What Is Fika? An Introduction to the Swedish Coffee Break

published May 25, 2015
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Ever hear mention of fika? Maybe you’ve heard of the cafe chain in New York City, or maybe you’ve heard a Swedish friend make a fika reference, or maybe you once watched that silly Gevalia video. But when it comes to fika, do you really know what it is?

Three years ago my friend Johanna Kindvall and I set out to write a book on the topic of fika, the almighty Swedish coffee break. For Swedes, fika is nothing revolutionary; it’s simply part of everyday life. But talk to any Swede who has moved abroad, or anyone who has visited Sweden, and they’ll tell you all about how wonderful fika is and how you should be doing more of it.

(Image credit: Anna Brones)

I am definitely in that camp. Why? Because fika isn’t just a coffee break; it’s a moment to slow down and appreciate the good things in life. As we write in Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, “Functioning as both a verb and a noun, the concept of fika is simple. It is the moment that you take a break, often with a cup of coffee, but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it. You can do it alone, you can do it with friends. You can do it at home, in a park or at work. But the essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break: that’s what fika is all about.”

(Image credit: Anna Brones)

If there is one thing that distinguishes the Swedish coffee break — and the reason people fall in love with it — from our own coffee-consuming traditions in the United States, it’s this: Fika is about slowing down. Coffee represents a true break, a moment to sit and contemplate on your own, or to gather with friends. In our own culture, where coffee has come to be more about grabbing a 16-ounce-grande-whatever, in a paper cup to go, coffee is more about fueling up and going fast. In Sweden coffee is something to look forward to, a moment where everything else stops and you savor the moment. In today’s modern world we crave a little bit of that; we want an excuse to slow down.

Of course, there are a variety of classic Swedish recipes that are typical for fika, but here’s the good news: There’s no fika police. As long as you are brewing a good cup of coffee (or tea as the case may be), eating something good with it, and taking some time to take a break and enjoy the moment, you’re having a fika.

(Image credit: Anna Brones)

In Sweden, fika is incorporated into everyday life in many different ways. At any Swedish office, there is always a fika break, both in the morning and in the afternoon. Fika is an excuse for friends to meet up at a cafe and spend some time together. If you take a train somewhere, you pack a thermos of coffee and a baked good, and if you don’t have time, you can be sure that there is a fika special — a cup of coffee and a sweet bun — on board in the dining car. Fika isn’t just a coffee break, it’s a lifestyle, and one that we could all probably use a little more of in our lives.

(Image credit: Anna Brones)

Fika is, after all, an embrace of slow life, particularly if you’re taking the time to make the classic fika treats yourself. This week we’re going to be taking a look at this tradition of the Swedish coffee break, and how you can incorporate it into your everyday life. So make some coffee, and sit down to learn about the art of fika.

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