Coffee Culture Compared: what is coffee?

Coffee culture in Italy and Sweden compared.

As an aspiring translator, I stumbled upon a very serious concept to translate: coffee. Coffee is something that helps everyone understand everyone’s lifestyle and it is strictly connected to culture. In this article, I hope to summarise the concept of coffee culture in two different countries: Italy and Sweden.

Where do we drink coffee?

Coffee culture is pretty strong in Italy, where we don’t have cafés but bar(s). The concept of bar exists in English too, but for British culture it is a place where people meet to drink mostly, if not exclusively, alcoholic beverages, play games (board games, cues) or just have a chat to catch up with friends. The Italian meaning of bar couldn’t be any different. A bar is a place where people spend maximum ten minutes having breakfast or to have a quick coffee (espresso) before going back to work. Italians usually meet in bars in the afternoon too to quickly catch up and have, again, an espresso.

Given this premise, Italians go to a bar, pay at till, order at counter, drink a small cup of coffee, sometimes they drink a cup of water before having coffee (this happens especially in the Central and Southern regions), drink standing up at the counter, then they’re back outside after 5 minutes. So if I ask someone “do you fancy a coffee?”, this is the situation in Italy.

But if I ask someone in Sweden “do you fancy a coffee?”, you schedule everything ahead of time, go to “Espresso House” (the Scandinavian equivalent of Starbucks, even though Starbucks is an independent chain there), order a coffee at counter, you get a large cup/mug of coffee (10 times the amount that you get by ordering a coffee in Italy), pay, sit down, chat half an hour or more.

Who said fika?

Unlike Italians, Swedes have something to eat along with coffee, usually a pastry (kanelbulle or kardemummabulle) or something savoury. Swedes, therefore, don’t have simply coffee, they have fika. I know that Italian readers will probably laugh at this but trust me, it’s not what it seems. Yeah, I know, you must be confused but if you google the real meaning of that word, you’ll see why.
The Swedish word fika is an inverted syllable slang term derived from “kaffi,” coffee in the 19th century. Swedes have usually a fikapaus (fika-break) at 10AM and 3PM and they are among the heaviest coffee-drinkers in the world.

Is coffee something that makes us understand people’s lifestyle from all over the world?

What about coffee culture in your country? I’d love to understand what coffee means where you live.

(I found this interesting article about cafes in Stockholm, have a look!)

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3 thoughts on “Coffee Culture Compared: what is coffee?

  1. I haven’t been to Italy or Sweden, so I haven’t been to either bars or cafes, but I’ve tried both Swedish and Italian ground coffee in an attempt to find the best one I could drink at home. I love Italian better 🙂 Coffee in Belarus is a great part of culture, too, although we drink lots of tea as well. But we are just like the Swedish – we like long chats and pastry and huge mugs! May it be because of the colder climate?
    Hey I have a question I’ve always wondered: when do Italians drink other types of coffee besides espresso? Like capuccino or latte? And great post!
    Ina
    inamezblog.com

    1. I think it is linked to the climate, as you said. Yes, Italians drink cappuccino and latte too, but only in the morning. We have ‘americano’ which is usually instant coffee served on a big cup (but here it’s quite disgusting as we don’t have this instant coffee or americano culture).

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