What You Need to Know About Swedish Fika
- What is Swedish fika or svensk fika?
- Why is Fika in Sweden very important?
- What is the origin of the word “fika”?
- When is the right time to have fika?
- Why can’t I turn down a fika invite?
- What Swedish desserts and cakes are served for fika?
- What are the special dates for Swedish cakes and pastries?
- What is the fika capital of Sweden?
- What are the best cafes for Swedish / svensk fika?
- When is Swedish fika / svensk fika considered a date?
- Why is it not called Fika in Norway and Denmark?
The three Swedish concepts that have become popular in recent years are lagom (not too much, not too little, or mellan in Swedish), mysa (cosy), and fika. There’s no doubt that the latter is my absolute favourite!
Swedish fika (svensk fika) is a social institution practised daily by almost everyone who lives in Sweden. It is an integral part of Swedish culture. Swedish fika can also be referred to as fikapaus, which is literally translated as “coffee break.”
As someone who is always down for a good cup of coffee and conversation, I have always been a proponent for slowing down.
Whenever I am traveling to Sweden, even before I permanently settled here, I never miss the opportunity to look for and try good fika spots and cafes. I have been to the three biggest cities in Sweden: Stockholm, Göteborg (Gothenburg), and Malmö. Of course, I can’t miss the Fika capital, Alingsås. The best and most authentic Swedish coffee experiences I’ve had have been at grandma’s house on the island of Björkö. In Swedish, grandma is called farmor or mormor (the father’s mother or the mother’s mother).
I used to post a lot of Swedish Fika snaps from my travels throughout Sweden on my social media accounts. It piqued the curiosity of some of my family and friends abroad, so they would always ask me about what it meant and its cultural value. I’m sure they got hungry looking at my Prinsestårta and Semlor photos. Yummy!
This guide was written with the intention of helping others who are not Swedes – foreigners living in Sweden, or tourists who have been to Sweden – learn, understand, and appreciate Swedish fika as much as I do.
If you’re planning a trip to Sweden, I hope this article helps you craft your best Swedish fika experiences.
What is Swedish fika, or Svensk fika?
One of the most important things to take note of is that “fika” is both a noun and a verb in Swedish.
According to the dictionary, fika (noun) means coffee break.
Fika (verb) means to have a social coffee break. These are only the literal definitions, but it means so much more than that. Fika goes beyond having coffee or dessert. It is a moment of pause, hence the word break. These are only the literal definitions, but it means so much more than that. Fika goes beyond having coffee or dessert. It is a moment of pause, hence the word “fikapaus.” It is a time to gather, chill, and talk.
Whether it’s a small or big Swedish company, you can rest assured that they practise fika. It’s very institutionalised. Fika at work is an effective management move. It fosters socialisation among peers, leading to better teamwork and productivity.
One thing to take note of is that the word fik (fika without the a) means cafe or coffee shop.
What is the origin of the word “fika”?
When I read the story behind the word fika, I was so beguiled!
If you have not read or heard this story, brace yourself for this one because it’s strange, bizarre, but historical and medically informative.
Timeline of events:
- Mid-1670s: Coffee was introduced in Sweden.
- 1746: King Gustav III enforced high taxes on coffee because it became very popular, making it a luxury good then.
- 1756: Coffee was banned, but that didn’t stop the Swedes from consuming coffee, which brought a black market scenario.
- King Gustav III became concerned that coffee could cause health problems, but he was also paranoid that coffee gatherings would lead to meetings to overthrow the monarchy.
- Using science as an excuse, King Gustav III banned coffee.
- The King pardoned identical twins who were on death row. He lowered their sentence to life imprisonment in exchange for their participation in the research.
- Twin 1 drank 3 pots of tea daily, Twin 2 drank 3 pots of coffee daily
- The two doctors who were in charge of monitoring the twins died before the twins.
- 1792: Assassination of King Gustav III; no conclusive results from the research at that point.
