The coffee that is so intertwined in our daily lives has been around since around A.D. 1000. It was very well celebrated by the time it spread through the Arab world in the 15th century as it was considered a great non-alcoholic beverage which people could enjoy, and soon coffeehouses became prime meeting spots for friends and family. The same attitude was taken by the Europeans when coffee and coffeehouses established themselves on the continent during the 18th century.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and it is hard to determine if coffee houses continue to be used in the same way. A quick Google search will show conflicted opinions regarding coffee houses. Some argue that after centuries they still are used as a social sphere as well as a place where people can have some private time to work or relax, while others claim that chain coffee houses have ruined the original character and only accommodate those looking for coffee on the go. However, there is somewhere where the coffee house as a social institution is still alive: in Sweden with the help of its popular Swedish Fika.
What is a fika?
A simple explanation of a fika would describe it as a coffee break, but it is so much more that that. A fika is actually more of a social institution and involves having a break with one’s colleagues, family, friends or a date, so basically anyone within your social sphere. It is an important part of Swedish culture and most people play a part in it. Yes, the act of drinking coffee is what brings people together, but that is more of an excuse to meet rather than a reason. What the fika is really about is spending quality time with people.
How to fika
A fika can occur at anytime of the day, and even more than once throughout the same day. There is only one crucial factor; there must be sweets to accompany the coffee. Non-coffee drinkers can still enjoy the social aspects and instead indulge in:
Kladdkaka (Swedish cake similar to a brownie)
Mandeltårta (Swedish almond cake)
Prinsesstårta (a traditional Swedish layer cake also known as a ‘Princess cake’)
Chokladbollar (a chocolate ball which is a typical fridge cake in Sweden)
Dammsugare (cylinder shaped cake made out or marzipan, chocolate, cookie crumbs, punch liqueur, butter and cocoa powder)
Havreflarn (oatmeal crisp cookies)
Drömmar (a traditional Swedish cake)
Fika in Working Life
The fika is also widely recognised as part of the working day. In Sweden, it is actually built into some employment contracts. Besides being a good opportunity to catch up and enjoy time with friends and family, the fika can also be used to prepare for upcoming meetings with colleagues or resolve misunderstandings. Bring some delicious home baked goods to a fika and it is claimed that any friction with a workmate will soon be resolved. Discussing some aspects of work on a common and informal setting is a great way to discuss ideas and comes to conclusions, and overall, it contributes to a better working environment.
Who would have thought grabbing a coffee could be appealing? We are part of the school of thought that having a daily fika is an approach we should all adopt. It is a fact of life that studying or work sometimes comes hand in hand with pressure, so it is not a bad idea to set aside some quality time with friends, family or colleagues as a stress reliever. The inclusion of some coffee and tasty treats is an added bonue. So the question now is, are you going to keep historic coffeeshop traditions alive and start to fika?
(Header: Swedish Fika at Soho Square. Photo by Magnus D via FlickrCC.)