What does fika mean?

What does fika mean?

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Good Fika has a story. We didn’t simply imagine a name but rather we dreamed up a concept. We believe coffee is an experience, part of a lifestyle, a symbol for more than just your daily dose caffeine. Like all good concepts, the Swedish language perfectly sums this up in one word: fika.

Fika is more than a coffee break; fika is an experience, a community, a space to enjoy and learn and grow - just like Good Fika. So let’s discover fika together.

What Exactly Is Fika?

Before we dive into the existential depths of fika, let’s settle on a definition and a basic understanding. Fika is Swedish in origin, both linguistically and conceptually - though we will soon find out that the concept is much more widespread that you might initially think.

As defined by Lexico, an offshoot of the much lauded Oxford English Dictionary, fika is a noun used to describe the customary Swedish “break from activity during which people drink coffee, eat cakes or other light snacks, and relax with others”¹. However, fika is also used verbally to describe the act of taking this break. You can both have fika and do fika.

Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall perhaps best define fika in their book Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break, “Functioning as both a verb and a noun, the concept of fika is simple. It is the moment that you take a break, often with a cup of coffee, but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it. You can do it alone, you can do it with friends. You can do it at home, in a park or at work. But the essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break: that’s what fika is all about”².

In short, fika is both a coffee break in Sweden and the Swedish approach to breaking for coffee. It’s also in keeping with the Swedish tradition of having the words that perfectly describe feelings, like ‘hygge’.

Hygge on a coffee cup

A Different Way to Coffee

However, what sets fika apart from a normal coffee break is the latter of that definition. Fika means taking the time to slow down and immerse yourself in a moment reserved strictly for enjoying a cup of coffee - or tea! - and a sweet treat. There is no working or busy minds during fika, there is only space for you and your coffee.

As so perfectly described by Brones and Kindvall, fika means so much more than a coffee break. It describes the act of pausing your day to commune over coffee with friends and family or even to simply disrupt your day to day business to take a moment for yourself. The important thing is that you truly separate a moment in the day to fika and only to fika.

Fika Is Not Fast

So often in the United States and even Europe, coffee is fast-paced. It is simply a fuel to get your morning started and to keep your day going. Drive through coffee shops and online ordering are offered as a convenience so as to avoid interrupting your day as much as possible. Coffee shops advertise their speediness and convenience with catchphrases like Dunkin Donuts’ “America Runs on Dunkin’”. Coffee is very much “on the go” with very little slowing down involved.

Coffee is such a large part of the United States and is deemed an integral part of most everyone’s life. Whether a construction worker, a bartender or office worker, chances are there is coffee readily available before work and at their place of work. It truly is a fuel source for the American workforce.

This entire notion that coffee is a means to an end, simply a vehicle for caffeine, directly opposes the concept and practice of fika. A coffee break in the United States is more likely concurrent with your workday than an actual break away from the task at hand.

Learn to Slow Down

Just as the United States is not unique in its fast-paced design, the Swedish are not alone in their cultural affinity for slowing down their day. While fika may be profoundly Swedish in practice, the concept of breaking from work or even leisure is not native to Scandinavia alone.

A popular and perhaps more well-known tradition is Spain’s siesta, a time honored afternoon pause during which all non-essential shops and cafes close. Siesta truly shuts down entire towns for an hour or two each day, forcing locals and visitors to pause their activities and retire to a bed, lounger or other comfortable abode to relax and recuperate.

During my time living in Ciutadella on the Spanish island of Menorca, I found myself truly taken aback for my first few siestas. Still operating on my previous schedule of day to night activity fostered by years of studying, classes and working to pay my way through college, I was astounded at the almost instant serenity each day between 1pm and 3pm.

I enjoyed wandering the empty, open streets of the small Spanish town with its cobblestones and brightly painted walls - sometimes disappointed by my inability to sit at a cafe for a snack or stop by a shop for odds and ends. Soon enough, however, I found myself easing into the lifestyle. My days soon shifted to an early start at dawn with work until noon or so before retiring to my shady, breezy room or taking a walk down to the rocky shoreline for a quick nap in the sun. I learned to slow down.

Empty streets during siesta in Menorca

Similarly to fika, siesta meant taking time for nothing in particular. No work, no self-reflection, no chores or to-do lists, simply a moment for enjoying your surroundings. Likewise, the Italian custom of reposo and the Japanese tradition of inemuri ask the same of its participants.

Coffee and Community

With so many venues through which to slow down, why is fika special? What make fika stand apart from siesta, reposo and inemuri?

Siesta, reposo and inemuri carry a common thread apart from fika. These three traditions focus on sleep or intentional resting as the focal point whether that involves taking an hour or two for siesta and resposo to take a quick nap during the hottest hours of the day before returning to work, or simply squeezing in a quick power nap at work for inemuri.

