Fika: the Swedish coffee break

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Fika stands for pure Swedish culture and Swedish lifestyle and has become a trend that has spilled over to many other countries. Even if good coffee makes you think of espresso, cappuccino and latte macchiato from Italy or the French version with a croissant, it’s the Swedish cosiness that turns a simple coffee drink into something special. If you are in Sweden, you should definitely have a proper fika in one of the many cosy cafés and patisseries.

Word origin

The word fika is thought to be an inversion of the word “kaffi“, the old Swedish version of the word kaffe for coffee. If someone asks you “Vill du fika?”, it is an invitation to take a coffee break together.

The fact that people in Sweden prefer to meet up for a coffee rather than a beer is probably also due to the fact that alcohol is still quite expensive here and was even completely banned at times. On Sundays, people traditionally came together after church to drink coffee. In the 19th century, numerous cafés and patisseries spread throughout Sweden. Fika is still a traditional ritual, which Ikea has now successfully exported.

A shared coffee party

The Swedes love snacking and like to take their time for it. That’s why the coffee break in Sweden is a social custom for which another activity is interrupted. It’s about sitting down in peace and quiet and having a coffee, whether alone or together, in a café or at home. A quick coffee to go is therefore rather unusual for Swedes. Instead, there is a more relaxed version of the typical “coffee party”.

Fika Swedish café
Where better to spend a fika than in a Swedish café?

Fika is particularly well established in everyday working life in Sweden. It’s a relaxed, less formal meeting with work colleagues where small talk is the order of the day. But even though fika has a lot to do with peace, quiet and cosiness, some Swedes report that they are often much more productive and creative during the fika break than in scheduled meetings. Some employers even include the right to fika in their employees’ employment contracts. This guarantees a better working atmosphere.

Swedish coffee

Swedes don’t just love coffee because of the fika. After Finland and the Netherlands, the Swedes are the world’s third largest coffee consumers. In order to stay awake during the darker months of the year, it can be a few more cups a day. Swedes prefer high-quality filter coffee and strong, dark roasts with a strong flavour. That’s why Swedish coffee is usually a little stronger than we are used to.

Filter coffee for Fika
A strong filter coffee is part of the fika.

However, a fika does not directly oblige you to drink coffee! Alternatively, you can choose tea, hot chocolate, lemonade or other drinks and enjoy them during the break. A Swedish phenomenon that we may recognise from our visit to the Ikea restaurant is påtår, which means a free refill or topping up of the drink, which means that the fika can even last longer.

Fikabröd: Swedish pastries & cakes

Swedish Kanelbulle with coffee
The Swedes love their “bulle” with their coffee.

Would you like something with your coffee? Swedish pastries, or fikabröd, such as the classic cinnamon buns (Kanelbullar in Swedish) or cardamom buns(Kardemummabulle) sweeten every fika.

However, cakes and tarts are traditionally served during the Swedish coffee break as well. These include kladdkaka, which means “sticky cake” and refers to an underbaked and therefore soft chocolate cake, similar to a brownie. Particularly traditional is the dome cake Prinsesstårta, covered in greenish-coloured marzipan. The biscuit dough underneath is interspersed with layers of vanilla cream and raspberry jam.

As there is no Midsommar in Sweden without strawberries, people like to eat strawberry cake(Jordgubbstårta) for fika in summer. Biscuits, waffles and pancakes are also very popular – they even have their own public holidays in Sweden. At Christmas time you can find gingerbread and saffron biscuits everywhere – so a fika is always worthwhile.

The coffee break usually takes place between meals, but Swedish cafés offer savoury dishes such as sandwiches and salads for a fika as well. The Swedes excuse the many sugary fikabröd as a way of bridging the long winter. If you don’t want to eat during fika, you can of course just stick to coffee.

Fika in your own home

Fancy a cosy fika but don’t have time to travel to Sweden right now? No problem, because you can bring that Swedish break feeling home.

Fika recipes for baking Swedish delicacies can be found in numerous baking books and the right utensils, such as crockery, filter machines or coffee makers in a beautiful Scandinavian design, can be bought online. The only thing missing is the right bean – but as we all know, that’s a matter of taste.

If you want to feel a little more like you’re in a Swedish café with a coffee in your hand, you can also pick up a dictionary and learn a little Swedish for coffee house diners so that nothing can go wrong on the spot.

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