The Art of Fika: An Interview with Canyon Coffee
When we first heard about fika, the Swedish art of the coffee break, we were forced to take a look at our own everyday behavior. What we found wasn't pretty. Coffee, for us, and most people here in the states is a frenzied, distracted, in-and-out experience. Fika stands in stark opposition to all that as a customary midday coffee break at a much more leisurely pace. Our search for the perfect cup led us to Casey and Ally, founders of L.A.'s Canyon Coffee.
Fika (Swedish pronunciation: [²fiːka]): is a concept in Swedish culture with the basic meaning "to have coffee", often accompanied with pastries, cookies or pie.
What are the key ingredients of Fika?
A coffee, a snack, and at least one other person. You can have a fika with your friends, your coworkers, or your grandma. The goal is quality time and connection. The ethos is coziness. It doesn’t include phones or computers and is decidedly not a work meeting.
Why is Fika important? What makes it different from just grabbing a coffee?
Fika creates space for quality time with other people, for the sake of simply enjoying each other’s company. It gives us time to be heard and appreciated, builds camaraderie, and gives us a sense of belonging. These are things very basic to being a human that are easily overlooked in our high-paced culture.
“Grabbing a coffee” doesn’t always imply taking a break. Sometimes it’s just a code word for business meeting. Even the phrase “grab” implies haste — that you’re not going to take a minute to pause and savor the moment.
So, ironically, while the format of fika is free from productivity or ambition, the act itself results in happier, more productive people.
There’s a great parable about two lumberjacks equal in skill and strength, competing to see who can chop more wood in the same amount of time. At the end, the Canadian, who hacked away consistently the entire span of the contest, believes he’s won, as he heard his Norwegian opponent stopping once every 10 minutes. To his dismay, he learns he has lost: the Norwegian was only stopping to sharpen his axe. It pays to take a break.
You mentioned you’d been to Sweden and experienced Fika firsthand. What was that like?
It’s funny: we were running Canyon while traveling, so we naturally holed up in a coffee shop to get some work done. Before long, we realized we were the only people there on computers. The room was full of couples and small groups of people of all ages, just enjoying their coffee, treats and conversations. It felt so congenial and light.
It seems like Fika is just “the way it’s done” in Sweden — what are your thoughts on it as a trend here in the US?
We’re already familiar with the feeling of fika, we just tend to save it for the winter holidays (think cozy sweaters and candles). Likewise, we’re used to getting together with friends, we’re just not in the habit of doing it on a daily basis around coffee and pastries.
I think the challenge for us lies in unplugging. Despite the increased connectivity, we still struggle with what Vonnegut called “the great American epidemic”: loneliness. Maybe that’s why fika is emerging as a trend. We want to be intentional about slowing down and doing the things that matter most to us in life.
That’s a big part of what Canyon Coffee is all about. We want to help people find pause and treat themselves on a daily basis.
How’d Canyon Coffee get started?
When Ally and I met five years ago, we were both traveling a lot for work. On the road, our favorite pastime became finding local roasters. We’d send back bags of coffee to each other and started learning how to make it taste better at home.
In time, we became the de facto coffee experts to our friends, constantly fielding questions like “I’m in [random city], where do I get coffee?” Eventually, we had the thought: wouldn’t it be awesome if we did this all the time?
The decision to start a coffee company came out of an actual conversation, about what we wanted our lives to look like over the next five years. We wanted to create something together, travel more, meet interesting people, interact with businesses we admire, and share something positive with the world.
We made the commitment in March 2016. From there, everything flowed. We cupped beans, selected our favorites, developed our brand, designed our packaging, made our strategy, and launched—all within six months.
How is Canyon different from the other craft coffee companies out there?
Our kitchen at home is the closest thing we have to a shop, and we do pop-ups 2-3 times per month. We promote other coffee companies and roasters that we admire (we even make travel guides). We believe in the taste and health benefits of drinking coffee black, but we believe the “correct” way to drink coffee is whatever way makes you happy.
Perhaps most importantly, we like to tell the story of what coffee means to us through people, ritual, and feeling—not just coffee-coffee-coffee all the time. It’s about mindfulness, sharing it with someone you love, the warmth of enjoying it with others.
We learned about coffee through Third Wave shops and roasters — however, we’re aware that the seriousness with which Third Wave professionals take their work has sometimes earned reputations of being snobbish or pretentious. If anything, we want to contribute warmth and openness to the industry. So while we hold ourselves to the same standards of Third Wave roasters, we want to talk about coffee in a way that makes it accessible and appealing for anyone to dive in.
