When people think of the Nordic coffee scene, they mostly refer to Norway, Sweden or Denmark. The latter, in particular, has managed to really have a huge impact on peoples’ understanding of what quality of life should be. Hygge, the Danish term for describing a quality of cosiness and conviviality, has experienced a growing interest from other parts of the world while in 2016, Denmark came out on top in the annual list of the world’s happiest countries.
Yet, one design heavyweight that sits at the eastern fringes of the European Union is not often mentioned when it comes to specialty coffee. That country is Finland. And this, I might say, is odd.
After all, Finland is renowned the world over for its architecture, timeless design, extremely high quality of life and for being the world’s biggest coffee consumer per capita, 12 kg to be precise. And if that’s not enough, it has also been leading the world’s happiest country list for 5 years running.
Granted, Finland does not have various World Barista Champions to boot unlike Denmark and Norway, nor does it have a concept like fika in Sweden but it does have a super vibrant coffee scene.
Last year, when I was in Helsinki for the Helsinki Coffee Week (Corona 2021 edition), I got a chance to discover some of the finest coffee spots the capital has to offer and what I found was a small but extremely passionate community of baristas, roasters and other professionals who want to raise their country’s international profile. One such roaster is Good Life who was probably one of the earliest pioneers to bring uncompromising specialty coffee to Finland and who was recently chosen as one of the three exciting roasters for our upcoming June 2022 Coffeevine box.
A few days ago, I caught up with co-founder Lauri Pipinen to get a better understanding of how Good Life originally started, what makes the company so unique and what it is currently working on.
THE COFFEEVINE (TC): “How did you get into specialty coffee in the first place, Lauri?”
Lauri Pipinen (LP): “So, I’m Lauri Pipinen and I founded Good Life Coffee in 2012.”
TC: “Oh, so it’s your ten-year anniversary!”
LP: “Yes, a month ago, actually. I originally studied a bachelor in hospitality and restaurant management and during that time, I sort of got interested in coffee. Later, in STEP school (a form of Finnish higher education) they were looking for a barista to join this roasting company and I applied and got the job.”
TC: “So, in those five years between you getting into coffee and starting Good Life Coffee, what were you doing mostly?”
LP: “The first company I worked for was based in a different city and I had to take the bus for one hour each way to get to work. It was not sustainable really. So, after a while, I applied for jobs in Helsinki and eventually started working at Kaffecentralen who was and still is the main importer of La Marzocco in Finland. Sadly, they also worked mainly with Italian robusta blends. I got to make some 100% robusta espresso shots but also got to play with proper machines, ha ha.”
“We had a very specific goal to roast only the kind of coffees that we really loved.”
TC: “It was kind of a trade off then, wasn’t it?”
LP: “Yes. It basically was. Shortly after, Kaffa Roastery (another Coffeevine partner) moved its roastery into a new space close to my work and I thought I should talk to the owner Svante [Hampf] and see if he has a job for me. I ended up being one of the first employees along with Kalle Freese who you might have heard of?”
TC: “Yep, I’ve heard of him.” (Kalle is a former Finnish barista champion and co-founder of Sudden Coffee).
LP: “I worked at Kaffa for three years in total before I decided to go it alone and open my first coffee shop, Good Life Coffee. In the beginning, it was just a coffee shop and we served only Finnish roasters although at home I also drank coffees from The Barn and Koppi and the like. Back then, Finnish roasters were not really on the same level and I started to wonder how it was that I was drinking better coffee at home than what I was serving in my shop. That’s when we started to also source coffees from other Nordic roasters to serve in our shop.”
TC: “Is that also when you hatched the idea of becoming a roaster yourself?”
LP: “In 2014, I decided to start a roasting company that would be able to offer the same or even better quality coffee than the other Nordic roasters that we were already sourcing coffees from. I didn’t want to roast coffee just for the sake of it and to serve everyone. We had a very specific goal to roast only the kind of coffees that we really loved.”
TC: “That’s interesting because when I was in Helsinki, I noticed that places like Kaffa also had dark-roasted coffees, specialty coffee but still dark roasted, because they said that they want to offer something to every kind of coffee drinker. And why not? It’s a matter of philosophy, right?”
LP: “True but we just went for it. A friend of mine made a documentary about me called ‘Milk under the counter’ because although I wasn’t as strict as the guy from The Barn (Ralf Rüller – great Coffeevine friend), we only served milk to customers if they asked for it. In the first year, we would say to our customers ‘this is a really nice Kenyan coffee. Maybe you should try it like this first.’ The reactions we got were really insane. One guy, who came into our shop back then and ended up becoming one of our most loyal customers, told me afterwards that he got the worst customer service because he ordered a coffee, the barista wouldn’t let him have milk with it. However, after trying the coffee, he said it was the best coffee he ever had and since then, he’s only ever had his coffee black.”
