As the days grow shorter and summer fades away into autumn, a warm cup of coffee seems to bring an extra special bit of enjoyment. I have never been much of a coffee connoisseur, but I gained a whole new appreciation for the roasted black bean on a recent trip to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.
Coffee is serious business in Scandinavia, where the practice of making, serving and drinking coffee is somewhat of an art form. In Sweden, the coffee culture is an important part of social life, and they call it fika.
What is fika?
Fika is the Swedish word that magically pertains to both the action and the experience of casually lingering over coffee and a pastry with friends. It is more than a coffee break; it is a cultural phenomenon. When you meet for fika, you are setting down your electronic devices and sitting down to conversation. You are engaging on a personal level with your companions, taking time to just be with them while enjoying a fine cup of coffee… or two!
Why is coffee so important?
Ever since the coffee bean sailed into Sweden, the people can’t get enough of it – as this awesome article from TrySwedish.com mentions:
Coffee is traditionally at the heart of the fika. When coffee arrived in Sweden in 1685, it quickly became so popular that it upset the rest of the import business. So much so that it was banned five times in Swedish history! Who knows, perhaps the term fika, which is a play on the Swedish word for coffee, served as a kind of code for those who took part in this once illegal activity. It is said that during the bans, Swedes were forced to drink their coffee secretly, out into the woods.
With futile bans and exorbitant taxes, coffee stirred up quite a sensation in Sweden for decades. Over time, the fanaticism and controversy faded into the integration of the black beverage into everyday life. Now, fika is deeply rooted in the way of the Swedes.
Sweden consistently ranks in the Top 3 of countries that consume the most coffee per capita. Norway and Denmark are also high on the lists, while Finland almost always wins the cake. Speaking of cake…
Would you like something sweet with your coffee?
Perhaps as a result of their undying love for coffee, the Swedes have a sweet tooth to match. The sweet bun (bulle) is the most popular and most traditional pastry for fika, maybe because it pairs perfectly with the pleasant bite of black coffee. And of all the sweet treats in the land, the Swedish cinnamon bun (kanelbulle) is the true Pastry King of fika.
With that said, some of us may consider backing the coconut-crusted Swedish chocolate balls (chokladbollar) in a coup d’état. Those little morsels are delicious!
Where can you experience fika in Stockholm?
My favorite coffee shop in Stockholm is the Johan & Nyström Konceptbutik, which is located in the Södermalm District. Not only are the guys at J&N friendly and extremely knowledgeable, they prepared coffee in ways I’ve never seen before! Have you ever heard of the chemex brewing method? Or seen coffee brewed with a siphon?
If you’re in the neighborhood, coffee aficionados may want to fika at the Drop Coffee Café, which has won numerous awards for their top quality roasts.
If black coffee isn’t your thing but you really want to fika, then try to snag a table at the popular Chokladkoppen in Gamla Stan, where you can sip on a decadent mochaccino or a creamy hot chocolate and observe the action taking place on the iconic Stortorget Square.
It’s time for fika!
While the term fika is strictly Swedish, the coffee culture is an integral part of daily life across all the Nordic countries. The entire region is simply crazy for coffee: for high-quality roasts, for innovative and measured methods, and for sweet moments in the neighborhood cafe.
Although I remain an amateur coffee master, I have come to deeply admire the fika culture – specifically its emphasis on relationships and relaxation. During my travels through Scandinavia, I was served more than coffee and sweet bites; I was given a wonderful lesson and reminder on how to live a rich life, one with friends and family by your side.
Hej allihopa! What do you think of this Swedish practice called fika? Have you incorporated fika into your life, perhaps unknowingly? Do you know what the chemex brewing method is? Did you think Swedish fish were the only sweet treats originating from this Scandinavian country? Would you like to know more about fika? If so, check out this great article by Nordic Coffee Culture.