What Is Fika (How to Take a Proper Coffee Break Like the Swedes)

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Fika is a proper Swedish coffee break which is quite different from the American routine of driving through Starbucks on the way to a meeting or having a coffee at your desk. The concept is rooted in wellbeing and plays a key role in Swedish culture. Pronounced fee-ka, the word means “to have a break.” While the tradition of fika involves coffee and pastries, it’s also a philosophy and a way of being.

This daily ritual allows Swedes to slow down, connect with others and appreciate the good things in life. It provides people with something to look forward to as they savor the moment. In fact, fika is such an important part of society that Swedes use the word as a noun and a verb. For example, you could say, “Let’s fika together.”

History of Fika

Coffee consumption in Sweden ranks third in the world behind Finland and the Netherlands reports Statista. But this beverage hasn’t always been so popular to drink in public.

When coffee first arrived in Sweden in the late 1600s, it quickly became a popular beverage. But locals soon feared that coffee consumption would threaten the sale of beer and the livelihood of local breweries.

In 1746, a royal law levied a heavy tax on coffee and tea. An outright ban on coffee importation and consumption in 1756, plus four additional bans through 1822, further threatened the beverage’s place in Swedish society. Yet, Swedes continued to enjoy and share the drink in private.

Those secretive meetings formed the beginnings of the fika tradition. Participants would use the word “kaffi” instead of kaffe to describe their secretive shared cups. Rearrange the letters in kaffi to ffi-ka, and you get fika.

creamy espresso cup with homemade variety of cookies

How to Fika Properly

There really is no right or wrong way to fika as long as it includes a beverage, food, and friends.

While many Swedes drink coffee, tea and soda are also just fine. The food can vary, too, and include sweet, savory, store-bought, or handmade objects.

Popular Swedish baked goods include:

  • Chokladbollar (chocolate balls)
  • Fikabröd (fika bread)
  • Kanelbullar (cinnamon buns)
  • Kladdkaka (sticky chocolate cake)
  • Mazariner (almond tarts)
  • Rulltårta (jelly roll cake)
  • Småkakor (small cookies)
  • Vetebullar (cardamom buns)

You can enjoy fika in a work break room, at home, in a coffee shop, outdoors on a picnic, or under candlelight. Virtual fika is also common these days as we connect online with our loved ones, coworkers, and friends. And if you don’t have a companion, you can also enjoy the ritual alone.

The time of day depends on your schedule and personal preferences. Fika can occur in the morning, after lunch, or in the evening. Many Swedish companies even mandate daily breaks, called fikarast or fikapaus, to promote work-life balance. For example, an employer may use a morning fika to discuss the day’s plan or to brainstorm a new project but may reserve an afternoon break for personal relaxation and social connection.

Fika can last 10 minutes, several hours, or any amount of time depending on the situation. The amount of time you spend is less important than companionship, socializing, and relaxation.

There is no agenda, so the conversation can ramble from everyday topics, dive deep into philosophy, books or feelings, or tell plenty of jokes and share laughter.

An essential concept of fika is the value of focusing on the moment. Instead of gulping your beverage, rushing the conversation, or looking at your phone, be present with yourself, your drink, and your friends.

  • Settle into your chair and relax.
  • Feel the mug in your hand.
  • Savor the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
  • Taste the pearl sugar from the pastry on your tongue.
  • See your friend across the table.
  • Listen to the conversation and hear the spoken and unspoken words.
  • Truly enjoy the time set apart for fika.

There is no right or wrong way to do fika. What matters is that you turn off your phone, release responsibilities, and focus on connecting with others as you relax, slow down and appreciate the moment.

A group of friends having fun with smartphones

Benefits of Fika

Taking a daily break seems counterproductive. After all, you get more done when you’re busy, right? Actually, fika improves your productivity, satisfaction, health, and well-being. It’s a valuable investment in wellness.

For starters, fika promotes rest. Instead of rushing from task to task, you intentionally pause and take a break. You give your body, brain, and heart time to pause, which refreshes and rejuvenates you physically and mentally.

It also refreshes your brain. You’re more likely to think creatively and clearly when you take a break during the day. Regular breaks also relieve decision fatigue and can help you solve big problems as you savor the coffee, pastry, and companionship.

Fika also strengthens relationships. As you sit and talk with family members, coworkers, or friends, you build connections and goodwill.   Having a coffee break with coworkers can be a way to improve rapport, equity, and teamwork. And you get to enjoy quality time with your favorite people when you fika at home. You can even make new friends when you fika together with strangers in cafes, parks or other public places.

You may experience better health and wellness too. The human body is capable of amazing things, but it has limitations. Daily breaks allow your bodies to reset and recharge for the tasks ahead. As a result, you feel rejuvenated and energized as you return to work and other responsibilities.

You’re Never too Busy for Fika

Wherever you live in the world, make time for fika.  In Sweden, being too busy is not rewarded.  Swedes savor the downtime that a coffee break allows and consider it important. The scheduled pause offers time to relax, reconnect and rest. It’s also fun to spend a few minutes enjoying a delicious cup of coffee and a tasty pastry with a friend. You’ll become more peaceful, productive, and rested when you add a proper break to your daily routine.

So grab your favorite blend of coffee, a special mug, a pastry, and a family member, colleague, friend, or stranger. Invest in your wellbeing, improve your health and connect with others as you enjoy a proper Swedish coffee break.