TC: “Maybe we have reached a stage now where the goal just has to be to get as many people as possible to drink better coffee even if that means that we might have to also accommodate those who like darker roasts and sugar in their coffees. I see this more and more with roasters like Fjord for example who started a separate brand [Field Coffee] to appeal precisely to the kind of crowd that would find Fjord’s own coffees too funky or too lightly-roasted. What is your take on that?”
LP: “Yeah, yeah. I would say that the producers don’t really give a shit about how people drink their coffees. It’s actually us roasters who are restricting the sales of their coffees. But at the same time, we want to give our customers a taste of who we are and what we stand for and at Good Life, we don’t do dark roasts or anything of that nature.”
TC: “Ok so walk be through the last few years of Good Life. What have been some of the biggest changes?”
LP: “For that we need to go back a bit further. I started the café by myself but the roastery, which was set up as a separate company, had a different founding team. We actually closed the café in 2019 before the pandemic. My friend, who I co-founded the roastery with, and I had some differences and he decided to leave the company and pursue other things. During the pandemic, things were a bit tough, to be honest. I had to reduce our team down somewhat and me and the other co-owner started doing more hours in the roastery to get us through. Until 2020 I was even involved in a bakery but then came a time when I had to make a decision and pick one business to really focus on and that was the roastery.”
TC: “Is that also when you began to look at Good Life with a new set of eyes? When you decided to redesign your packaging and give the brand a fresh pop of colour?”
LP: “Yes. The cardboard box we had before created a lot of extra waste and costs and as sales started to recover, we needed to find ways to become more cost efficient. When we redesigned the packaging, I thought back to the early days of Good Life and how back then most bags were white with a black label or brown with a white label. There was no colour. The box was done by one of our regular customers from the café days and the new bag was designed by a friend who has also made some posters for us in the past. I really wanted the bags to pop out.”
TC: “Well, they certainly do. They look great! Now, how do you select your coffees for the seasonal offerings? What are you looking for? Are you more of a classic person with washed and naturals or do you also like some experimental stuff? What’s your goal with the sourcing?”
LP: “Of course, the coffees have to taste great and clean and delicious. We would never buy a coffee that we don’t enjoy and we do like having a nice range. We usually have two espressos and five filter coffees at all times. One of the espressos is more, let’s say, easy going because we also have a lot of business customers who are less adventurous. Something that goes well with milk. And then the other is a bit more interesting, brighter. For filter, we always have a smooth, sweet coffee that is easy to drink and sells well in our lunch restaurants. And the rest can be whatever.”
TC: “I suppose this Rwandan coffee from Nkora would then fall into the more unusual category, right? It has a super juicy cup profile with lots of red berries and cherry. It’s absolutely delicious!”
LP: “I would say that this coffee falls more into the middle. We are in a good position compared to other Nordic countries when it comes to selling bright and clean coffees like that and they do very well. Light-roasted coffees are the main thing we drink here.
“I would say that the producers don’t really give a shit about how people drink their coffees.”
TC: “Since we’re already speaking about this lovely coffee that you’ll be roasting for our June box, what can you tell me about it that made you think ‘yes, this coffee is great’?”
LP: “I love the juiciness. It’s sweet and sour and goes really well with everything. It’s smooth and easy to drink. That’s a coffee I could have many cups of on a daily basis. It’s the first time we are worked with Algrano to source this coffee and I was really curious to see how it works. We did have to wait a very long time until we got the coffee, almost 9 months. We didn’t know if it would ever show up but I’m glad it came out super tasty. Now we’re considering if we will buy from the same producer again or try different ones. We like having a bit of continuity.”
TC: “Looking ahead now, what is on the cards for Good Life in the coming months?”
LP: “We are looking for a new spot to open, a café slash tasting room. At the moment, we have many places that sell our coffees, of course, but those places are. not called Good Life. I believe it would be good to have a place like that. And then we’re going to be at the World of Coffee in Milan as well. So, there’s plenty to look forward to.”
TC: “Thank you Lauri for taking the time to chat and I cannot wait to share this beauty with our customers in June.”
This coffee is part of our upcoming June 2022 Coffeevine box that also features other stunning coffees from Fjord and Cartwheel Coffee Roasters. To choose your ideal box and get in on the fun, just pop over to our shop now.