A coffee shop of some sort seems to dot nearly every American corner, but the coffee chains that have colonized America would be exceptionally jubilant to have consumers as committed as Finnish coffee drinkers. For all the American coffee houses and chains celebrating the arrival of coffee culture in the New World, Finland can claim a real coffee culture with sustained and patterned if not ritualized consumption. From a purely economic impact the sway of coffee consumption in Finland must be tremendous: The average Finn reportedly drinks four or five cups each day, consuming roughly 12 kilograms a year, a quantity rivaled only by the neighboring Norwegians and other northern European neighbors like Iceland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden (in comparison, Americans consume about 4.2 kilograms a year and stand at 25th place in the world list per capita). Coffee breaks are written into some Finnish collective labor agreements, but even if they were not legislated Finns appear to go for coffee breaks on a quite regular basis.
The reason Finns actually congregate for so much coffee is only a question for an outsider, as coffee breaks are simply assumed to make good sense and remain mostly unaddressed. Americans meet in coffee shops, but there tends to always be some underlying functional reason or thin excuse, such as an informal meeting or a discussion about some workplace issue that can for various reasons be more productive away from an office or workplace. Finns, in contrast, simply wander off for random conversations over coffee, enjoying genuine coffee breaks in the flow of a workday.
There are of course social and cultural implications to sharing food and drink, and in an academic department they may have more significance than is immediately apparent. The centrally located little coffee counter here in my corner of the University of Oulu is in a prominent place along the flow of traffic, so sitting in this spot drinking coffee means most colleagues will eventually pass by and be introduced. Since most of the folks working on archaeological research here wander off for coffee breaks in unison, I also know vastly more about their research than I might know about many of my own American colleagues’ research. Every institution anywhere has its own local culture and personality, but it seems pretty clear that the embrace of coffee culture here in Oulu is not unique in Finland. While it means I am absolutely wired all day, it also has some interesting social and scholarly implications, so maybe I can lobby for compulsory coffee breaks when I return the states.