Coffee rituals essential for a good life!

We have certain rituals when we make our 10 o’clock coffee – which here in the Swedish-Finnish archipelago is called “middle coffee” – and our afternoon coffee. FIKA as it is called in Sweden, which is actually the coffee itself  not what you have WITH your coffee as I thought before I heard a radio program about the word FIKA. “Fika” was used as early as the 19th century, when syllables of a word often were reversed to form a new word,  from kaffi (an earlier version of the Swedish word kaffe). See more below. My husband Jonathan thought I was a bit funny when I first came to live in the U.S. I said I wanted to go “out for a coffee” but it did not mean “a coffee” since I did not drink coffe then but tea and going out for coffee also meant to have something sweat to eat.

Anyway, when we are doing this very important morning and afternoon coffee  ritual we first make our coffee in a moccamaker on the stove, then we boil milk and whisk it and add just the right amount of milk to our coffee to make a perfect strength and flavor. (For Swedish speaking people: “Sedan blandar vi vårt kaffe till angenäm styrka och smak” från Calle Schewens vals*).

This coffee ritual is so important to me.  The coffee seem to taste better when I do it right – life at its best.  As a sociologist this also interests me and  in my study about first-time parents in Sweden and Finland I interview Latte mothers sicne I am interested in this new phenomenon/ritual.  In an article in the journal Psychological Science Harvard Business School researcher Francesca Gino and colleagues write how they in a study focused on the way rituals influenced adults’ experience of eating. People who employed rituals before eating savored their food more and found it tastier, the researchers discovered. That was true for chocolate and even carrots. Steve Inskeep and Shankar Vedantam explore why that might be true on Thursday’s Morning Edition.

You can visit this NPR page at 12 noon EDT Thursday the 19th of Juni 2013 to join a live Google+ conversation with Shankar Vedantam and Harvard behavioral scientist Francesca Gino and Slate’s Human Nature correspondent William Saletan about the role of ritual in human life. You can also join in the conversation on Facebook right now!

Rurre, Bigi, Majlen E-M
Afternoon coffe break at Emmaus Westervik. My father to the left and my mother in the middle

Wikipedia about Fika – an important social ritual in Sweden:

Fika is a social institution in Sweden; it means having a break, most often a coffee break, with one’s colleagues, friends, date or family. The word “fika” can serve as both a verb and a noun. Swedes consider having a coffee an important part of the culture. You can fika at work by taking a “coffee break”, fika with someone like a “coffee date”, or just drink a cup of coffee. As such, the word has quite ambiguous connotations, but almost always including something to eat, such as cookies, cakes and even candy, accompanied by a drink. This practice of taking a break, typically with a cinnamon roll or some biscuits or cookies, or sometimes a smörgås or a fruit on the side, is central to Swedish life, and is regularly enjoyed even by government employees.

Although the word may in itself imply “taking a break from work”, this is often emphasized using the word fikapaus (“fika pause”) or fikarast (“fika break”), with kaffepaus and kafferast, respectively, as near synonymsFika may also mean having coffee or other beverages at a café or konditori (a “patisserie-based coffeehouse”).

Fika performs an important social function as the “non-date date”, i.e. while going on a date can be perceived as a big deal, ta en fika (“Take a fika”) is a very low-pressure and informal situation, and doesn’t in itself imply any romantic context. People of opposite/appropriate genders meeting for a fika doesn’t raise any eyebrows or particular suspicions that they are to become “an item.”

Traditionally, fika requires sweet, baked goods, especially cinnamon rolls. According to Helene Henderson, author of The Swedish Table, one needs three items minimum to avoid insult to Swedish guests; “to impress, serve a variety of seven freshly baked items–and be ready to talk about the weather.

Coffee in the garden 1927 in Kimito Finland. My father is the boy in the front.

Fika is also combined in words such as fikabröd (“fika bread”) which is a collective name for all kinds of biscuits, cookies, buns, etc. that are traditionally eaten with coffee. Non-sweetened breads are normally not included in this term (even though these may sometimes be consumed with coffee). Fika is also used as a noun, referring to fikabröd and coffee combined.

Baked goods associated with fika are sometimes referred to as doppa (app: dunkables), implying that the foodstuff should be dunked in coffee. These are sometimes, mainly regionally in the northern parts, divided into grovdoppa (rough dunkables – e.g., sandwiches or other savories, sometimes replacing a meal) and findoppa (fine dunkables – e.g cinnamon buns, cookies, sweet biscuits et.c). Calling a sandwich grovdoppa isn’t just referred meaning. Many Swedes enjoy dunking sandwiches and other savories in coffee before eating them.

While the term is nowadays mostly used as a synonym for “coffee break” (or “tea break”, “lemonade break”, “cake break” or similar), the original use of the word – meaning just “coffee” – still lives on, especially in the older generations. The phrase “en kopp fika” for “a cup of coffee” is not as common as it used to be, but still prevails to some degree.

In my area of Finland three items on the coffee table was not enough – a good coffee party had at least seven different sorts of coffee breads. My grandmother loved sweet pastries and tarts and once her uncle arranged a competition in one of the famous konditoris in Helsinki (this must have been around 1910) the Fazer konditori (wonderful pictures from the café here).  He would pay and all the invited contenders could eat as many tarts as they wanted.  My grandmother eat 7 and won!
The song Calle Schewens walze (* yes, I know, Calle also put in something stronger than milk in his coffee, but we seldom do that) by Evert Taube sang in the Swedish film Äppelkriget (The apple war) by Tage Danielsson and Hasse Alfredsson stir up wonderful movie memories and childhood summer nostalgia and these few minutes give a taste of the Nordic summer at its best with its mythical elements which are so important.   Whoops – it is 3:03 pm – our mocka coffee is boiling! Happy midsummer to you all!


  1. Trevligt att se fotot på din pappa och mamma vid det stora bordet i Västervik! Där har jag ju också suttit några gånger :)

  2. Hej Gunilla! Jo det har du och tänk så många spännande människor som suttit där!
    Fin midsommar åt er!

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