Do you know what is Fika?
You probably have had fika before, even if you don’t know what it is. A traditional Swedish fika consist of something to drink, usually coffee or tea, some nibbles and taking a break. Fika is a very important part of the Swedes’ daily life and the Swedish culture. In fact, for many people like myself, the first word learned in Swedish is ‘Fika’. When I first learned about this word, I wasn’t very sure how I felt about it. Because it seems rather unnecessary to have a word specifically dedicated to a coffee break. But after living in Sweden for a while, I started to understand the philosophy behind it.
When I first moved to Sweden a few years ago, I wondered why do people just disappear from their work occasionally.
I was well aware of the concept of Fika, but never knew that people take their fika religiously. Twice a day, no matter what. The first one is sometime between breakfast and lunch, depends on the work or study schedule. Some people bring their breakfast to eat at the morning fika, others would have a snack or sweet treats, such as a wheat bun or fruit.
I didn’t get the hang of the art of fika when I was studying in the University. It was never cozy enough in the campus and I don’t like to be there unless I must. Nope, cold and stiff seats and the sound of stressful students running around, I’d rather go outside for a smoke to ease my nerve. That was how I dealt with my stress at that time, and I am so grateful it was over. Later when I started knitting as a hobby, I started to understand why fika can be so satisfying.
That’s when a friend and I would bring our knitting things to a café called ‘Nya Konditoriet’ (‘The new patisserie’). It is a cozy and comfortable cafe with vintage interior, lit by dim lamps and mellow candlelight. Exactly what people need in the stormy snowy dark winter days in Northern Sweden. One of us will order coffee and the other tea so we can share with each other. And then we just sat there, knitting and looking at each other’s stitches and techniques. When our fingers got sore, we took a break from knitting, ordered some treat and shared it over a nice chat. I still remember vividly how delicious the coffee tasted there, and my boyfriend says it’s the best coffee he tasted and still holds its records to this day. (He works in a coffee factory so that is a real compliment) That was probably the best coffee break I ever had during my years in Sweden.
Nowadays we take fika break every day at work, but they are not as cozy as doing it at a cafe. It feels like a practical way to recharge, catch up and socialize with co-workers and take a break from work.
It is a ritual to slow down and regain the balance between work and relaxation. This is the time we put our telephones on mute so we can enjoy our fika without distraction. One of the most used phrases at my work is ‘Ska vi pika?’(shall we Fika?) Whenever someone comes to visit our office, they always ask ‘Vart/När ska ni fika?’(where/when do you fika?) and usually they will be invited over for a cardamom and cinnamon wreath bread. Fika is also a bonding process for everyone in the group, we can share something as little as cat pictures or lunch box ideas, or something like house hunting tips or planning our next yoga class together. We have the chance to get to know each other on a personal level and everyone in the group is included.
I always thought that Fika involves being social with one and another but it isn’t true. For some people things only get better when they can do it alone, my boyfriend is an example. He needs to enjoy his fika alone in front of his computer and does not like to be disturbed. For people whose work involves lots of social activities, it is reasonable that they need a bit of peaceful time with only themselves.
One thing I wish people will do more often is to bring fika outside.
A while ago when I was at the ice skating ring, I saw an elderly man brought tea in a thermos and some chocolate cookies to have a fika with his grand-daughter. Doesn’t that sound utterly comforting?
I remembered during our first summer in Gothenburg, we would pack some sandwiches, fruits and berries and go to the parks to have our fika on the grass. That usually ends up as we fall asleep under the sun and wake up feeling as the happiest person ever. Some people bring their hot coffee to the mountains when hiking. Some bring it to the forest when picking mushrooms or hunting for moose.
It is a very heart warming ritual, especially when the weather is chilly, and that’s about all the time in Sweden.
Our favorite fika time is autumn when we prepare and bake the treats and then go to the forest to pick the beautiful golden ’Chanterelle’ mushrooms. When we are getting tired and need to catch our breath, we will find a comfy place to sit in the forest and pour out the warm tea and just appreciate the moment. Sometimes we just bring the fika to a park and read books together. The fresh air, beautiful view and the warm drinks in our hands, these are the moments fika is all about.
I am sure you’re all ‘Fikasugen’ (fika-craving) now, aren’t you? If you want to have a fika with me, come visit Gothenburg and we will go fika together! If you are having one elsewhere, let me know how you feel about it and share a picture with me on twitter or instagram, I would love to see how coffee breaks look like in other parts of the world.
So now my questions are: how do you take your coffee break? What do you drink or eat?