We all dream of spending time in a nice coffee house with a warm atmosphere only made cozier by some lit candles on the sturdy wooden tables. We're sitting back, enjoying the warm spring sun pouring in from the large windows. We can hear the chatter of happy people around us and smell the freshly baked pastries and delicious coffee. But wait, that's not a dream, that's fika!
Fika, the basics
Fika is one of those Swedish words that are more a feeling than a thing and that are better not translated for the fear of losing their essence. The simpler translations lean towards "to have coffee" or "coffee break". My favorite one also conveys a mood:
The Nordic way of life is all about living a balanced, meaningful life and "making time" resonates a lot with me. It's a very difficult thing to do these days, but combining coffee, pastries and friends should make it an attractive and attainable proposition!
Fika is up there with the easiest words of the Swedish language, just after tack and hej. Up until the end of the 19th century coffee was called kaffi in Sweden and the word fika likely evolved from inverting the syllables. Today you'll find kaffe up on the boards of every coffee shop, which is actually very close to the French word café. You will have guess that coffee is the easiest thing for me to order when in Sweden. Even kaffe latte is really not a stretch!
An essential part of Swedish life
In Sweden, fika is a ritual and is even described by some swedes as an institution. An essential part of Swedish daily life, it's more than just a coffee break, it's an occasion to be social over coffee.
Fika is about appreciating the moment. Unlike in North America where coffee is often regarded as something you drink to wake up or that you pick up on your way to work, coffee in Sweden is appreciated on a whole different level. It's taken very seriously and is a destination, not just a drive through window that dispenses some kind of magical elixir against drowsiness. It's something that you appreciate and that people gather around, not something you drink on the way but something you make time for.
The cafe culture is expending all around the world and more and more people are embarking on this journey towards a better and more balanced life. While other countries may not call it a fika, the underlying idea is fairly similar: "Lets meet for coffee, friends!"
With more and more small cafes popping up in major and not so major cities, Canada is catching up quickly. According to recent studies by the International Coffee Organization, Canada ranked 10th in the coffee consuming nations at 6.5 kg per capita, while Sweden stood in 6th place with 8.2 kg per capita behind the Netherlands and the other Nordic countries. Finnish people took the first place with a massive 12.2 kg per person per year.
Fika at work
Fika at work is a good way to take a break, recharge and get to know your co-workers better. It helps clear the mind and get a fresh perspective on your work. In many companies, this ritual is observed twice a day and it would be impolite not to take part. In some businesses it's actually mandatory. I would say you've achieved a proper work-life balance when not showing up for the break is rude!
Fika to connect
While most people outside of Sweden will liken fika to a coffee break and therefore something that you do at work, it is also very common to have fika with friends or family on the weekend or in the evening. There is even a word for fika in the evening: kvällsfika.
It is a very common thing to meet up with friends at a coffee house and to spend an hour or more discussing over a coffee and a snack. Fika is an opportunity to meet up with friends and have meaningful conversations in a comfortable environment. The warm coffee and cozy ambiance make these moments a welcomed pause in today's busy lives.
While fika is an excellent way to connect with friends, it can also be a good way to connect with yourself. Some people prefer to fika alone, enjoying some quiet time to organize their thoughts and find inspiration. In a busy coffeeshop it can also be quite entertaining to people-watch or to simply catch up with your favorite magazine while absorbing the positive vibe from the chit chat around you.
Seven kinds of cakes
A fika would not be complete without a little something to eat, be it savoury or sweet, although sweet is more traditional. The Swedes have many days dedicated to sweets and special foods every year, I've found over a dozen so far and I think this topic alone would deserve a little bit more research and its own blog post. Here are a few of them: våffledagen (waffle day), chokladbollens dag (chocolate balls day) and kanelbullens dag (cinamon rolls day).
In the early days of fika, a proper hostess would serve seven types of cookies or cakes with the coffee. Why seven? I suppose it was the lagom thing to do. Offering only six was regarded as being cheap while offering eight would be interpreted as showing off. A very popular cookbook published in 1945 Sjur sorters kakor which translates to Seven kinds of cakes put that custom to paper, providing the perfect hostess with over 300 cookies, cakes and pastries recipes to choose from. In modern times, one small pastry from the local coffee shop is perfectly acceptable and much better for the waistline, especially when you fika once or twice daily.
Wherever you live, try to bring a little fika into your life. If your workplace is too hectic or too rigid, fika with friends in the evening or on the weekend. If there are no cosy cafes around where you live, just invite them over, light a few candles and brew your best cappucino. Even if you only serve one pastry, they'll forgive you as it's the being together part that is the most important.
Have personal experiences surrounding fika? We'd love to hear about them below!