Is Sweden’s ‘fika’ break concept going global?

If you've lived in Sweden for more than five minutes you'll be well aware of the 'fika' coffee and bun tradition. But now it seems the phenomenon is going global.

Is Sweden's 'fika' break concept going global?
Is the world about to get a taste for 'fika'? Photo: TT

The French have their wine, the British have their tea, Spaniards can't get enough of nibbling on good quality ham and Germans are suckers for sausages.

For Swedes, it's all about “fika”, the de rigueur daily coffee break with a sweet nibble that is a social institution.

Sweden's almost ten million inhabitants account for one percent of the world's coffee consumption, making it the second-biggest consumer behind Finland.

Coffee is drunk with breakfast and after meals, but it is the mid-morning and mid-afternoon coffee breaks — “fika” — that are almost sacrosanct, factored into everyone's daily schedules whether they're at work, home, running errands in town or taking a hike in the outdoors.

If you live in Sweden, you'll know exactly what we're talking about.

“Fika”, pronounced fee-ka, is both a noun and verb, and designates a moment, usually planned in advance, alone or with friends or coworkers, to savour a cup of coffee or tea or even juice and eat something sweet, usually a cinnamon bun, pastry, cake or even a light sandwich.

For Swedes, the art of the Swedish “fika” in no way compares to a few minutes at the office watercooler, or meeting up with a friend for an espresso in a French cafe. In Sweden, people stop what they're doing to have a “fika” at least once a day, sometimes twice.

Now it seems the concept is starting to get greater global recognition, thanks to Swedish coffee shops abroad and a growing amount of literature in English on the subject.

“Life without fika is unthinkable,” according to the book “Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break” written by Swedes Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall and published in the US in April.

“Fika is also the art of taking one's time,” Brones told the AFP news agency this week, explaining that it's more than just coffee and a slice of cake: it's about making a commitment to slow down and take a break from the rest of the day's plans and routines.

“In the United States for example, you get your coffee to go. In Sweden, you sit down, you enjoy the moment, and that's what people want to do more and more.”

READ ALSO: Seven delicious dates in the Swedish calendar

Sergio Guimaraes of the Swedish Institute which promotes the country abroad says he agrees that the concept can puzzle visitors.

“It throws people off who come here from other cultures. It arouses their curiosity and they don't know what to make of it,” he said.

Swedish friends love to meet for fika. Photo: TT

But “fika” is growing in popularity outside Sweden.

“Sweden is very trendy right now, and since 'fika' is a Swedish tradition that makes it even more cool,” said Brones, co-author of the new book dedicated to “fika”.

Evidence can be found in the numerous eponymous cafes offering Swedish “fika” that have popped up around the world in recent years, including London, New York, Toronto, Australia and Singapore.

“There is a growing interest in Swedish food which is linked to Swedish authenticity and nature,” Guimaraes adds.

In addition, he adds that “sweets have a special standing in Sweden. It's one of the few countries in the world that has special days dedicated to a specific cake or a pastry, from Waffle Day to Cinnamon Bun Day.”

However other countries have a lot of catching up to do if they want to truly embrace the Swedish art of taking a coffee break.

Swedes have been drinking coffee since 1685, and it became a common and widespread drink in the 1800s. But it is not known when the tradition of having a daily fika began.

The use of the slang word “fika” first appeared in 1913, and is believed to be an inversion of the two syllables in the Swedish word for coffee, “kaffe”.

The word also has many derivatives: a “fik” is a cafe where you have your fika; “fikarum” is the room at a workplace where staff meet for coffee; “fikasugen” means to crave a fika, “fikapaus” is to take a break from whatever you're doing to have a “fika”.

READ ALSO: 'Swedes need to ditch cakes at coffee time'

“Fika” is also a natural part of the day in the workplace — and stopping work to sit down for a mug of java and a chat with colleagues is not considered goofing off from one's duties.

“Studies show that people who take a break from their work do not do less. It's actually the opposite,” says Viveka Adelsward, a professor emeritus in communications at Sweden's Linkoping University.

“Efficiency at work can benefit from these kinds of get-togethers.”

