Eat & Drink
Greek Coffee Culture
Coffee drinking may be Greece's second-most practiced religion, after Greek Orthodoxy. (Okay, that may be overstating it, but only a tiny bit.).
Coffee shops flourish on nearly every street, from the traditional kafeniea with their elderly male regulars passing hours gossiping with their friends, to stylish modern cafes that cater to a younger, hipper crowd.
You won't see much in the way of giant corporate coffee chains - at least not like in the US, for example, although there are one or two. Most places are independently-owned and have their own vibe and clientele. As in other countries around the world, Greece is experiencing a bit of a boom of small batch, artisan roasters and creative baristas.
How did Greece find itself amongst the countries with the highest per capita coffee consumption in the world?
Because once upon a time in Constantinople, in the year 1475, a place called Kiva Han was opened by the Ottoman Turks. It was the world's first coffee shop open to the public.
The Ottomans ruled Greece at that time, and so coffee made it's way into Greek culture.
As a matter of fact, for generations, the strong, tiny cups where known as Turkish coffee, until 1970s, when Turkey started flexing it's muscles in Greece's and Cyprus' direction. A wave of Greek nationalism ensued. From then to the present it is - strictly and exclusively - known as Greek coffee.
Coffee culture in Greece is relaxed and very social. Kids often start drinking it in their early teens and continue for life. You will see some people grabbing a coffee to go on their way to the metro, but by and large, drinking coffee is a relaxed and leisurely affair, and not the rushed gulping you see in some other places. The day may start with an espresso, then a freddo cappucino in the afternoon with a friend, and then a slowly-savored Greek coffee after dinner.
Greece is a coffee lovers paradise, but navigating the myriad styles of coffee on a menu in Greece can be daunting if you're unfamiliar with all the varieties. Let's take a look at what's on offer...
(I won't be adding recipes for each, because while I love coffee and can whip up a good frappé, I'm not that accomplished a barista. Besides, so many people have their own way of creating several of these drinks, so check online for a variety of recipe options.)
Greek coffee (Ellinikos kafes)
The OG of coffees in Greece, and an acquired taste at best, if you're not used to it. Very finely-ground coffee is added to water in a small copper pot called a briki and brought to a boil. It can be made plain (sketo), medium, with one teaspoon of sugar (metrio) or sweet, with two teaspoons of sugar (glyko). In some of the more purist cafes, the coffee is prepared by placing the briki in heated sand. The briki is carefully watched, and is raised off the heat and lowered again, so that it can be removed once a creamy foam rises to the top. This lovely foam is called kaimaki and is the best indicator of a well-made cup.
Once your Greek coffee is brought to you, let it sit. Don't be tempted to sip it right away, or you'll get a sandy mouthful of grounds. The grounds are still swirling around in the cup, and you will need to give them time to fall to the bottom, where they will make a sludge. Lots of Greeks allegedly know how to "read" the grounds to tell your fortune, much like tea leaf reading.
Greek coffee is sipped slowly and can be nursed for quite a long time. And again - never, ever, ever call it Turkish coffee!
The original iced Greek coffee, made with Nescafe instant coffee, water, and sometimes milk and sugar, if desired (using the "sketo"/"metrio"/"glyko" method above). It's served cold and frothy.
It was created in the 1950s at the Thessaloniki International Fair by a Nestle employee, Dimitris Vakondios. He wanted a regular Nescafe but couldn't find hot water, so he mixed Nescafe with cold water and shook it vigorously, and the frappé was born.
There are some cognoscenti who say that frappés are not in vogue as much as in previous decades, having fallen behind freddo espressos in the iced coffee race, but this is debatable. And in any case, they will always be my favorite. I don't feel like I'm really in Greece until I've had my first sip of an icy frappé.
The popular Italian import is a favorite of caffeine fanatics all over Greece. It's a tiny amount of very powerful coffee served in a demitasse cup. This hit of strong black coffee is made using regular coffee beans, finely-ground and made in an espresso machine. It's generally a darker roast and isn't made using a paper filter, which allows the aromatic and flavorful oils to reach the cup. No milk is used, but you can order it with sugar, or plain, depending on your tastes.
An iced drink that is made with espresso blended with a coffee frother. Unlike freddo cappuccinos, freddo espressos do not have milk. You can still have it with sugar if you like. The most intense coffee flavor of all the cold coffee drinks.
This well-beloved espresso-based coffee is made with milk and milk foam. Because it's made with espresso, you actually get a little more caffeine than in a regular brewed coffee. A smooth and creamy drink that's generally served in Greece without sugar, but you can certainly add your own.
Cappuccino, but served iced and foamy. A bit like a frappé but with a tiny bit more punch from the espresso.
At first glance this would seem to be what we in the States might think of as "regular coffee", ie, drip or brewed coffee. Nope. Cafe Americano is made with espresso shots and water, while brewed coffee is made by infusing ground coffee with hot water. This gives an Americano a richer flavor.
Filtered coffee (kafe filtrou)
Photo from Pexels. All other photos are mine.
This is your basic cup o' Joe. If you're just looking for no-frills brewed coffee, this is it.
Greek coffee culture is a delicious and relaxing part of travel in Greece. Savor it. Try all different kinds. If you like some of that sweet, sweet bean juice, there's something in Greece you'll love!
Do you love Greek food and drink? Take a look at our Eat & Drink page!