top of page


Swedish etymology states that the word 'kaffe' comes from Arabic "قهوة" (coffee, its tree, its beans, a cup of coffee, a ceremony of serving coffee and bread)[1]

Image by SnapbyThree MY
Photo: Wix/Unsplash

Etymologic theories

I am always curious about where words come from or who came up with them. Unfortunately, for many words that exist, theories are all that researchers have especially when there are no historical documentation to support their origins and "coffee" is no exception. There are two etymologic theories[2] that are plausible.

The first theory states that 'coffee' comes from the Arabic word 'qahwa'  which can be traced back to the Arabic verb 'qahā' which means "absence of hunger", a characteristic of coffee. It can also be traced to the Arabic noun 'quwwa' which means "power, energy", another characteristic of coffee.

The second theory states that it arrives from the Ethiopian word 'caffa' or 'kaffa'. Kaffa, a southwest region in Ethiopia, is known as a land where coffee plants grow in the wild. 


Somehow I think both theories are logical because after you drink coffee, you feel charged up and full up AND the fact is Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa. What do you think?

'Coffee' entered the English language in 1582 by way of the Dutch 'koffie' borrowed from the Ottoman Turkish word 'kahvē', which was borrowed from the Arabic word 'qahwa' which brings us back to Theory No. 1 where the credibility of its origin is in question. Seems like we're back to the Chicken-and-Egg dilemma. May I suggest we don't dwell too long about the origin of the word "coffee" and be glad that such a word exists, we are eternally grateful for this beverage.

Derived words & phrases

Here's a list of some common coffee words & phrases:

bryggkaffe - filtered coffee

kaffebryggare - device for brewing coffee

kaffemaskin - coffee machine

kaffekopp - coffee cup

kaffekanna - coffee pot

kaffemugg - coffee mug

kaffevarn - coffee grinder

kaffebröd - buns (usually consumed with coffee)

kaffekaka - coffee cake

kaffeblandning - coffee blend

morgonkaffe - morning coffee

kaffebryggning - brewing coffee

snabb kaffe / pulverkaffe - instant coffee

kaffe burk - coffee can

kaffebjudning - coffee invitation

kaffeautomat - coffee vending machine

kaffebar - coffee bar

kaffebricka - coffee tray; a tray filled with coffee, cups and cookies

kaffepaus - coffee break

kaffeböna - coffee bean


'Kaka' can mean cake, biscuit or cookie. It all depends on what type you are talking about.

carrot cake.jpg
Photo: AI-generated image from Wix.

Sockerkaka (sponge cake). Chokladkaka or Kladkaka (the sticky chocolate cake). Morotskaka (carrot cake). Riskaka (rice cake).  Pepparkaka (gingerbread cookie). All sorts of kakor (plural for 'kaka').


en kaka - one cake or cookie or biscuit

två kakor - two cakes or cookies or biscuits

Another Swedish (cake) word is 'tårta'. You may ask the difference between 'kaka' and 'tårta' since they both mean 'cake'. 'Kaka' is used more commonly for small cakes. 'Tårta' is used for big cakes such as the prinsesstårta (left) or jordgubbstårta (right).

prinsesstarta konditori.jpg
Photo: Personal archive
Strawberry Chiffon Cake
Photo: Wix

These two tårtor (plural for 'tårta') are the most celebrated cakes in Sweden. Prinsesstårta (princess cake) is served on birthdays while jordgubbstårta (strawberry cake) is the centrepiece of the table every summer. I love jordgubbstårta because the recipe calls for Swedish strawberry and Swedish strawberries are the best I've ever tasted. 

bottom of page