- Result: Twin 1 (the tea drinker) died first. He was 83 years old. Winner: Twin 2 (the coffee drinker) outlived Twin 1.
- 1820: With coffee’s soaring popularity, the ban was completely removed.
Fun fact: King Gustav’s coffee safety experiment is said to be the first documented randomised clinical trial in medical history. Swedes’ love for coffee has been in their blood all along! History proves it!
On a side note, if you want to discover more about the Royal Palaces of Sweden, you can visit their Instagram
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So how was the word Fika formed? Well, it’s simple! After the coffee ban was lifted, coffee was called kaffi in Sweden in the 1900s. If you flip kaffi and remove one f, you get the word fika!
Why can’t I turn down a Fika invite?
Of course, you can turn down fika invites but because fika is a social institution in Sweden, it’s gracious and respectful not to, especially when you are really available for fika.
When is the best time to have fika?
Swedish fika does not have a set time or perfect timing.
After asking many Swedes this question, the general answer is, “It depends.” People have fika at any time of the day. Families and friends go for fika when their schedules allow it. It is also common to have fika many times throughout the day!
In the work environment, companies have fikarast (break at work) or fikapaus at 10 in the morning and 15:00 or 3 in the afternoon. Some companies with earlier shifts have them at 9:00 in the morning and 14:00 in the afternoon. These breaks usually last from 15 to 30 minutes though this varies a lot from one place to another.
During the height of the pandemic, some Swedes also held on to their love of fika by having virtual fika sessions not to.
In the work setting, it’s frowned upon to turn down a Fika invite unless you really have a good reason. Unlike other work cultures, you will not be glorified for not taking a break. Take that break and enjoy your fika!
What Swedish desserts and cakes are served for Swedish fika or svensk fika?
We have written a full article on this. You can check our list of our best Swedish desserts and pastries.
What are the special dates for Swedish cakes and pastries?
We also have a list for you so make sure to mark your calendars!
One of the things I was very amused about when I moved to Sweden is that they really take these cake dates seriously, like almost all cafes and shops will flood with Kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) on the 4th of October.
What is the fika capital of Sweden?
The town of Alingsås is known as the fika capital of Sweden. It is known as the “Café City” and is located in Västergötland in Västra Götaland County.
Alingsås has had a thriving cafe culture since the 1700s. One of the most popular cafes there is Nygrens cafe.
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If you love Swedish fika as much as I do, I highly recommend that you go on a fika tour of the town. The tour lasts for 1.5 hours and focuses on Swedish classics. The finale is a grand fika in the fika capital of the country. Pretty cool, right?
What are the best cafes for Swedish or svensk fika?
There is no shortage of good cafes in the country of fika. I’ve listed some of the best cafes in the three biggest cities of Sweden.
When is Swedish fika or svensk fika considered a romantic date?
This is a tricky question! This is a common question discussed among immigrant groups in Sweden. Is a fika just a fika, or is a fika considered a date?
This article answers it best. I mean you can directly ask your potential date or date if it’s a friendly fika or a romantic fika? It’s a good topic over coffee!
Why is it not called Fika in Norway and Denmark?
Norwegians and Danes don’t use the exact word “fika,” but they still share the culture of coffee breaks and catching up. In Norway, they say, “Skal vi ta en pause?” (Shall we take a break?)
Although Swedish fika recently gained more recognition, it was Denmark’s hygge (creating a warm and cosy lifestyle) that initially brought the spotlight to Scandinavian concepts, so having a cup of coffee in a cosy cafe is hygge for the Danes.
Every culture has its own version of fika. The need for a good cup of coffee or tea, a little dessert, and a moment to pause is something we all share, wherever you are in the world.
Swedish fika is a great concept that you can recreate regardless of your location. But I must say, there is nothing quite like Swedish fika in Sweden – kanelbulle in a cosy cafe hits different! Add it to your must-try list when you visit Sweden.
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