Fika: Understanding the coffee drinking culture in Sweden

Josephine Walbank
June 27, 2022
Fika: Understanding Sweden’s coffee drinking culture

With its reputation for progressive thinking and a high standard of living, Sweden is renowned for being one of the most desirable places in the world.

This may be, in part, because of the country’s successful work-life balance, which revolves around the age-old tradition of fika.

Fika is a Swedish custom where people gather to eat, drink, and talk, and is a welcome workplace tradition. Many Swedish companies have mandatory fika breaks and employees are often given free hot drinks.  

This relaxed, laid back approach could not be further from the fast-paced office pick-me-up that often defines coffee drinking habits around the world. Notably, consistent fika breaks may actually boost productivity in the workplace.

Read on to find out more about fika and how it became the traditional way of consuming coffee in Sweden. 

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A close up image of black coffee with a pastry, displaying the Swedish tradition of fika

What is fika?

In Sweden, coffee drinking is considered a way of life, and the country is the world’s third-largest coffee consumer per capita.

The word fika derives from the 19th century Swedish word for coffee, kaffi. Ever since, the traditional concept has made coffee a staple in daily culture. 

Fika not only features at home and cafes, but is commonly practised in the workplace. This is starkly different from other European countries. For instance, 82% of British employees do not even take a full hour for lunch.

Essentially, fika is the practice of having a coffee and taking a deliberate pause from work and common daily stresses. 

Usually, those partaking in fika will have a cup of coffee alongside a traditional sweet fikabröd, or fika bread. The idea is to slow down, refresh the mind, and socialise. 

The main factor that separates fika from a standard coffee break is the way it unites coffees with a state of mind. It makes it a part of a daily ritual that encourages relaxation, mindfulness, and human interaction. 

It is part social ritual, and part mindfulness practice.

An image of a Caucasian male pouring water from steel gooseneck kettle into steel V60 on a wooden stand over ceramic cup, showing the Swedish tradition of fika.

A brief history of fika in Sweden

Today, Sweden’s streets are lined with cosy cafes proudly advertising fika. However, it was not always like that. 

Notably, coffee was banned in Sweden on five separate occasions over 61 years. 

Arriving in the 1600s, coffee quickly gained popularity among the upper classes. That said, reigning King Adolf Frederick preferred the people continue to drink beer. So, in 1746, he introduced a large coffee tax. 

Ten years later, coffee was banned altogether. This was the first of many coffee restrictions within the country, as it was made illegal five times between 1756 and 1817. 

Swedish royals had a well-documented dislike for coffee, and there is a commonly cited experiment conducted by King Gustav III.

He took two prisoners, allowing one to drink three pots of coffee to drink every day, while the other drank the same quantity of tea each day. 

His aim was to prove that coffee would eventually kill the first prisoner. Instead, the two prisoners outlived the doctors conducting the experiment, as well as the king himself. 

By the 1820s, the government’s attempts to disrepute coffee stopped. This was the start of coffee’s permanent integration into Swedish culture. 

While fika has a less traceable origin, many link its birth to a popular myth. During the periods where coffee was illegal, consumers would go for a “kaffi” and meet in secret.

Kaffi is an alteration of the Swedish word for coffee – “kaffe”. The word kaffi became a common slang term throughout the 1800s, and it is widely believed that this is where fika got its name from. 

These mysterious origins clearly caught the nation’s imagination, as fika has remained unwaveringly popular ever since.

Image of Caucasian female pouring hot water out of ceramic gooseneck kettle into V6o over glass coffee pot on scale, with multilayer kraft paper coffee pouch in background.

Fika and specialty coffee

The primary focus of a fika is to enjoy the coffee and appreciate the moment. 

As a result, there is no specific type of coffee that is required for a fika. In essence, it can be whatever the drinker enjoys best.

That said, the majority of Swedish consumers drink coffee black and strong, brewed using the drip method.. Therefore, high-quality coffees are highly sought after.

The Swedish people take immense pride in their coffee, and their beans are consistently of a very high standard. Beyond creating desirable coffee, this is key to ensuring the classic Scandinavian lighter roast profile is successful.

A common accompaniment to fika is a homemade Swedish bake, such as an apple cake, mazariner or almond tart, or a kardemummakaka, which is a cardamom bun.

Sweden’s tradition of fika provides a fantastic opportunity to connect consumers with the wider principles of specialty coffee. Specialty coffee culture is usually about championing the sector’s ethical practices and commitment to sustainability. 

Additionally, it aims to provide a platform for independent specialists who create blends featuring their signature style.

It is clear that there is much to learn – both about the specialty coffee sector ‌and other attributes that can make a roastery unique.

Close up image of row of unbleached kraft paper coffee pouches in shelf with full coffee hopper in background.

Roasters and cafe owners who want to appeal to fika drinkers and the Scandinavian market should consider adding light roasts to their offerings. 

Additionally, they should encourage discussions about the product in order to be part of the reflective moments associated with the tradition. 

An effective way to do this would be to share the story of fika, the coffee’s origins, roast profile, and flavour notes on coffee packaging.

At MTPak Coffee, we can help roasters and cafe owners share the story of their fika inspired coffees through their coffee bags. 

Our sustainable coffee packaging line features a number of different materials that are all renewable and environmentally friendly. Our range includes sustainable packaging options made from eco-friendly materials, such as kraft or rice paper with a LDPE or PLA lining.

We can digitally print onto sustainable coffee packaging, with a 40-hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time. We can create unique design concepts to incorporate copy onto coffee packaging, without overpowering the overall aesthetic of the bag.

Furthermore, we are able to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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