Editor’s note: Blogger, minister and globe-trotting coffee aficionado Elizabeth Reynolds McGuire spends her downtime promoting the Swedish idea of fika and checking out local coffee shops. This week, she begins a regular series that will examine Asheville-area coffee culture one cup at a time.
I love coffee. I also love photography, writing and being an expatriate. And I most definitely love Asheville. So I decided to start a project to celebrate all of those things.
For the past three years, I lived in Sweden, enjoying all of the perks of Swedish life: beautiful nature, Earth-friendly transportation, amazing architecture, a new language and new customs and traditions. Of course, upon moving back to Asheville, I brought quite a few of those new habits and traditions with me. But, I must admit, there is one that is my favorite: fika.
Fika doesn’t translate well to English. It is a noun. It is a verb. And it must be experienced. In Sweden, you go to have a fika. And when you meet for fika, you fika. Curious yet?
Imagine meeting someone for coffee, but instead of just grabbing a cup on the go, you sit down for a leisurely cup of joe and really catch up. Now imagine taking two 30-minute coffee breaks at work — one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Yes, in Sweden, fika breaks are scheduled into the workday. Everyone, everywhere makes time to fika. To fika is to slow down, to sip coffee and to reconnect with yourself and with others. Pretty amazing, huh?
Faith in a cup
While I was in Sweden, this fika thing became a spiritual practice for me. Sipping on coffee in cafes, in the homes of friends and family and at work, immersed me in life. I pondered, discussed and wrote about life. I connected with myself and with others. For me, a cup of coffee became something to be savored — a chance to contemplate, to breathe and to simply be. Whether I was alone or with others, I experienced sacred moments of life over fika.
I had lived in the Asheville area for many years before moving to Sweden, and upon returning last summer, I couldn’t wait to continue my fika traditions here. But I soon realized that I wanted more. There was so much that I did not know about Asheville — so many cafes, streets, alleys and neighborhoods I had yet to explore. I realized that I wanted to go deeper. I didn’t just want to drink coffee, I wanted to dive into the community: Talk to people. Observe. Hear stories. Share stories. I wanted to experience the eclectic, funky, creative soul of Asheville. And what better way to feel the heartbeat and meet the people of this city than to fika with it?
Suddenly, it came to me: I would fika in a different cafe every single day. So, that’s what I am doing. I am drinking coffee, meeting people and discovering much about Asheville and myself along the way.
When we take time to know ourselves and each other, we create a community, a world, of peace. To fika is to live out our faith. No matter what kind of faith we have or don’t have, everyone likes coffee, right? When we fika, we slow down. We listen. We discuss. We create. We understand. I want Asheville to become Fika City USA — a town known for amazing coffee, but known even more for community-driven citizens who love to get together and simply enjoy life.
Where coffee makes a difference
I had no idea what to expect when I visited the Downtown Market. I actually drove right past the cafe the first time, seeing nothing but a long, brick building. After turning around, I noticed a sign and understood that the market was inside that building. There was also a little sign that said "Hi-Fi Cafe.” My curiosity was definitely peaked.
I opened the door and saw lots of stuff spread out for what seemed like forever — old stuff, ugly stuff, cool stuff. So, the Downtown Market is a vintage market, or better yet, “the people’s market”, says co-owner Lance Hardcastle. It is a supportive place for vendors and customers alike. The clothes are cheap and fun. There are Buddha statues and other sacred figures, plus antiques, furniture, books, records, art — every freaking thing. And it is awesome.
Owned by Susie Watson and Hardcastle, the building also houses the Sly Grog bar, Hopey and Company (formerly known as Amazing Savings, an alternative grocery store) and the Hi-Fi Cafe, a simple, community-oriented coffee shop that offers organic coffee and food.
Hi-Fi lies to the left of the entrance. I stepped up to the counter and ordered a regular coffee to stay —and then stayed. I had fika with Aaron Gibbs, one of the owners. I stood at the counter and talked with him for what must have been 45 minutes. He worked all the while, but still gave me his undivided attention, answering questions and telling stories — creating a sense of community and friendship over a cup of coffee.
I was impressed with Gibbs’ dedication and motivation for providing high-quality food and coffee. But, more than that, I was impressed with his passion for what he does. He clearly loves his work. He told me that his dad once said to him that if you’re not going to give it your everything, why waste your time? Gibbs lives those words.
Afterward, I turned to leave and looked out across the building again. I thought about this crazy, unexpected find. I loved everything about this place. How it's wrapped up with the Asheville community. How it makes a difference to all kinds of people. How it is weird and funky and eclectic. How everything is done with purpose and meaning — and how it's all about making people, the community and the Earth a better place. Hi-Fi co-owner Katie Baird says it best: “It is about more than just going in somewhere and getting a cup of coffee.” It’s about creating community.
You can find the Downtown Market and Hi-Fi Cafe at 45 South French Broad Ave. or on the web at www.downtownmarketasheville.net.