Time for a Fika: An Introduction to
Swedish Coffee Culture
The Swedish food culture might not be the most interesting or exciting in the world, especially not for vegans since it tends to be very meat heavy. And besides the exception of Swedish meatballs which can be easily veganized these days and even enjoyed at IKEA in a vegan version, there aren’t many dishes from Sweden that are celebrated outside of the country’s borders.
However, there is a part of the Swedish coffee culture that’s both unique and undervalued in the rest of the world, and I’m here to tell you everything you need to know about it.
I am, of course, talking about the Swedish fika, or the art of making coffee and sweets a part of your everyday life. Fika is an integral part of Swedish culture and something most Swedes take part in on the regular. I mean, why wouldn't you want to eat sweets and drink coffee every day?
What Is a Swedish Fika?
Fika is the perfect example of an untranslatable term that has no direct English counterpart. The closest comparison you can make is to English tea time, but there are several differences between the English version and the Swedish coffee break that needs to be considered.
In short, fika describes the act of having a coffee with a sweet usually after lunch or in the afternoon. But it’s about more than just enjoying a cake with a coffee, for Swedes it’s a social expression, a way to socialize with friends and family, to gossip, or finish up a lunch. Many times it's something that's done sort of on autopilot without a plan.
In fact, the Swedish fika is so ingrained in the culture that many workplaces offer employees an unofficial and usually paid 10 to 20-minute “fikapaus” (coffee break) in the afternoon, usually around 2 or 3 pm. Not only is it a good way to refocus your mind on the tasks you’re performing, but it gives you a caffeinated sugar rush that boosts your performance during the last few hours of the workday.
The Art of Swedish Fika
Just remember that a fika is not meant to be something fancy or pretentious, it’s all about enjoying the simple things. A hot drink - preferably coffee - is usually enough and a sweet is considered a bonus. As mentioned, many people have a fika at work but it’s probably more common to enjoy one at home with friends and family. Although, many Swedes tend to meet up for a fika at the local coffee shop, often referred to as a “fik” in Swedish. And there is an abundance of fiks in Sweden, with every Swede having their favorite spot that they always go to.
So why is fika such a big part of Swedish tradition? Well, for starters Sweden, and neighboring countries, top the list of the highest coffee consumption per capita in the world even beating Italy, so the coffee drinking is already there. The reason why we drink so much coffee is probably a combination of the dark winters that drain you of all energy and the genius idea of having a daily fika.
How To Fika Like A Swede
The simple answer is that your fika can be whatever you like, there are no set rules to follow and no guidelines but your own. As long as you disconnect from everything else and enjoy a break with a snack in good company, you're having a fika! In Swedish schools, kids eat fruit for the fika but as we get older more and more cookies and sweets are usually introduced.
That being said, there are a few items that seem to be extra popular among Swedes and here are some of the most common options. All the following items are offered in vegan versions and can be veganized for the perfect vegan Swedish coffee break!
Brewed Coffee - The most important part is the coffee, or another hot drink if you have to. And don't worry, we Swedish people make it easy. We don't want any iced coffees, spiced cappuccinos, or matcha lattes, all we need is a strong cup of well-brewed coffee with a dash of vegan milk. Also, in Sweden, a coffee at a "fik" or restaurant ALWAYS comes with at least one free refill called påtår. If it doesn't you need to find yourself a new coffee spot!
Princesstårta (Princess Cake) - This might be the most Swedish cake of them all. In fact, we've never encountered it anywhere else in the world. Trust us when we say it's a well-kept secret. This fabulous looking cake is basically a regular strawberry shortcake infused with plenty of mandelmassa (almond paste) and covered with a thick layer of either green or pink mandelmassa. We've had the pleasure of enjoying an amazing vegan prinsesstårta at Kao's in Malmö, Sweden, who also happens to serve some of the best vegan fika in Sweden.
Kladkakor (Mud Cake) - The second most popular dessert is the kladdkaka - the ultimate Swedish coffee cake. It's just a simple chocolate mud cake served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It's crazy delicious and super easy to bake. In fact, I don't know anyone from Sweden that doesn't know "their own recipe" off the top of their head. Best part though is that it's super easy to veganize!
Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Rolls) - Is there anyone in the world that doesn't love cinnamon buns? Probably not and Sweden is no exception. On October 4th, the country of Sweden comes together in honor of one of their most beloved pastries in what's known as Kanelbullensdag or Cinnamon Bun Day! Swedish Cinnamon rolls go hand and hand with a fika coffee break and are often one of the most popular choices.
Chockladbollar (Chocolate Ball) - x
The Christmas Edition of Vegan Fika
The best time of the year for a fika is obviously winter. When the sun sets around 3 pm, it's cold, rainy, and all you can think of is the summer, so you either travel to the tropics or have a fika! Better yet is that there are fika items that are only sold around Christmas.
Pepparkakor (Gingerbread) - No one makes gingerbread as well as we do in Sweden, that's just the way it is. They're either bought pre-made at the grocery store (no shame in that) or they're made at home. Just remember that you are not allowed to eat them outside of the month in December. If you do it will be frowned upon, or worse...
Lussekatter - There is nothing more Christmasy for a Swedish person than freshly made lussekatter. These sweet wheat rolls are baked to fluffy perfection, seasoned with saffron, and enjoyed daily for the month of December. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, you bet! Often eaten with a cup of Swedish spiced wine - glögg.
Last Few Words About the Swedish Coffee Break
Another important and seasonal based fika item is the semla. It's a cardamom flavored sweet roll served with a thick layer of almond paste and whipped cream. This is enjoyed in February just before Lent begins and no other time of the year. Honestly, you can't find semlor in Sweden outside of February. It's more acceptable to eat ice cream during a snowstorm than a semla in the summer.
Thanks to the recent vegan movement, vegan semlor has become more and more common, and today you can find vegan versions in most coffee shops and stores across Sweden.
To sum it up, a fika can be as simple as you want it to be. In fact, a fika doesn’t actually have to include any form of sweets and just simply having a coffee with a good friend or on your own can be considered a fika. It’s up to the partaker to decide, and in the end, it's all about the social experience.