People in a coffee shop

On the other hand, fika does not involve sleeping but rather emphasizes a moment of wakeful calm and repose. Nor does fika stem from a need to return to work, re-energized for more productive labor or activity. Rather, fika stems from the need to retreat from the world to enjoy a much needed moment of peace over a cup of coffee.

A History of Fika

One very prominent reason that fika stands apart from these other traditional breaks in the day, as well as from the fast-paced coffee break of the Unites States, is the very history of fika itself. The work fika is a coy nickname for coffee or kaffi that began to float about Sweden in the 19th century³.

Prior to its nickname, coffee was first introduce to Sweden in the mid 15th century and rose to popularity before a poorly received tax was placed on the popular import in 1746³. Within ten years of the new tax, in response to the Swedes refusal to pay the aforementioned tax, coffee was made illegal not only. The banning of coffee in Sweden was also due to ill-conceived notions involving the unhealthiness of coffee in addition to newfound paranoia among the monarchs regarding the secret meetings held over a cup of coffee in hidden coffeehouses throughout Sweden³.

For those familiar with the American Prohibition, Sweden’s banning of coffee created a similar atmosphere and actually fostered a greater love of the banned product alongside an intense desire to gather and commune around the illicit beverage. As speakeasies and moonshine were to prohibition America, coffeehouses and kaffi were to Sweden and so fika was born.

The history of fika is important to understanding its modern significance, especially in contrast to similar day breaks in other cultures, as it grew from a desire for community rather than a need to continue the work day with the help of a power nap.

Fika is Community

From its somewhat romantic origins, fika has grown to represent a moment of community in the daily life of Sweden and its people. Taking a break to enjoy fika with your friends, family, coworkers or neighbors creates a time and space to spend dedicated time with your community.

Fika Wherever You Are

The best thing about fika is that it requires nothing but yourself, a beverage of your choice and perhaps a snack. Fika can follow you wherever you go - at home, at work, on your travels or at a cafe. Fika can be enjoyed with others or simply by yourself! Fika is about setting aside time and space for a simple pleasure, uninterrupted by the worries and cares of the day to day world. That simple pleasure can be whatever tickles your fancy, as long as you’ve got the beverage of your choice brewed up fresh just for you.

Our Favorite Ways to Fika

  • Fika at the cafe. Coffee shops are so often just a pit stop in our daily lives. Turn that around and make your local coffee shop a haven for a midday break from all of your responsibilities! Skip the to-go cup and cozy up with a cappuccino and pastry. There’s nothing more fika than sharing this moment with a friend as you soak up the coffee house vibes and sip up your favorite drink.

  • Fika in the office or at work. At its core, fika is a break from the work day but sometimes you can’t break away from work… physically. That doesn’t mean you can’t fika at work, though. Prep a “fika kit” for fika wherever you are - workplace included. Our fika kit includes the brew method of your choice and coffee (pre-ground and portioned to suit your brew method), a tasty snack (cookies, biscuits or whatever your sweet tooth desires) and a good book or set of headphones to tune out the workplace!

  • Fika while you travel. Fika while you travel is an amazing experience whether it’s discovering new cafes in different cities or taking your fika kit with you for a quick break between flights! Travel-ready your fika kit by subbing in specialty instant coffee from companies like Swiftcup and Steeped!

  • Fika at home. Perhaps simultaneously the easiest and hardest way to fika is at home. Just like when you are working from home, it can be difficult to turn off the distractions around you - whether it’s kids, the cat or the telephone. Fika at home by making a special coffee nook in your kitchen or living room, turn your phone to silent and enjoy the fika experience!

Fika With Good Fika

Our favorite way to enjoy fika is with the Good Fika community. Whether that means sharing our coffee knowledge, raving about the newest brew or simply recording our favorite brewing technique, at Good Fika we believe in community and creating space for community over coffee.

The Good Fika app allows you to take this space and interact with your coffee community wherever you are. Fika can certainly be enjoyed alone and we absolutely encourage you to take a moment to sit and breathe and sip your coffee uninterrupted by smartphones and laptops, but for those moments when you can’t contain your love of coffee any longer, you can always turned to Good Fika.

Our goal is to provide community wherever you go, over whatever coffee you drink. Whether you Good Fika with friends and family or make new friends along the way, the Good Fika app is a simple way to commune over coffee with others who value coffee and fika just as much as you. We hope to share our coffee knowledge and to learn alongside with you, the Good Fika community, through the Good Fika app. With the Good Fika app you can share the newest coffee in your cupboard or browse the best brews around, recommended by your Good Fika peers.

References

¹ Lexico. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/fika

² Brones, Anna and Johanna Kindvall. Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break

³ Vinepair. https://vinepair.com/articles/the-bizarre-history-behind-fika/