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Take a Coffee Break in Scandinavia

by Debra Bokur

Sep 26, 2019

Loonara | Dreamstime.com

Travel Tips

Let’s be honest: There are only so many museums you can trek through before you need a shot of caffeine. If you’re lucky enough to be in Norway, Denmark, Finland or Sweden, you have the opportunity to experience a traditional coffee break that puts you in touch with local culture and gives you a chance to relax and savor your surroundings. If you don’t want to stand out as a visitor, remember to linger over your cup, and to not be offended if those around you enjoy their hot drinks in quiet, or even in silence.


The Swedish practice of fika — to slow down to enjoy a cup of coffee — has become pretty well known, despite the fact that throughout the country’s history, coffee has been banned five times. Today, fikarast and fikapaus breaks lasting up to a half hour are built into morning and afternoons, even during the workday.


“When Danes take their break during the day,” said Laura Dybdahl Andersen, VisitDenmark, “it always includes a cup of coffee. And a good one, please. In Copenhagen you’ll find lots of small, charming, niche coffee shops, where it’s more often the rule than the exception that the shops roast their own beans.”


Furthermore, explained Dybdahl, the Danish coffee break equals time for hygge, when a sense of wellbeing and comfort reigns. Coffee is enjoyed in ceramic vessels with a slice of cake on the side, and shared with colleagues, friends and family instead of in a to-go cup while you rush through errands. “I feel confident in saying that all Danes grew up with the warm and cozy smell of coffee,” said Dybdahl, “making it the perfect surrounding point for bringing people together.”


In Norway, Kaffepause describes the coffee break tradition: Literally, a pause with coffee — and, of course, a warm, heart-shaped waffle topped with berries and sour cream. All of this, said Harald Hansen, VisitNorway/Innovation Norway, is to create a sense of “kos,” the equivalent of Danish hygge. And visitors are welcome to join in. A nation-wide Kaffepause program [Kaffepause.org.] pairs visitors with a coffee host to share a coffee break in a local and authentic way.


Coffee is something of an obsession in Finland, where the language includes coffee words and phrases like aamukahvi, meaning morning coffee; päiväkahvi, or day coffee; iltakahvi, meaning evening coffee; and saunakahvi, or sauna coffee. This love of coffee has led to an abundance of cafés and coffee shops dotted around Helsinki and other parts of the country, where it’s often served up with sweet cinnamon buns called pulla.


The Finns, said Anne Relander, Helsinki Marketing, absolutely love their coffee. In fact, Finnish people consume more coffee per person than does any other nation in the world. “I think having coffee for Finns is much the same habit as British have their tea,” she speculated. “It’s like opening a discussion or just meeting with a friend, [a] convenient and easy access to start conversation.”


Relander and her team begin their work day by sharing a coffee pause each morning, where everyone is welcome to join. While preparing for the day ahead, she said, she and her colleagues chat about everything under the sun, from work projects to their private observations about life and the world.


This is no quick, 10-minute meet up, but rather a leisurely session that often lasts a half hour. The investment is a productive one, creating amicable feelings that spread throughout the day and affect the work environment is a positive way.


“We have a second coffee break around 2 p.m.,” she said. Sometimes, colleagues bring something they’ve baked, such as apple pies in autumn, or apples and rhubarb they’ve harvested from their home garden. “Perhaps,” reflected Relander, “long winters are one reason we love warm and hot drinks. A brief chat around a cup of coffee can do miracles.”


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