What is Swedish Fika? And What is Traditional Fika Food?

In most of the world, caffeinated beverages – tea and coffee primarily – are a popular way to start the day and maintain energy levels throughout the day. Getting coffee with friends or coworkers is a cultural mainstay almost everywhere.  However, Sweden takes the world’s adoration for coffee breaks to a new level, incorporating coffee breaks into a daily tradition for the whole nation. This Swedish daily coffee break is known as fika (fee-ka).

fika coffee break

What is Fika?

While fika involves getting together with good company over a drink, usually coffee or tea, and a pastry or other small meal, it has become much more. In essence, fika is a coffee break that has become a national phenomenon in Sweden- so much so that the majority of companies in Sweden have designated fika times allotted for employees.  Usually these times include one in the morning (for example, around 10 AM) and one later on in the day (for example, around 3 PM). These breaks are sometimes even mandatory. That’s right: Sweden employs an additional and mandatory break during the workday for the sole purpose of fika.

fika time

What is the History of Fika? And where did the word “Fika” come from?

But how did fika come about? Throughout the history of Sweden, coffee has been banned at least five times, and in the 19th century, the Swedish word for coffee, kaffi, was rearranged to fika in certain circles to covertly arrange coffee meetings. When coffee was once again legalized in Sweden, the new word “fika” stayed in the vocabulary, morphing into the social phenomenon that it is today. 

Fika also serves another purpose necessitated by Sweden’s unique climate.  Not only does is Sweden quite cold (hovering around 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter), but sunlight can be hard to come by as well, with either no or only a few hours of sunlight a day in the middle of winter (depending on where in Sweden specifically). As you might imagine, this lack of daylight become quite oppressive considering sunlight’s essential role in serotonin production.  Fika allows for people to come together and appreciate the best things in life; family, friends, and love during literally dark times.

How do the Swedish Enjoy Fika? And what are some Traditional Fika Foods?

So, how exactly do you fika? As we noted previously, fika usually occurs twice per day; once in the morning, and once in the evening.  People try to prepare in advance for these fika breaks, especially for fika at work when access to baked goods might be limited. Preparing for fika at the workplace isn’t too difficult, generally only requiring putting hot coffee into a thermos and packaging up a pastry or two. Traditional fika foods include cinnamon rolls, chocolate balls, cookies, open faced sandwiches known as smorgas, as well as various other baked goods.  It also isn’t uncommon to buy high quality coffee solely for fika.

fika food

Fika locations vary. At work, there may be a dedicated fika room, acting as an open break room for people to come together and socialize. For the weekend and off days, fika is oftentimes held at home or at a café, where the options for snacking may be much more extensive than the prepared-in-advance foods brought to work.  

Most importantly, however, is an open area with at least two people. Fika isn’t intended as a solo coffee break with a snack; instead, fika is about social interaction, usually without a specific agenda other than relaxation.  Fika is so casual that it is oftentimes used as an opportunity to meet someone informally before an actual date and is common enough that nearly anybody will agree to partaking in it, even with people they don’t know that well.

What are some Fika Traditions?

When inviting someone over for fika at home, one tradition is to have seven different kinds of cookies.  While the origin of this practice isn’t specifically known, it is an easy way to impress guests and make them feel welcome.

Another traditional part of of fika is the use of candlelight. While this may or may not be allowed during work, it is nearly essential while having fika at home. 

As fika is meant as a means of slowing down, living in the moment, and finding time for the little thing, part of fika is the complete avoiding of any type of conflict, so it is best to avoid any topics that could spark even the smallest bit of tension; talk of politics or religion is discouraged. It is essential to remain friendly and polite, as any type of conflict is seen as highly disrespectful. 

What is “Swedish Fika” by Go Royal?

“Swedish Fika” (by Go Royal) is song that invokes the idea of using Swedish fika to promote world peace.  While this is a laudable goal, the song is otherwise pretty awful.

Try Fika at Home

For people not living in Sweden that really like the sound of fika, it is totally do-able in other parts of the world. While it may be difficult to get an additional, candle lit break at work, arranging a coffee break similar to fika could be a great way to bond with coworkers. Even if fika at work isn’t an option, having a fika at home, or while out and about, is certainly manageable. So, if you’re reading this while a slight nag tugs at your eyelids, brew up some coffee, grab some snacks, and have a fika with the person nearest to you.

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

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