A recipe for human closeness
“Vill du fika?” is a sentence that in Sweden contains more than a simple invitation to a coffee break together. Swedish Fika is about human interaction, social relationships and sweet cinnamon rolls. Over the black coffee made from dark roasted beans, contracts are negotiated, long-term friendships are cultivated and the singles pool is fished for a partner for life.
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From medicine to a popular drink
A small entry in Gothenburg’s customs papers marks the beginning of the passionate love affair between the Swedish people and the previously unknown coffee. Only half a kilogram reached the customs post in 1685 and two years later only pharmacies sold the expensive beans as medicine.
Only when King Charles XII. brought a coffee machine with him from his travels to Turkey and satisfied his consumption of three liters per day with daily coffee deliveries, the drink broke through. Many Swedes followed his example and drank so much of the modern drink in public coffee houses that the distilleries saw their profits threatened and obtained four bans on the caffeinated drink.
Today, such a ban is unthinkable in the country that ranks sixth in the world in terms of coffee consumption. A Swede brews an average of 8.2 kilograms of coffee a year in 3.5 cups a day, almost half of which together with his colleagues at work.
An office without a coffee machine and seats for the Swedish Fika, THE coffee break for talking and relaxing, is sacrilege in Sweden. The focus at the Swedish Fika is clearly on taking a break, slowing down the day and communicating with other people.
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Swedish fika is more than a coffee break
Equating a Swedish fika with a American coffee break is like calling an aromatic praline a food. Many Swedes therefore prefer to leave the meaningful word fika untranslated. They are right, because the Swedish fika is a social phenomenon, a socially accepted permission to slow down the day for a short time in order to spend time with one’s fellow human beings.
Swedish residents spend an average of 52 minutes a day drinking coffee in society. From 10 a.m., you can enjoy the hot drink together with bosses and colleagues at the morning coffee. In the afternoon, meet friends and family in cafes for the second Fika. Plenty of time to listen to your coffee partner’s stories over steaming, black coffee and sweet pasta, and to talk about politics, the weather and current affairs.
Even today, many hosts stick to the tradition of offering seven different baked goods with coffee. Right at the top of the popularity scale are “Kanelbullar”, glazed cinnamon rolls sprinkled with sugar, “Chokladbollar”, chocolate balls rolled in desiccated coconut and “Dammsugare”, marzipan rolls with an inner workings of biscuits, butter and punch. As a fikabröt (coffee pastry), Swedes enjoy anything that sweetens the coffee drunk without milk.
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Boiled coffee rather than filter coffee
Anyone who experiences Swedish fika for the first time will perceive the aromatic scent long before serving. The majority of Swedes do without finely ground Bryggkaffe (filter coffee) because the water has little time to mix with the coffee. Instead, they prefer to prepare the traditional cocaffe (boiled coffee) directly in the coffee pot.
To do this, they add coarsely ground coffee powder to the boiling water, let it boil together and distribute the scent in the room before giving the coffee a few minutes to sink to the floor. Most of the coffee powder remains in the jug, with the exception of small residues that can later be used for reading coffee grounds.
Coffee for Swedish fikas is stronger than it is usually drunk in America. This is due to the long boil, the steeping time and the dark roasted coffee beans that are used in Sweden for preparation. In addition, the beans are less acidic than those used in European blends.
When it comes to drinking, the Swedes largely agree: it has to be black, milk doesn’t belong in it. In return, Swedish coffee drinkers value other coffee side dishes. Only the glass of water and seven different pastries complete a Swedish fika.
Curiosities about drinking Swedish coffee
Anyone who orders a cup of coffee in Sweden but only receives an empty coffee cup may look around in amazement. Often the eye falls on a sign saying “Påtår ingår”, refilling included. Easily accessible coffee pots are placed on hot plates for refilling, with which the guest can fill his cup at will.
Office Fika is similarly informal when the boss and colleagues come together in a relaxed atmosphere. A happy chat gives you the opportunity to take a break from work. A break from which the working atmosphere and productivity benefit equally.
The lightness of a Swedish fika is reflected in the etymology of the word. In the 19th century kaffi, the Swedish word for coffee, became fika by swapping syllables. This made-up word was easy to pronounce in the vowel-rich Swedish, which probably accelerated its entry into Swedish vocabulary.
Conclusion: a Swedish fika
A Swedish fika is perfect when the aromatic scent of black coffee meets sweet pastries and coffee lovers take plenty of time for stimulating conversation.