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Life stories at the Coffee Sled

”At times, the sled is like a moving therapy point”

Sometimes being out in the elements brings its own surprises to the customers. When paying in cash and digging out warm coins from their pockets and putting them down on the table they immediately freeze onto it. Kuva: Otto Ponto

A sight of a sled stops people, creating a long queue right next to St. Mary’s Chapel, under the clock tower. A tall lanky man keeps busy by a sled attached to the back of a snowmobile. In the firepit, shaped like a half-cylinder, wood is happily crackling and burning away as coffee in moka pots heats up on a griddle above. Steffan Wunderink, known as the Campfire Barista, is kept busy during a normal winter’s afternoon.

– Many film it since being visual is a large part of all of this. And the coffee is good too, says Wunderink.

Wunderink started making high-quality coffee over an open fire in 2016. The newest Coffee Sled was built 4.5 years ago. It took some time in the beginning for people to understand what it was all about.

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– Once the Coffee Sled was up and running, people really started to realise what Campfire Barista means, notes Wunderink.

When Gordon Ramsey visited Steffan Wunderink and Riitta Raekallio-Wunderink in their Halipuu-forest while filming their program and tasted some of the campfire barista’s drinks, customer numbers exploded. Visibility has been good regardless, and international media has made articles about them making coffee over an open fire.

After a snowy night, temperatures drop to about -10 celsius during the afternoon. Weather affects Coffee Sled clientele and sales. Cold is not an issue, but with hard winds it is not worth trying to make anything over an open fire according to Wunderink.

– The best temperatures are between -12 and -22 celsius. That's when people really want something warming and the weather is in the perfect balance of not being too hot or cold.

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At its busiest, the griddle over the fire can host half a dozen moka pots of coffee getting ready to be served.

– At times, I do come up against a slight problem with space. There’s lots of moving pots around, says Wunderink as he laughs.

– Every so often, I need to chop some wood smaller to keep the fire just right.

So far, the Coffee Sled is only open during the winter, since the sled has not been modified for summer usage yet.

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– I have thought about the summer but have not come up with a proper solution for the sled yet.

Voices pipe up in multiple languages asking about the coffee-making process while people are queuing. Wunderink greets a passer-by in Dutch, recognising a fellow countryman from their one-word greeting.

As well as Dutch, Wunderink serves people in Finnish, English, German and Swedish.

– I also speak a little bit of French as well as some Slavic. I find that the Swedes are very surprised when being served in their native tongue, says the Campfire Barista.

An Irish lady, who has a cafe in a van in their homeland, and who is a colleague of Wunderink, turns up in the queue. Soon she receives her coffee and nods acceptingly.

Sometimes people will tell their whole life story at the Coffee Sled.

– At times, the sled is like a moving therapy point, Wunderink says.

Steffan Wunderink is a social counsellor by trade, and has worked in the restaurant industry as well as in tourism. Wunderink likes busy workdays.

– This is a really fun job. I love seeing people happily surprised.

As well as everything else, the Coffee Sled needs maintenance every so often. To get the sled ready for the day, coffee beans need to be ground beforehand. Riitta Reakallio-Wunderink makes home-made marshmallows and Steffan chops the firewood.

Unlike in a regular cafe, here there are no dishes to be done during the workday; they get done at home afterwards.

Another advantage of having an outdoors cafe according to Wunderink is that in the current state of the world it saves money due to not having any heating costs to the entrepreneur.

Wunderink ponders that he really would need a movable chopping block with him. Kuva: Otto Ponto
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