Coffee shouldn’t be intimidating, it should be warm and inviting.
What’s Third Wave coffee?
The three “waves” of coffee refer to the three mass developments that have defined coffee culture in the US. Here’s how I break them down:
First Wave refers to the widespread commercialization of drip coffee during the 1940s and 50s. Think diner coffee, Maxwell House, and Folgers.
Second Wave coffee was the introduction of Italian espresso to America, largely credited to west coast roasters like Peet’s and Starbucks. This is what ushered in your typical “coffee shop” serving espresso, cappuccinos, lattes.
Third Wave coffee shops began to emerge in the 1990s, pushing the limits of what coffee could be. They learned about differences in coffee harvesting and production and got involved at the farm level. They experimented with roasting and developed new perspectives on making coffee to achieve better, more consistent extractions and made artwork out of steamed milk.
What makes the perfect cup of coffee?
There’s no objective answer to that! Coffee is not inherently good, bad, weak or strong because of its origin or even its roast date—so much of it comes down to how you brew it. The most important thing is to buy quality beans and then establish consistency in your ritual.
All that said, here are my parameters for a perfect pour-over for two. This is specifically for a V-60, but can be applied to any pour-over:
1. Quality, single origin whole beans
2. A burr grinder: the single-most important investment in a home brewing set-up, burrs grind the beans consistently for a smoother, more balanced cup.
3. Water just off boil (around 203°F)
4. Grind ~5 tablespoons of coffee, or two full V-60 spoon scoops. This equals between 35 - 38 grams of coffee
5. “Bloom” the coffee by slowly adding just enough water to wet all the grounds, then let it sit at least 30 seconds
6. Proceed to slowly pour about 4 cups of water over the coffee. Your goal is between 525 and 570 grams of water or a 15-to-1 water-to-coffee ratio
7. From start to finish, pour-time should be right around 3:00 minutes
8. Pour coffee into your favorite mug(s) and enjoy with your loved one, a friend, or a book!
Tip: If your coffee’s weak, use less water or make the grind finer. If your coffee’s bitter, your water might be too hot—let it cool a minute off boil before pouring over coffee.
"Coffee shouldn’t be intimidating, it should be warm and inviting."
What’s the most memorable coffee experience you’ve had?
I have to give kudos to the experience of Koffee Mameya (formerly Omotesando Koffee) in Tokyo. It’s like walking into a coffee art-gallery-turned-science-laboratory.
But most memorable in terms of the beauty of the moment has to be backstage at Treasure Island music festival in 2013. It was my old band Cayucas’ last gig of a gnarly two-month jaunt. It was one of those typical blustery Bay Area mornings, and as I walked into the artist area I smelled coffee. Following the smell, I came across a pour-over stand. It was operated by Sightglass, which I was unfamiliar with at the time. The barista handed me a coffee, I took a sip, and it tasted nothing short of miraculous.
What other interesting coffee cultural practices have you seen around the world?
My introduction to coffee was in Spain, via siesta. It’s not too far off from fika, but is less about a break with a friend and more about closing up shop at 3:00 and heading home to be with family. It was in that culture that I first took the time to sit and really enjoy a cappuccino. I really love what I’ve heard about the culture of espresso in Italy. No matter where you go, you can get a wonderful shot of espresso. I’ve heard accounts from multiple friends traveling through the Italian countryside, pulling up to a gas station, and coming across a dozen or so Italians hanging out around an espresso machine, just enjoying espresso together. And then I love the unique recipes that come out of different cultures, and the history of those innovations. Chicory in New Orleans, split peas in Cuba, cardamom in Morocco.
What does the future hold for Canyon Coffee?
We want to keep traveling, keep making new friendships, and keep up with the demand for our coffee in a sustainable way. We want to eventually have a shop in Los Angeles. And with our roots there, to start roasting operations in other parts of the world (Japan and Europe, in particular). We want to form stronger, mutually beneficial relationships with our farmers so that their communities can prosper when we do. We want to contribute to the primary education of girls around the world, and the protection of wild places. And we want to grow as a company, providing abundant livelihoods for our team and creating a culture that encourages creativity and balanced lifestyles. [H]
All this talk about fika have you wanting to bundle up and get cozy?
Check out some of our favorite gifts for the Indoorsman.