The Importance of Fika

Anyone who has ever written about life in Sweden from a foreign perspective has surely noted the predominance of the coffee culture present here, but I’m not going to let that stop me from adding a few of my own comments on the subject. First of all, going into my transatlantic move I knew that Swedes have a reputation for drinking a ton of coffee. I didn’t think much of it because I know plenty of people in the US who drink a lot of coffee, including my parents and a few friends. For me, the big difference is not the fact that Swedes enjoy coffee, but rather the ways they prepare it and the lengths that they go to make sure they get it.

Fika technically means ‘to have coffee’ in Swedish, but the word carries a much higher level of importance than just the act of drinking coffee. From what I’ve observed and experienced, it’s more about the entire act of dropping everything you’re doing to meet up with your friends, coworkers, classmates, etc. to socialize while drinking coffee. If it’s a special occasion or you’re feeling particularly Swedish, then you’ll probably be eating some type of sweet roll or cake too. It’s pretty typical to fika at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon, so it’s a deeply ingrained tradition during the Swedish work day.

At my department we essentially have unlimited access to espresso and coffee. The people in charge of making these crucial decisions have chosen to devote a large amount of time and effort (and money) just to coffee, and I think everyone really appreciates it and is probably more productive/happy because of it. Concerning the regular coffee, we exclusively use a French press (aside: does everyone refer to this object as being French, or is this an exclusively American/English term?).

French press. Photo by Wiki user Leland.

The French press is something I wasn’t too familiar with initially, and I kind of associated it with elitist coffee drinkers. However, Swedes use them to make incredibly strong pots of coffee. When I first moved here my heart could only handle one cup per day, but now I normally have around two per day – maybe three if the day turns out to be especially long and tiring – so I suppose you could say that I have assimilated to a certain extent.

More importantly (from my viewpoint), we also have a very impressive espresso machine in our kitchen at the Acoustics department. In my opinion the espresso we have tastes a lot better than our press coffee, so I typically use this machine.

Espresso Machine: the pride of our kitchen. Photo by Brett Seward.

Bonus content – I also visit the Organ Art Center at the University of Gothenburg periodically, and here’s their coffee making behemoth:

A myriad of coffee options. Photo by Brett Seward.

All of the buttons represent different types of drinks the machine will make for you – pretty nifty. They always seem to have nice cakes (apple, cinnamon, etc.) lying around in the kitchen too.

In summary, the idea of ‘fika’-ing seemed a little strange to me at first, but I have now adjusted to it and actually look forward to the short social breaks throughout the day.


  • Monica-USA

    I love the Swedish idea of Fika I wish we had that here in the States. But you can keep your French press coffee it is like drinking mud in my opinion!! :o )

    • BrettSeward

      Yeah, I agree about the muddy taste. It takes a perfect ratio of coffee grounds to water to make it palatable; that’s why I converted to espresso.