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Why Do Greeks Boil Their Coffee?

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Coffee is an essential part of life in Greece. Credit: Eaeeae/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

There’s no doubt that Greek coffee remains one of the country’s best known, and most flavorful, culinary traditions but — in these days of instant coffee and Nespresso machines — why do Greeks stick with this centuries-old method?

Coffee first entered Asia Minor from the Middle East, particularly Yemen, in the 15th century — indeed the word “coffee” is derived from Arabic.

By the mid-16th century, it had reached the heart of the Ottoman empire and began to spread across its provinces, including Greece.

The Greek method of preparing coffee is the simplest, which perhaps explains its longevity. Finely ground coffee beans, with sugar to taste, are boiled gently in a special pot called a briki in Greek.

This requires time, a close eye and patience — one cannot leave a full briki to do other things as the coffee can be overcooked and ruined very easily.

It is the cultural life of Greek coffee which explains why the method is still popular here. The care, skill and meticulous preparation needed to coax the perfect cup of coffee into life lends itself well to social settings.

Greek coffee’s historical and cultural importance

Making a guest feel welcome with a painstakingly prepared cup of Greek coffee speaks volumes about their friendship, rather than whipping up a hurried cup of the instant beverage.

Although Greek coffee is served in tiny amounts, the conversation that goes with it can be long. Add in the small confectioneries that often accompany a cup of coffee — such as spoon sweets or loukoumi — then a mere coffee becomes a social occasion.

Of course, there is also the tradition of reading the cup, scrutinizing the leftover grounds at the bottom, to try and tell someone’s fortune.

In today’s fast-paced world, it is the care and time devoted to creating the perfect cup of Greek coffee that explains why most people here still like to boil their coffee, keeping a living link with a gastronomic tradition going back centuries.

A team of researchers has found that the Greek beverage contains a high amount of polyphenols, which means that drinking it can actually help clean out your arteries and curtail the development of heart disease.

The research was presented in a recent issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, by Spanish scientist Maria-Paz de Peña and her colleagues.

However, this is not the first time that scientists have touted Greek coffee for its health benefits. The University of Athens Medical School also found evidence that Greek coffee promotes longevity, as part of a study of the longer-than-usual lifespan of locals on the Greek island of Ikaria.

The residents of Ikaria have, on average, a longer life expectancy than the general population, with many living well beyond the age of 90 and even past 100. Research found that 87 percent of those who participated in the study drank between 3-4 cups of Greek coffee each day.

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