Stop! In the name of fika

Most of us have heard of the Swedish furniture giant Ikea but what about fika?

Fika (pronounced fee-ka) is another institution of Sweden, and one of particular interest to coffee drinkers, given its almost sacred approach to the practice of breaking for coffee. In Sweden, fika (which translates roughly to coffee break) is considered a fundamental of life and is even built into many employee contracts. But it's no hurried, coffee-to-go affair, squeezed in between multiple tasks, or worse, supped behind a wheel. Taken once or twice daily, fika is a rather more sacrosanct tradition – akin to something of a coffee siesta – and involves the actual cessation of other activities for a proper pause to enjoy fellow company (such as colleagues, friends or family) along with a coffee, or some other like beverage, accompanied by pastries or snacks. Fika is a breather, essentially, for renewal and savouring the moment.

It's so important, there's a glossary of terms dedicated to the art of the coffee pause: to fikapaus is to stop and fika, a fik is a cafe where you fika, fikasugen means you're jonesing to fika, and fikarums are the places employers offer staff to gather in for their de rigueur daily fika. Fika is such a wonderful concept, the rest of the world has started to cotton on to the Swedish ritual.

Anna Brones, co-author of the April 2015 release, “Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break,” in a Q&A with The Oregonian, said the new focus on fika is tied to rising interest in Swedish design and Scandinavian food and literature, promoted further by expats bringing fika to restaurants and cafes outside of the country. Although, taking a break to drink coffee is not "inherently Swedish", she says, the factor of slowness is what draws people in.

“In the States, it's the first thing you drink when you get up and it's more associated with speed and the caffeine element; the thing you need to function,” said Brones. “In Sweden, it's a thing you look forward to because you can take a break from your work.” [For more on this, see: Author Anna Brones talks fika, the Swedish coffee break, new cookbook (Q&A)]

Here, at Green Beanery, we're aiming to give a fika state of mind a try ourselves, by stopping more often to enjoy the distinctive Toronto views at our store café, at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst, and one view in particular. Honest Ed's discount funhouse emporium, on the south-west corner opposite us, represents a living piece of the city's history and a character we intend to cherish as much as possible for the next while. The store that for decades held the world record for most electric lights on a building will soon be dimming when demolition of Honest Ed's begins on New Year's Eve, 2016, to make way for a mixed-use residential/retail development project featuring a glass-covered market.

Although, the loss of the iconic bargain circus and its slice of Vegas-style flash weighs heavy on the heart (admittedly, depending on who you talk to), plans for the lot are not without some of its soon-to-be former resident's community-minded pulse. According to the developer, Vancouver-based Westbank Projects Corp., Torontonians can expect an overall "European feel", micro-retail and small start-up shops in what is now "Honest Ed's Alley," as well as the possible closure of Markham Street on weekends for events such as fairs and outdoor movie nights. No mention of kitsch in the proposal, though.

For another Scandinavian tradition in the spirit of fika, check out our selection of Bodum products, both at our store and online, to enrich your own coffee pause. In fact, the popping colours of Bodum's Brazil line of coffee makers almost serve as a tribute to Ed Mirvish himself; so irrepressibly cheerful in their blend of neon fun and affordability, you'll be fikasugen for fika all day long.

Lisa Peryman
Lisa Peryman


Lisa Peryman has worked with Greenpeace Australia and The Wilderness Society (Australia). She studied journalism in New Zealand and book and magazine publishing in Canada. Her background includes reporting and editing for daily newspapers and trade magazines, as well as creative copywriting for broadcast. Lisa is continuing her studies in Canada and currently works with Probe International as an editor and writer. Earnings from Green Beanery operations support the work of Probe International, a Canadian charity that works with citizens' groups around the world to protect their lands and their livelihoods. Probe International is a Canadian trust.