Posted in Kafevend Blog
Permit us to digress for a moment; we'll arrive at the subject of coffee soon enough! As spring progresses, do you get the urge to have a good clear out, perhaps decorate, or totally revamp a room? If you're giving a room a makeover chances are you'll be heading for the likes of Homebase, B&Q and Ikea. One of those shops now boasts a food shop in addition to its usual ranges. Here's a clue – the food section hosts a range of traditional Swedish foods. Yes, you've got it – Ikea! One of the foods on offer is a bag of frozen ready to bake cinnamon buns, so we wondered, what's so quintessentially Swedish about that? This is where we return to coffee...
Scandinavians are the world's top coffee drinkers and in Sweden there's a social tradition called fika which is akin to a coffee break, taken at any time of the day, both at home and at work with friends or colleagues. Crucially, there's a sweet accompaniment such as cakes, cookies or buns. Cinnamon buns are a frequent and very popular choice, hence Ikea's decision to provide a take home version as well as the ones available to go with coffee at their cafés.
The word fika, which is pronounced feeka, originated by way of a little wordplay and is formed by reversing the syllables of the old word for coffee – kaffi. The practice of obscuring the meaning of words is one that's been used here in the UK in the past, via backslang and pig Latin for example. It could well be that the term fika was coined in Sweden to provide a disguise too because despite the firmly rooted coffee culture in Sweden today, it wasn't always so.
Initially introduced in the 1600s, coffee started to gain a foothold in Sweden during the following century. With coffee came coffee shops where people gathered to enjoy their favourite new hot drink and generally chew the fat. Sweden's monarch at the time, King Gustav III, became increasingly worried that social discontent would spread at these coffee gatherings. He also claimed that coffee wasn't any good for people's health. As a result, coffee was heavily taxed and ultimately banned. However, those who'd got a taste for it still wanted to drink it and there's nothing like prohibition to increase a product's desirability!
King Gustav was even moved to commission a study of coffee's long term negative health effects. Criminally convicted twin brothers had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment in return for one committing to life long coffee drinking and the other life long tea drinking. Ironically, both King Gustav and the doctors running the study died before the twins, who lived into their eighties and the coffee drinker outlived his brother!
So how does the coffee in Sweden taste nowadays? Well, it tends to be composed entirely of arabica beans, which are most often medium roasted and then drip brewed. The high quality of the drinking water is also cited as a contributory factor to the great tasting coffee on offer all over the country. That coupled with the ubiquitous cinnamon bun, or kanelbullar to give it its name in Swedish, makes the idea of daily fika sound very enticing. Perhaps we should take a leaf from Sweden's book and spend more time using coffee to bond with others, rather than rushing about and hastily grabbing a coffee to go.