Do you have fika with your colleagues? Photo: TT

At the Stockholm offices of the Swedish handball federation, employees meet up in the kitchen twice a day for 15 minutes, at 9:30 am and 2:30 pm, to have coffee and a pastry.

“It gives us a chance to talk about what we're doing. Ideas take shape and that way we can avoid a lot of meetings,” says the head of the federation Christer Thelin.

“By law you're entitled to a five-minute break per hour worked. For the fika we compile these five minutes into one 15-minute break, we satisfy our caffeine craving, and we talk about everything: a lot about work, but also current affairs and a bit of personal stuff too,” adds employee Lasse Tjernberg.

So it turns out having “fika” could even benefit your career. Time to put the kettle on…

READ ALSO: Austria's most tasty desserts





Five perfect cafés for studying or working in Malmö

Malmö is home to a growing number of students, while the city’s creative industries have brought a large number of freelancers. Here are some of our favourite cafés to head to with your laptop in Sweden's third city.

Five perfect cafés for studying or working in Malmö
The new university has brought a lot of students to Malmö. Photo: Kentaroo Tryman/Imagebank Sweden
Bröd och Vänner 
An oasis of cosiness on the otherwise bleak Nobeltorget square, Bröd och Vänner (Bread and Friends) is a favourite for freelancers and students, with just as many customers tapping away on laptops as chatting over lunch or breakfast.
Christer Havung started the café to fulfil a passion for sourdough baking, after fleeing Stockholm’s advertising industry. It shows. The bread — especially the levain, roffe and malte loaves — is fantastic. The cinnamon and cardamom rolls are contenders for Malmö’s best, as are the almond semlor which are just coming into season. If you want a more substantial lunch, the salads, soups and quiches are good too.
The best thing, though, is the atmosphere. The clientele is diverse, taking in everyone from builders to local hipsters, the music is unobtrusive but deftly chosen, and the slightly kooky staff keep it all humming along nicely.
Address: Nobelvägen 44 





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St Knuts Café and Bageri 
There is nothing trendy about St Knuts Café & Bageri. Lebanese owner Walid Ahmad Charif refuses free coffee refills and grumbles about people just coming for the wifi, but nevertheless it is popular among digital nomads. 

It is good value, however, particularly if you go for the 55-kronor omelette and coffee combo. Lebanon’s French influence means Charif and his team make decent croissants. And it somehow feels like a Swedish konditori despite the soundtrack of classic Arabic music. From spring to autumn, the cafe puts tables out on the square, making it one of Malmö's best places to while away a summer afternoon. 
Address: S:t Knuts torg





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Kaffé Doffeln
Under his contract, co-owner Jakob de Vries had just two weeks to decorate this café space by Malmö’s Triangeln station before opening it at the end of 2012. Making it cosy has been a gradual process, with a new floor, new lights and new furniture arriving piecemeal over the years.
Originally intended to serve commuters to Lund and Copenhagen, Doffeln is increasingly drawing a crowd of freelancers and students drawn by its relaxed atmosphere for working. Croissants and coffee are priced to tempt the commuter crowd, so are good value, although you do have to pay for refills. 





Öppettider 30/4 kl. 8-17 & 1/5 kl. 8-17? Ha en trevlig helg!

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Camoccia Café
When Median Zannoun opened Camoccia café on a corner of Malmö’s Möllevången Square in 2014 he said he wanted it to be a place where “all types of people can meet — rich and poor — everyone”.

With its unusual fake cavern interior and Italian ice cream, the café is arguably one of the most integrated places in the city, drawing the city's intelligentsia, who loudly debate politics and play backgammon on the tables outside, as well as freelancers and students with laptops in tow.

Address: Smedjegatan 1 






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Jord is another popular spot for laptop warriors. Light streams in through the glass windows which make up two of sides of the long rectangular rooms, where a mostly young crowd (early 20s to early 30s) chat, type, or plot their film scripts in expensive looking notebooks. The food is vegan or vegetarian, with an all-day breakfast buffet featuring imaginative healthy fare such as “carrot cake porridge”. 
Address: Falsterbogatan 1





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