Nonetheless, Finnish tastes are still far from changing, and the majority of the people still prefer traditional Finnish light roast coffees to darker roasts.
Coffee has persisted for more than three centuries as the Finnish people's favorite drink. With the average coffee consumption of 12 kilograms per capita yearly, Finns are among the biggest coffee consumers worldwide. Finland is also the only country where coffee breaks are statutory, which shows that Finns are prepared to guard their right to a cup of coffee any time. Moreover, Finns now perceive coffee as a Finnish product, as the Paula Girl has given it an air of Finnishness. Due to all these factors, coffee can undisputedly be called a Finnish institution.
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