Greeks consume 5.5 kilos of coffee annually per capita, putting the country into fifteenth position in a global list of top coffee drinkers. Probably one of the most important traits of modern Greek society, coffee is not just part of an everyday routine but also a ritual that Greek people cannot live without.
Coffee Breaks in Greece
Coffee breaks can be really long in Greece, and meeting over a cup of coffee is also the perfect excuse to meet, talk, relax, play board games, or even read the news. The expression “going for a coffee” usually indicates meeting for a chat and catching up.
More modern coffee places, popular among the young, offer a selection of coffees made through a variety of brewing methods. On the other hand, the “kafeneio” is a more traditional place, usually visited by older men.
Coffee choices vary a great deal—from warm to cold—and range from the popular frappé to the more traditional Greek coffee, as well as even more fashionable options, many of them with Italian-flavored names.
Traditional Greek coffee
Also known as ellinikós, the traditional Greek coffee turned into part of the local culture during the Ottoman occupation.
As there are no sources which agree on the Greek coffee’s origin, according to tradition, the most widely accepted myth states that this type of coffee stems from Yemen. An Ottoman governor stationed in Yemen in the 16th century tried it and introduced it to Sultan Suleiman. However, under the rule of Sultan Murad IV, drinking coffee became a capital offense and his successor was quite strict about this. This didn’t have the desired result, however, as people kept consuming coffee. Hence, it was eventually incorporated into the empire’s coffee tradition.
Greek coffee is made from Arabica coffee beans, which are ground to a very fine powder (much finer than the coffee grinds in many other countries around the world). Interestingly enough, this type of coffee, instead of getting its name from the places where it is produced, gets takes its name from the places where it is drunk, e.g. ‘”Greek,” “Turkish,” and “Arabic.”
Some occupied nations that were under the Ottomans embraced it with minor changes. Greeks kept it as a vital part of their everyday life even after their liberation and popularized the practice throughout the West.
Greek coffee is a thick beverage prepared in a small pot called a briki. The grounds drift to the bottom of the small cup in which the beverage is consumed. The sediment that these grounds form is central to the Greek custom of fortune telling.
Locals confirm that brewing the perfect cup of Greek coffee is an art.
Greek Coffee, a Healthy Alternative
A team of researchers has found that Greek coffee 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.
A relevant study by Spanish researcher Maria-Paz de Peña and colleagues was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The study spoke to the health benefits of Greek coffee.
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. This was 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 ninety and even past the age of one hundred. Research found that 87 percent of those who participated in the study drank between three to four cups of Greek coffee each day.
Greek Frappé coffee
Frothy, cold, and full of caffeine, nearly everyone—Greeks and non-Greeks alike—love the classic Greek coffee drink “Frappe.”
Greek Frappe is a foam-covered, iced coffee drink made from instant coffee, sugar, ice cubes, and water. Occasionally, people add milk to the drink. The iced drink is served in a tall glass with a straw and has a thick layer of foam on top.
Accidentally invented in 1957 by Dimitris Vakondios during the International Trade Fair of Thessaloniki, the Frappé is still very popular in Greece and Cyprus and is available at virtually every single Greek café.
Made either with a shaker or a special mixer, the Frappé is one of the easiest-to-make coffee drinks available.
Greek frappe became a symbol of the post-war, outdoor Greek coffee culture. Although the freddo espresso, another Greek invention, has become very popular, the frappe, to this date, remains the most popular coffee beverage among Greeks.
Frappe became the national coffee beverage of modern Greece around 1979. Although the word frappe originates from the French word meaning “shaken” or “stirred,” the Greek invention has nothing in common with the French chilled beverage produced in a shaker, which contains milk or fruit juice instead of coffee.
Greek frappe is available in three degrees of sweetness, determined by the amount of sugar used. These are: glykós (sweet—two teaspoons of coffee and four teaspoons of sugar); métrios (medium—two teaspoons of coffee and two teaspoons of sugar); and skétos (plain—two teaspoons of coffee and no sugar).
All varieties of the drink may be served with or without milk. Occasionally, frappe is served without any water (besides the water used in the foam), and milk is used instead. This variation is most commonly found in Cyprus. Different kinds of liquors are sometimes used for additional variation, as well as chocolate milk or a scoop of vanilla ice.
Preparation of this coffee is quite easy. The coffee can be made either with a cocktail shaker or an appropriate mixer (e.g. a hand mixer). One or two teaspoons of coffee, sugar to taste, and a little water are blended to form a brownish foam, which is poured into a tall glass. To this, add cold water and ice cubes, and, if desired, milk—typically evaporated milk. The coffee is served with a straw.
Ever since its first commercial launch in 1979, Greek Frappe has been symbolically and visually connected to the easy-going and careless summertime for Greeks.
Freddo espresso and freddo cappuccino
Two fairly recent additions to Greek coffee culture have become quite popular among younger generations. These are the cold versions of espresso and cappuccino, adopted by Greeks, who improvised and created two new unique types. These are quite flavorful and even beat those found in Italy, the birthplace of espresso.
Furthermore, you will only find these delicious cold coffees in Greece. If you go to any other country and ask for a freddo espresso or cappuccino, you will probably get a blend of warm espresso and ice cubes.
The two new types of iced coffee are steadily gaining ground against the frappé, with many Greeks ordering them to go.
Freddo espresso, the cold version of espresso coffee, is made with a double shot of espresso coffee blended in a mixer with ice cubes.
Freddo cappuccino, the iced version of the regular cappuccino coffee, usually has a small amount of cold frothed milk (afrogala in Greek) on top of it. Particularly popular among those who prefer a cold and strong coffee, the freddo cappuccino has become the most widely consumed coffee in Greece over the past ten or so years.
In the mid-2000s, when the first specialty coffee shops began opening in Athens and beverages were being prepared with high-quality coffee beans, espresso was already well-established. Following the new global trend, espresso-based beverages were becoming more popular, and it didn’t take long for the Italian tradition to become a part of the Greek coffee culture. This led to the creation of freddo espresso and freddo cappuccino.
To make a great freddo espresso, you will first need to make a double shot of espresso. Pour it in a metal shaker with ice cubes and optional sugar, shake it for a few seconds, and pour it over a glass with some more ice cubes. For freddo cappuccino, simply add a few tablespoons of frothed milk on top.
How to order coffee in Greece
When ordering certain types of coffee in Greece, your waiter will typically ask you how much sugar you want. This is because they might need to add the sugar at the time of preparation, such as in the Greek coffee or the frappe.
When you visit a Greek coffee shop, you can request that your coffee be sweet (glyko), medium sweet (metrio), or contain no sugar (sketo). If you are having a rather challenging day and you need a boost of energy or you are simply a huge coffee fan, you can opt for a double coffee (diplos).
You can also request that milk be added to your frappe by saying “me gala,” which means “with milk” in Greek.
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