In the previous stops on this coffee tour, we’ve explored some coffee traditions from around the world with widely differing methods of preparation and presentation. In this final stop, the difference is more subtle. For this, we go to Scandinavia, and specifically Sweden.
I can’t talk about coffee without coming back to Sweden and fika. Being an Arctic nation, Sweden obviously does not grow the tropical shrub itself, but coffee forms a huge part of the culture nonetheless. The Nordic countries rank among the biggest consumers of coffee per capita in the world, with Sweden consistently placing in the top five. But while the quality is generally quite good, there’s nothing particularly distinctive about Swedish coffee when it comes to the method of preparation or the way it’s served (although they do have their own interesting take on ”egg coffee” involving everything including the eggshell).
The difference is the mindset, which even has its own name in Swedish. The Swedish word for coffee, kaffe, underwent a sort of ”pig-Latin” transformation to form the word fika, which is a cultural institution that goes well beyond just coffee as a beverage. Fika is a flexible word that can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adjective to describe the ritual of taking a break from whatever you are doing to drink coffee, have a small snack, and enjoy the company of others.
Fika is just one of the ways Swedes express the essential Swedish concept of lagom. Lagom signifies all-around balance and moderation – sufficiency without excess. Thus, a university lecture is not lagom if it goes on too long without fika, and your workday is not lagom without an office-sanctioned fikapaus in the morning, or afternoon, or both.
In fact, it’s not really about the coffee but about the break itself. Fika is a chance to take your mind off the stresses of the day and enjoy a few minutes of quality time. It’s something I always remind myself of when I find myself absentmindedly chugging coffee while focusing on something else entirely. So next time you go to refill your coffee in the middle of a busy morning, be lagom and turn it into a fika instead, because coffee is about more than just caffeine.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this small tour of some of the world’s interesting coffee traditions. Maybe you’re even inspired to test them out for yourself! As for me, I had plans this spring to go to Costa Rica, a renowned coffee-growing destination, but corona put a hold on that and as I write this, cases are rising alarmingly fast both here and there. So until this war is won and the costa is clear, I’ll just ”keep lagom and fika on.”
Do you have a favorite coffee tradition? Tell me about it in the comments section!