Drinking coffee in Greece is part of the culture. It is a daily ritual and method of brewing that the Greeks are rightly very proud of. Most cafes and bars now serve the usual fare of Frappes, Americanos and Espressos which all suffice for that long, slow coffee break, but unless you are in Greece you are unlikely to be offered a Greek coffee. Greek kafeneons or kafeterias aren’t being overtaken by the big chain coffee shops as in so much of the rest of the world and most tiny villages have one or two traditional spots for a brew – slowly drinking coffee with others is definitely part of Greek culture!
What is Greek coffee?
Greek coffee or ‘Ellenikos Kafes’ is brewed differently (more like Turkish coffee and probably making its way to Europe in Ottoman times).It is thick, black and strong and needs to be made in a special pot called a ‘briki’ - a small conical pot with a long handle. It’s considered an art form and an acquired taste.
The coffee is finely ground like powdered or icing sugar. It needs to be this way as it isn’t filtered. The coffee and water are mixed together and heated slowly (not quickly!) until a foam forms on the top. This light, creamy froth is called ‘kaimaki’. As soon as the foam is properly formed the coffee is removed from the heat and served, in a small, demitasse or espresso style cup. The coffee grounds settle in the bottom of the cup and the foam rests on the top of the coffee. The foam is to be enjoyed, the grounds are not to be drunk - slow is the order of the day again here as the grounds need time to settle in the cup before drinking. Greek coffee is strong and bitter, with a dark roast, almost burnt flavour and will usually be served with a glass of water on the side.
The language of coffee
As Greek coffee is so bitter, a server will often ask if you want sugar and there are different variations on how sweet to have your coffee:
Sketo - without sugar
Metrio - one teaspoon of sugar
Glyko - meaning sweet with two teaspoons of sugar
Variglyko - very sweet with even more sugar!
Metrio is the most common and popular. A Greek coffee is never served with milk!
Benefits of Greek Coffee
It is becoming less fashionable now as many younger people prefer a Frappe but there are said to be many health benefits of drinking Greek coffee. It is meant to be lower in caffeine than most other coffees but higher in antioxidants and polyphenols - so meant to have health benefits to the heart. Studies by the University of Athens into the longevity of Greeks living on the island of Ikaria have said that drinking a cup of Greek coffee a day may have been a contributory factor in the long lives of the island's people.
Photo: Nick Karvounis / Unsplash