Fika is the Swedish custom of taking a break in the afternoon with coffee and pastries. It is similar to English afternoon tea, but fika takes place everywhere, every day. Instead of tea you’ll find coffee, cinnamon buns instead of scones. I learned about fika from my old roommate, who had taken a Scandinavian tour last summer. Once she discovered fika she skipped the educational afternoon tours and headed for a café and delicious buns. It sounded seductive.
Fika, is an anagram for Swedish slang for coffee, kaffi. Kaf-fi became Fi-ka. Or so it’s said. Regardless, It’s a time to gather with a few friends, savor a really good cup of coffee, and indulge in some sweet treats. In our book that’s a perfect recipe for women over 60.
Socialization important at every age
As we age, this engagement is more than an indulgence; it is a vital part of social life. it helps maintain strong communal bonds and keeps social networks active and healthy. Research conducted at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found that as we age socialization and social networks can be as impactful as physical activity on cognitive health and stability.
Fikas provide the social interaction women over 60 need for healthy aging.
Because it has been linked to increased productivity, fika as been adopted in many Swedish workplaces. As the BBC reports, “At many companies it’s mandatory for all workers, from Malmo to Stockholm, to have a designated time during the day to sit down and do fika.” At Volvo, fika gives its multicultural workforce time to get to know each other in a way that would not be possible with coffee at their desks.
Fika is more than a cup of coffee
The groundwork for the fika tradition began with Sweden’s obsession with coffee.
After being banned in the 18th century, coffee drinking in Sweden skyrocketed in the early 19th century. Today, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee is an ubiquitous presence, deeply entwined with the fabric of everyday life. Sweden has one of the highest per capita coffee consumptions in the world, 18 pounds of coffee per person per year. Compare that with countries we normally associate with coffee culture: Italy consumes 13 and France 11.9 pounds of coffee per person per year.
The art of enjoying coffee goes far beyond mere consumption, though. For Swedes, fika is a cornerstone of social interaction. During these moments, conversations flow, friendships deepen, and the rapid pace of life yields to shared pleasure and relaxation. Swedes cherish conviviality as much as they do the beverage itself.
Before Fika there was Kafferep
The ritual of meeting for coffee back to the mid-1800s and has since become a cornerstone of Swedish culture, preserved through generations.
But before the “fika” concept was established in the early 20th century there was another social convention called “kafferep.”
In the late 19th century, when men went out to work and women stayed at home, inviting a few women to their home for coffee, some sweets, and conversation became a way for women to socialize and show off their hospitality skills. After a while this gathering was called kaffereps with its own set of societal rules that included offering seven types of cookies (sju sorters kakor). Why this precise number? It was deemed that fewer would render you stingy, and any more a show-off.
Taking a defined coffee break eventually moved from the home to coffee houses. Cafes began offering pastries. Bakeries opened cafes. And Sweden’s emancipated female population now had dedicated places to socialize outside the home. These breaks were referred to colloquially as fikas.
How to host Fika at home
In Sweden fika generally takes place at a pastry shop or café. But since women our age aren’t tied to a desk (for the most part), it’s a lovely way to pass an afternoon at home with close friends.
Hosting a Fika at your own home is a wonderful way to embrace this Swedish tradition and create an oasis of calm and camaraderie. Choose a quiet, inviting space. Lay out a linen tablecloth and bring out your favorite coffee cups. A playlist of soothing music can set the tone for a serene and convivial gathering.
The aroma of freshly brewed coffee should welcome your friends as they arrive. High-quality coffee is a must. Swedish brand Gevalia has been producing its premium coffee blend since 1853. Gevalia holds the royal warrant of appointment for coffee roasters from the King of Sweden. Gevalia is available by mail order and in some supermarkets in the U.S. You can also buy it on Amazon.
A selection of pastries
Cinnamon and cardamom buns, buttery cookies, and cakes are excellent choices that pair well with coffee and are easy to manage in a social setting.
Ikea carries a line of baked goods, including cinnamon buns and cookies, that can supply your fika with minimal effort. (Except trying to find the food shop in the maze that is an Ikea floor plan.) The cinnamon buns are in the freezer section. They take about 30 minutes to bake at home and will fill your kitchen with delicious aromas.
For my fika I picked up four additional pastries for my fika at Ikea. Swedish almond cakes make a regular appearance at fikas, as do jam thumbprints, shortbread, and oat cookies.
If you want to bake your own Swedish pastries, you’ll find a nice selection and clear instructions in Swedish FIKA, Cakes, Rolls, Bread, Soups, and More by Milo Kalén. She shares recipes for popular pastries from her own Kaka på Kaka café in Linhamn, Sweden.
There’s something truly satisfying about pulling warm, fragrant cinnamon buns out of the oven. The scent beckons others to join, fostering a welcoming atmosphere for conversation and laughter. Whether making these buns alone as a tranquil activity or with company, the process is as delightful as the taste.
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The author would like to confess to gaining three pounds while “researching” this topic.
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