The word fika actually derives from the 19t century slang word for coffee, "kaffi". Throw the letters around and you get.....fika.
Fika is a Swedish tradition although Norwegians and Danes indulge in it as well. They just don't call it fika. Scandinavians drink the most coffee in the world so it's not so strange that we have this tradition based around something so simple as coffee.
Fika can have several meanings, but is usually associated with taking a break with one or more people (for example from work), hanging out, talking, drinking coffee and snacking on something (normally something sweet).
In many Swedish workplaces, there is a strong tradition of taking a fika break both in the morning and in the afternoon. This is when employees can be seen sitting down together and socialising while sipping on "kaffe & kakor" (coffee & cookies). Kanelbullar (cinnamon buns), sockerkaka (sponge cake) kladdkaka (mud cake) and prinsesstårta (princess cake) are some of the most popular things to have with fika.
The general rule is that Swedes generally take two fika breaks a day: once in the mid-morning, and again around 3 pm.
Coffee made its way to Sweden in the mid 1670's and became popular among the rich about 100 years later. However, in 1746, the king imposed a heavy tax on this new popular drink, but the Swedes refused to pay. Ten years later, Sweden banned coffee, but this did not stop the locals from continuing to drink it.
The King at the time, Gustav III was a very paranoid monarch, and he worried that drinking coffee would cause health problems but he also worried that secret coffee get-togethers would lead to plans to overthrow the monarchy. He therefore decided to use science to ban coffee. He decided to conduct an experiment on a pair of twins.
The two were sentenced to death for having committed a crime but the king changed their sentence to life imprisonment on the condition that they participate in The King's scientific coffee experiment. One twin drank three pots of tea a day for the rest of his life, while the other drank three pots of coffee a day. Two physicians were appointed to supervise the experiment and report its finding to the king. Unfortunately, both doctors died, presumably of natural causes, before the experiment was completed. Gustav III, who was assassinated in 1792, also died before seeing the final results. So what happened to the twins? The tea drinker was the first to die, at age 83. The coffee drinker lived even longer although it is unknown when he died, but thanks to him, coffee was back on the table.
After the King's Experiment, when coffee was seen as safe to drink again, it was drunk mainly at home in Sweden, unlike in other European countries. Fika was normally seen as an informal meeting with friends and family in your home and often served with a side of alcohol for the men and cakes for the women. Fika lately moved into kaffehus (coffee houses) which was something that mainly men took part in but with the start of confectionaries in the 1800’s women took part in this tradition as well. Later kafferep (a form of coffee “party”) also became popular where women met to knit, to drink coffee and eat cakes.
During the latter part of the of the 1900’s having fika at home became less and less common, and from the 1980s, cafés instead increased as meeting places to practice fika, although it is still a homely tradition as well.
Lets raise our cups (of coffee) and take a moment to thank the pair of twins who made the Art of Fika possible for the rest of us.