Coffee, cake, and quiet time—what else is there?


From hygge, gezellig, and lagom to the perfect-for-a-pandemic lifestyle trend, friluftsliv, Scandinavian culture has refined the art of savoring cozy, relaxed, and balanced living.

Something else Scandinavians—specifically the Swedes—have perfected is the art of the coffee break. Meet fika, the Swedish tradition that involves setting aside quality downtime for drinking coffee slowly. (It often also includes a kanelbulle, the deliciously sweet Swedish cinnamon bun, and bonding with good company.) Fika is tied to the appreciation of coffee and pastries, yes, but it’s really meant to be a way to hit the pause button on work and life stress and just enjoy the moment.

Think of fika as the antithesis of that triple espresso shot you chugged in the car while running errands last weekend. It’s an artfully slow, simple, and often spontaneous tradition that people of all ages can enjoy alone or alongside loved ones. It can happen inside a café, outside in nature, or in the comfort of your own home (how very hygge). Fika is actually so well-established in Swedish culture that it can be used as a noun or a verb; “let’s go for a fika” is often overhead between long-lost friends or exchanged by coworkers in the office. Thanks to its therapeutic, restorative affects, many Swedish companies have actually established fika breaks in their employee’s contracts.

Needless to say, coffee is the lifeblood of Sweden. The average citizen drinks nearly four cups a day, which ranks the nation’s coffee consumption as the third highest in the world (Finland and Norway are the only two ahead of it). But rather than a source of caffeine, it is a ritual integral to Swedish quality of life, hospitality, and socializing.

Fika did start as just the coffee itself, though, which was introduced in Sweden in the 18th century. In the beginning, coffee was only available those who could afford it until the mid- to late 19th century. But over the years, coffee drinking became wildly popular with the general population of Sweden, and the baked treats—commonly known as fikabröd (fika bread)—became just as important to fika, as did the social aspect of the tradition. Once patisseries had arrived in Sweden in the 19th century, the ritual was cemented as a coffee-and-cake-custom enjoyed with friends.

So, how does one adopt the ceremonial fika tradition? To be super authentic, brew a classic Swedish cup of coffee in a drip machine and serve it alongside small sugar cookies or buns flavored with either cinnamon or cardamom. But adding rules and restrictions defeats the purpose of fika. All you really need to do is give yourself downtime during the day. Add a hot cup of coffee, a little something sweet, and catch up with a loved one—a socially distant stroll or phone call will both suffice. You can go for a fika at any and every time of day, as fika is meant to be "observed" frequently.

Don’t have to ask us twice. After all, taking work breaks, practicing self-care, and connecting with loved ones is more important than ever right now (as are caffeine and pastries). Anyone up for a Zoom fika?