Fika and the Art of the Coffee Break - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

A coffee break can be so much more than a dose of caffeine. In few places is this more fully embraced than Sweden, where the long-held tradition of fika remains part of the modern coffee culture. It is both a celebration and a respite—a chance to catch up with friends, family or co-workers as well as a moment to take pause and simply relax. “A fika is not the same as grabbing a cup of coffee on the go, or having one at your work desk,” says Johanna Kindvall, an illustrator who splits her time between her native Sweden and Brooklyn. Together with writer Anna Brones, Kindvall released the book Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. “It’s a moment when you leave whatever you do and sit down for a coffee (or tea) somewhere else—alone or with others. It’s a moment when you focus on something else.” In our March/April issue, we took a photographic tour of Stockholm’s current coffee scene and spoke with cafe owners, bakers and coffee roasters about what fika means today.

“[A fika is] a moment when you leave whatever you do and sit down for a coffee (or tea) somewhere else—alone or with others.”—Johanna Kindvall

While a cup of coffee is an obvious component of the ritual (fika literally translates as coffee), it almost always includes a snack of some kind. “The most iconic fika item is the cinnamon or cardamom bun. You would be hard-pressed to find a café in Sweden that doesn’t serve them,” says Anna Brones. Cafe Pascal, owned by siblings Hosep, Jannet, and Arman Seropian, is beloved for its creative baked goods like saffron brioche with black currant and raspberry filling. Now with two locations in Stockholm, the cafe began roasting their own coffee beans last year and was named one of the best coffee shops in the 2021 Svenska Gastronomipriset by Restaurangvärlden magazine. “Fika is very important. It is a big part of a Swede’s everyday life,” says Hosep Seropian. “Especially now, when you can see that people where affected by the [Covid] restrictions, they are very glad to be able to meet for a fika again.”

Since opening in 2009, Drop Coffee has consistently been a leader in Stockholm’s specialty coffee scene, with Swedish Coffee Roasting Champion Joanna Alm at the helm. Alm’s partner and co-owner is U.K.-native Stephen Leighton, who founded Hasbean Coffee and relocated to Sweden to work with Drop Coffee. “As an outsider coming into Sweden, you really see how important fika is,” says Leighton. “It can be for anything—someone popping around your home to see you, breaking some very important news, or a momentous occasion.”

A fika spread at Komet Stockholm. | Photo by Petter Bäcklund.

While the practice of fika is rooted in tradition, as the coffee scene evolves so does the manner in which people choose to take a coffee break. “In the old days, fika was kind of mandatory in the workplace, especially in Sweden with a big industrial segment and a lot of office workers. You would always have a fika in the afternoon—socializing and getting a caffeine and sugar boost to finish the work day,” explains Öner Kulbay, co-owner of Stockholm Roast with Johan Montan Ahlgren. “In today’s modern coffee scene, there are more offerings of single-origin or single-estate coffees to go with the (still) traditional cinnamon or cardamum buns. It’s younger, more vibrant, and more avant-garde compared to the old school bakeries of the past.”

Helping define the modern scene are spots like acclaimed bakery Bageri Petrus, founded by baker Petrus Jakobsson and inspired by his memories of afternoon fika with his grandmother. At Svedjan Bageri, which opened in fall of 2020, the cafe uses milk, butter and cheese from owner Alfred Hellström’s family dairy north of Stockholm. Also in 2020, longtime coffee roaster Aadel Kersh opened his new Kersh Kaffe in a former porcelain factory, where the sprawling space includes the roastery and a full restaurant making pizza on the weekends. And at Komet Stockholm, opened last fall, the coffee comes from Stockholm Roast and is complemented by co-owner Nicholas Viry’s creative pastries, like a coffee-infused semla.

“I think that even without the title ‘fika’ you would recognize the ritual all the same,” says Drop Coffee’s Leighton. “It’s friends getting together to take a small piece of the day to talk to each other, to give time to each other and enjoy some coffee and a snack without other distractions of mobile phones and the outside world.”

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