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Estonia or Finland: which is best for coffee? Maybe it’s Sweden

‘Forget about Helsinki, go to Stockholm instead!’ Estonian-born Kristi the Head Concierge implored when a septuagenarian-looking, New York-sounding guest enquired about ferry trips.

Estonia cruise shipI overheard this while sitting at the lobby computer in the Hotel Telegraaf in Tallinn’s UNESCO-listed Old Town. I don’t usually eavesdrop on conversations, but period-dressed touts from the medieval-style restaurant Olde Hansa had cornered me after straying from their positions on Vana turg to Vene street, 150 metres away, evidently eager to entice freshly-landed tourists carrying bright blue ‘Princess Cruises’ bags.

The candle-lit venue is a two-decade-old, three-storey institution in these parts, helping to transport visitors back to the 15th century, where authentically-researched game dishes (like wild boar) feature on the feather-quill-looking menu instead of potatoes or tomatoes (which were still to travel from the New World to the Old). Description of dishes took longer than their consumption, much like in Michelin-starred restaurants, so it’s no surprise that the bill will be the largest chunk of my salary after the Student Loan Company and Costa Coffee.

Patronising a place would buy you a pass-of-sorts from constant courting, something I learnt from my late father when holidaying in Turkey, but these over-enthusiastic souls didn’t accept a no, non, nein or nyet for an answer. Internet back home is tortuously slow, as fast as an arthritic turtle at times, but here – in what’s referred to as eEstonia given its electronic economy – I swiftly ticked off items on my to-do list. So, with archaic vocabulary still audible from the ancient cobblestones, I walked to the reception desk where the American with the untamed hair of a post-doctoral fellow in Quantum Mechanics stood with a cup and saucer.

‘I’d go to Finland’, I whispered in his ear, ‘if only for the Swedish coffee.’ ‘Get outta here!’ he shot back, mid-sip, his head tilting like a dog, something behavioural experts believe illustrates curiosity. ‘Yep’, I reaffirmed: ‘I flew into Estonia, ferried it to Finland and walked an hour for a bean roasted in Sweden.’ Brooklyn-based Tommy said he’d ‘tawwk’ to his wife because the coffee-craving consumer was tired of ‘trashy mawning cawfee’. Underwhelmed by Maiasmokk and Kehrwieder coffeehouses in what travel presenter Michael Palin describes as the ‘unhurried’ Old Town, I hurried across the Gulf of Finland only to be similarly underwhelmed by Kaffa Roastery before a mouth-watering, silky-smooth chocolatey-honey cappuccino, something my late grandmother would’ve devoured, in the quirky yet quaint Johan & Nyström.

I thought it best, however, to give Tommy the unfiltered truth. ‘The boutique café was as busy as a beehive’, I cautioned, ‘so it’s just as well baristas aren’t overly concerned with creating Cézanne-worthy latte art otherwise a couple would’ve missed their in-house coffee seminar!’ I noticed a reference to ‘Capitalism’ on his T-shirt as he leaned on the desk, chuckling, and felt it fitting to add Johan & Nyström aim to redress the power imbalance that exists within traditional supply chains.

This last sentence caused Tommy to look at his (gold) watch, with a pause long enough to indicate he could only read digital, but which suggested I’d at best bored him or at worst caused offence. Did I miss, for instance, the words ‘Three Cheers For’ on his T-shirt? Or was the watch a retirement gift from, say, Merrill Lynch and now I sounded (arguably to a banker’s ears) as though I wanted to rebuild the Berlin Wall? My momentary concern was misplaced, thankfully, since Tommy merely wished to arrange a time for a tête-à-tête about my entering J&N for a simple pick-me-up and exiting, well, picked up by their methods of sourcing and sustainability which, we both agreed, were grounds for celebration.

‘See for yourself in the meantime’, I summoned, as I searched for the direct trade roaster on his MacBook. Pictures of the red-brick, wooden-beamed harbourside warehouse popped up as I noticed staff from Olde Hansa escort, Secret-Service-like, the aforesaid party towards the Town Hall. This, together with the re-engagement of large-framed, gap-toothed Kristi who was looking at me as though I was ticketing Formula 1 cars for speeding in the Grand Prix, was my cue to depart. ‘Fahgettaboudit’, he said waving his hand like the broken arm of a windmill, as I left for St. Nicholas’ Orthodox Church to light candles – like in Venice, Krakow and Reykjavik – in memory of recently departed relatives whom I’d never forget.

Tallin Cathedral, Olce city

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