What a Swedish fika is all about

Latte and sandwich Swedish fika at Bagericaféet in Malmö, Sweden

SPOILER ALERT: It’s nothing rude or even vaguely sexy. Unless you find cakes sexy, in which case I like you already.

After spending September in the sweltering Vietnamese heat, the Swedish October slapped us in the face. With autumn closing in on us (hello wintertime!), we’ve been forced to give up on beach walks and outdoor picnics, and embrace more autumnal activities like running through leaves and having warming fika. But what is this elusive Swedish concept?

Two pairs of boots standing on the ground which is covered by autumnal leaves
Blending into autumn. Or Fika High Season, as one might also call it.

What is a Swedish fika?

Simply put, fika is the act of having a coffee break together. Though it musn’t include coffee, and can indeed be carried out alone. Sounds confusing? Well, to complicate (grammatical) matters further, it can be used as both a noun and a verb.

Yet fika goes beyond simply being an activity I enjoy – it’s an activity that’s fundamental to my life. And most Swedish people’s lives. Offices have fika breaks. And if you don’t take part in them, it’s hard to become part of the team. If you’re lucky, your employer even organises both a morning fika AND an afternoon fika.

Meeting up with friends happens over a fika.

Touristing in a new place requires an afternoon café stop-off (a fika!).

It’s an engrained part of Swedish culture, so much so that it has
its own Wikipedia entry, and even its own segment on the official website of Sweden. You can even fika in New York, London, and Singapore (to name a few places).

FIKA FIKA FIKA all day long.

Coffee and empty plates on table by café window, looking out
Discussing blog updates over a fika. Naturally.

Why do Swedes love fika so much?

The basic premise of a fika is taking time for each other. Whether it’s a savoury or sweet fika, the fundamental idea is that you are taking some time out of your day to enjoy the moment (and, most likely, someone’s company).

Swedes also, of course, generally have a sweet-tooth and happen to be the masters of delicious cinnamon buns and sticky chocolate ‘kladdkakor.’

Fika is essentially the Swedish equivalent of sitting down for a Turkish coffee, enjoying a cup of tea in England, or slowly awaiting a Vietnamese drip coffee.

Table with coffee mug, toast, yoghurt and water glasses, with a man drinking coffee in the background
Enjoying a Swedish-style fika with my favourite Englishman.

Having grown up in Sweden – where a standard-sized latte can easily set you back 40SEK (roughly €4.50, £4, $5) – I’m used to savouring it. I can make one latte last for hours. I can slowly nibble away at a slice of carrot cake for 60 minutes or so. Swedes know how to make their fika last.

For foreigners this sometimes poses an issue. The awkward moment when your foreign friend finishes their coffee in five minutes flat, and asks “whereto next?” without realising said coffee was scheduled to last at least another hour.

Looking out from the Bagericaféet window
People-watching is often an integral part of fika.

Don’t wait till you’re next in Sweden to enjoy a fika though. Cinnamon buns are easy to bake at home. And personally I always stop for a fika no matter where in the world I am. (You can imagine the horror when we realised Vietnamese coffee bars don’t also sell cakes.) There’s usually a way of improvising it. If there’s a will, there’s a fika, as they say.*

table with two cinnamon buns on a plate, two coffees and two water glasses, as seen from above
You can never have enough cinnamon buns (kanelbullar) in your life.

*They don’t say that.

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