Two years have passed since I set foot on the old, rocky and rustic terrains of Gamla Stan, Stockholm. Art, culture and history form the base of this medieval island, which dates back to 1252. The narrow cobblestone streets are till date pedestrian-friendly and explode with museums, art galleries, bars, bakeries and restaurants. This is where I stumbled upon the thrilling concept of the Swedish fika from a locavore. During the course of the day, I took the plunge and engrossed in one myself. Below is a short depiction of what I experienced.
Fika is a social institution and concept through which Swedes are obligated to drink coffee or a beverage of their choice. Ideally consumed alongside home-made pastries, engaging with friends, family or co-workers, these gatherings are essentially known as indulging in fika or doing fika, pronounced (fee-ka). The word can be interchanged and utilised either as a noun or a verb, and is an inverted syllable term, derived from the 19th-Century word kaffi, which stands for coffee. Believe it or not, organisations encourage employees to engage in two fikas a day, one during mid-day and another later at three in the afternoon. Well, the more the merrier is what the Swedes proudly endorse.
There is a deep tie between the management style of each nation and existing coffee customs. The Swedes strengthen their relationships, personal or professional, by slowing down and it is deeply ingrained in their way of life. Since they showcase a flat or a non-hierarchical chain of command, the phenomenon of mid-commute slurps is thereby non-existent.
It is more of the coffee cup, engagement in deep conversations and relaxing or getting work done.
The Swedes speak highly of this lifestyle and many happened to share their benefits with me through my trail along the island. Believe it or not, they stop their activities and relish a communal, paused coffee break. They have the ability to switch on and off between being relaxed and focused. Leaving work behind is, after all, an art that not everyone can master. It stimulates inspired ideas and out-of-the-box thinking.
Firms do this with the intention of increasing bonding within employees and raising a sense of well-being.
Today, Sweden is the third-largest caffeine consumer in the world, but they had to battle their lives through for it. After being introduced in the mid-17th Century, it did not appeal to the palates till the early 18th Century. From then on, it only reached the hands of the elite crowd. King Gustav III, specifically disliked coffee on all counts. He did not appreciate the taste, complained about the negative effects on the human body and disapproved of the importance of it being a luxury commodity. He used his throne, to fine citizens who consumed it and worked hard to eliminate it from the market by heavily taxing it.
A story about Gustav goes thus — he called in a set of twins, both being prisoners and asked them to be a part of an experiment. In exchange, their death sentence would be reduced to life imprisonment. Under the guidance of court doctors, twin 1 was asked to consume three pots of tea a day for the rest of his life, while twin 2 had three pots of coffee.
To Gustav’s dismay, the court doctor passed away prior to the completion of the experiment. Later, King Gustav was assassinated as well. Ultimately, twin 2 ended up living longer than twin 1.
This was just the beginning of the fika revolution. They have in return turned this piece of history into their lifestyle. This is in complete contrast to the coffee culture in India, which is slowly evolving. Indians, with somewhat large pockets, are gradually giving room to splurge on the same. We are stepping into coffee lounges with the intention of accomplishing something productive. As a country, our attitudes are not there yet, but I hope in the years to come we do learn something from fika.
So next time you are sipping your 7 am beverage, take a minute, sit back, be inspired and savour your surroundings.