Saturday, 4 June 2016

Greek Coffee

When I first arrived in Greece in the 70's Greek coffee was still called 'Turkish coffee' (tourkiko).  As tensions between Greece and Turkey escalated, especially after the invasion of Cyprus, the Greeks changed the name to 'Greek coffee' (elliniko) and it is still known by this name.  Greek coffee is still the most popular besides the 'invasion' of espresso, cappuccino and latte.

This type of coffee is found all around the middle east and the Balkans, some scented with cardamom and each served a little differently. The Turks themselves drink more tea and coffee is served on special occasions.

Back 'then' the only other coffee available was 'nescafe' which was a warm and strong cup of black instant coffee.  In the summertime the younger generation drank 'frappe'(iced instant coffee) and still do, along with freddo cappuccino and freddo espresso. 

If you visit a greek house you will be offered coffee and this naturally will be greek coffee.  I, as a foreigner (an xeni), am usually  offered nescafe, to my relief.  I have tried for forty years to enjoy a greek coffee but I will only drink one out of politeness now.  The coffee will be served on a silver plated tray with a clean white doily, a glass of cold water, a koulouraki (cookie) and some sort of household preserve.  The latter is a sort of jam with the fruit whole or in big chunks. I make preserves with quince and bitter orange. 

Another brew similar to greek coffee is 'kakao'.  This will be a small cup of bitter cocoa powder boiled with water to which will be added at least a couple of teaspoons of sugar.  My mother-in-law enjoyed this in the morning.

The fine coffee grounds are boiled on this small gas burner found in almost every greek home.  The small copper pot is called a 'briki'.  The coffee should have a thick layer of foam on top called 'kaimaki' and will be about one inch of coffee with an inch of muddy coffee grounds on the bottom which you do not drink.

The most flavoursome greek coffee though is 'cooked' over hot sand called a 'hovoli'.  K will always sniff out a cafenion where coffee is made on the hovoli and will go out of his way to stop there.  The hot sand ensures that the coffee will be boiled slowly and bring out its full flavor.

Greek coffee is served in a small demitasse or espresso cup, always with a glass of water and maybe a small spoon of sweet preserves.  If a little coffee is spilled as it is served this is a good sign that you will receive money in the near future.  The waiter is not told off for his clumsiness.

If you're lucky you'll have someone in your company who can read the future in the coffee grounds.  The cup is turned upside down to drain and when reversed the pattern inside will tell you your fate.  The reading of the coffee grounds is called tasseography.

A Greek coffee is what the men will drink at the cafenion.  The 'cafenion' is different from the 'cafeteria'.  The cafenion is found in all small villages and in the main square of any island. It is the traditional coffee house where you will find mainly older men playing backgammon and drinking greek coffee or an ouzo or local raki with a small saucer of meze (snacks), maybe a few olives, cucumber and a slice of tomato. The cafeteria is for everyone, usually has nice comfy chairs and serves all the popular coffees, ice-cream, crepes, the universal 'English breakfast' and a large selection of alcohol.

A greek coffee, a glass of water, a friend to discuss the latest news and your mobile, what better way to pass the day

Backgammon players

Big screen TV.  If your favourite team is playing and the match is only shown on cable TV  then you go down to the cafeteria and watch on the 'big screen' with other fans and a glass of beer

A study of  coffee drinkers on the greek island of Ikaria where the population is known for its longevity shows that the locals, who drink at least two cups of greek coffee a day, have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

I was amused to find  a study discovered that a typical coffee break here lasts for 90 minutes.  Coffee time is a ritual.  The coffee, the glass of water, the dry sesame roll to dunk and good company to discuss the latest gossip or  politics.  And I am sure it is still this way although the International Monetary Fund, the EU and Wolfgang Schauble have all done their very best to terminate this diversion.  Greeks know how to delight in life, be happy and enjoy small pleasures.


  1. Thanks Pamela. I am really chuffed you like what I write.

  2. Really interesting! I love the idea of quince and bitter orange, that has really got my imagination and taste buds going.

    1. Quinces though hard to peel are easier to deal with. I like the taste of bitter orange preserves but have not made them. They have to be pared and soaked and boiled. My husband made some once. Now I give them away and and again get given a jar of homemade