Noth­ing gets be­tween Swedes and their ‘fika’


The French have their wine, the Bri­tish have their tea. For Swedes, it’s all about “fika,” the de rigueur daily cof­fee break with a sweet nib­ble that is a so­cial in­sti­tu­tion.

Swe­den’s al­most 10 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants ac­count for 1 per­cent of the world’s cof­fee con­sump­tion, mak­ing it the sec­ond-big­gest con­sumer be­hind Fin­land.

Cof­fee is drunk with break­fast and af­ter meals, but it is the mid-morn­ing and mid-af­ter­noon cof­fee breaks — “fika” — that are al­most sacro­sanct, fac­tored into ev­ery­one’s daily sched­ules whether they’re at work, home, run­ning er­rands in town or tak­ing a hike in the out­doors.

“Fika,” pro­nounced fee-ka, is both a noun and verb, and des­ig­nates a mo­ment, usu­ally planned in ad­vance, alone or with friends or co­work­ers, to sa­vor a cup of cof­fee or tea or even juice and eat some­thing sweet, usu­ally a cin­na­mon bun, pas­try, cake or even a light sand­wich.

For Swedes, the art of the Swedish “fika” in no way com­pares to a few min­utes at the of­fice water­cooler, or meet­ing up with a friend for an espresso in a French cafe. In Swe­den, peo­ple stop what they’re do­ing to have a “fika” at least once a day, some­times twice.

“Life with­out fika is un­think­able,” ac­cord­ing to the book “Fika: The Art of the Swedish Cof­fee Break” writ­ten by Swedes Anna Brones and Jo­hanna Kind­vall and pub­lished in the U.S. in April.

“Fika is also the art of tak­ing one’s time,” Brones tells AFP, ex­plain­ing that it’s more than just cof­fee and a slice of cake: it’s about mak­ing a com­mit­ment to slow down and take a break from the rest of the day’s plans and rou­tines.

“In the United States for ex­am­ple, you get your cof­fee to go. In Swe­den, you sit down, you en­joy the mo­ment, and that’s what peo­ple want to do more and more.”

Im­proves Ef­fi­ciency

Swedes have been drink­ing cof­fee since 1685, and it be­came a com­mon and wide­spread drink in the 1800s. But it is not known when the tra­di­tion of hav­ing a daily fika be­gan.

The use of the slang word “fika” first ap­peared in 1913, and is be­lieved to be an in­ver­sion of the two syl­la­bles in the Swedish word for cof­fee, “kaffe.”

The word also has many de­riv­a­tives: a “fik” is a cafe where you have your fika; “fikarum” is the room at a work­place where staff meet for cof­fee; “fi- ka­sugen” means to crave a fika, “fika­paus” is to take a break from what­ever you’re do­ing to have a “fika.”

“Fika” is also a nat­u­ral part of the day in the work­place — and stop­ping work to sit down for a mug of java and a chat with col­leagues is not con­sid­ered goof­ing off from one’s du­ties.

“Stud­ies show that peo­ple who take a break from their work do not do less. It’s ac­tu­ally the op­po­site,” says Viveka Adel­sward, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus in com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Swe­den’s Linkop­ing Uni­ver­sity.

“Ef­fi­ciency at work can ben­e­fit from th­ese kinds of get-to­geth­ers.”

At the Stock­holm of­fices of the Swedish hand­ball fed­er­a­tion, em­ploy­ees meet up in the kitchen twice a day for 15 min­utes, at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., to have cof­fee and a pas­try.

“It gives us a chance to talk about what we’re do­ing. Ideas take shape and that way we can avoid a lot of meet­ings,” says the head of the fed­er­a­tion Chris­ter The­lin.

“By law you’re en­ti­tled to a fiveminute break per hour worked. For the fika we com­pile th­ese five min­utes into one 15-minute break, we sat­isfy our caf­feine crav­ing, and we talk about ev­ery­thing: a lot about work, but also cur­rent af­fairs and a bit of per­sonal stuff too,” adds em­ployee

Lasse Tjern­berg.

‘Trendy right now’

The prac­tice never ceases to amaze for­eign­ers.

“It throws peo­ple off who come here from other cul­tures. It arouses their cu­rios­ity and they don’t know what to make of it,” says Ser­gio Guimaraes of the Swedish In­sti­tute which pro­motes the coun­try abroad.

And “fika” is start­ing to grow pop­u­lar­ity out­side Swe­den.

“Swe­den is very trendy right now, and since ‘fika’ is a Swedish tra­di­tion that makes it even more cool,” said Brones, co-au­thor of the new book ded­i­cated to “fika.”

Ev­i­dence can be found in the nu­mer­ous epony­mous cafes of­fer­ing Swedish “fika” that have popped up around the world in re­cent years, in­clud­ing Lon­don, New York, Toronto, Australia and Sin­ga­pore.

“There is a grow­ing in­ter­est in Swedish food which is linked to Swedish au­then­tic­ity and na­ture,” Guimaraes says.

In ad­di­tion, “sweets have a spe­cial stand­ing in Swe­den. It’s one of the few coun­tries in the world that has spe­cial days ded­i­cated to a spe­cific cake or a pas­try, from Waf­fle Day to Cin­na­mon Bun Day.”



Work­ers at the Swedish Hand­ball Fed­er­a­tion (SHF) meet for a tra­di­tional “fika,” a Swedish type of cof­fee break in Stock­holm, Swe­den on May 27.

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