3 interesting stories behind famous Greek coffee
If you have been to Greece, you have for sure at least heard of Greek coffee if not tasted this delicious drink. You might have wondered…
Where does Greek coffee come from?
First of all, credit where credit is due: this Arabic coffee first came from Yemen. An Ottoman governor stationed in Yemen in the 16th century tasted it and introduced it to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who popularized coffee in Istanbul and beyond. However, under the rule of Sultan Murad IV drinking coffee became a capital offence and also his successor was very strict about it. This didn’t lead to the desired result as people kept drinking coffee and the Ottomans made sure its popularity spread to Europe.
In Europe, this ‘Turkish’ coffee was considered a dangerous product, as people who simply got drunk from alcohol would start singing, whereas people who drank coffee stayed sober and would plan some revolt against the ruling monarch. According to legend, Pope Clement VIII said that it would be a pity to let infidels exclusively enjoy coffee. And so, coffee became such an integral part of society that we cannot imagine life without it anymore.
Greek coffee… the traditional way
You have surely noticed the ‘kafeneion’, while strolling the streets in Greece and saw the local elderly men either in the morning or after their afternoon nap having their daily cup of Greek coffee while discussing the latest news and politics. And they are drinking their coffee from a demitasse, comparable to the small espresso cup. However, that’s where the similarity ends as Greek coffee is completely different from the well-known Italian eye-opener.
How to prepare an ‘ellinikos kafes’?
Now, Greek coffee is brewed on the spot, right after you order it and it is available in three different variations: sketos (without sugar), metrios (medium) and glykos (sweet).
It is prepared by pouring a demitasse of water into a cezve or ibrik, a bronze coffee pot. You then add 1 heaped teaspoon of Greek ground coffee and the desired amount of sugar (1 teaspoon for a medium coffee). Mix the ingredients together before it becomes hot and then stop stirring as it may ruin the kaimaki, the thick foam on top of the coffee. It is a good coffee if the kaimaki is thick and covers the whole surface of the cup.
And preparing a good coffee takes a while as the secret lies in patiently brewing the mixture. This result is best achieved if the coffee is prepared in hot sand and there are many places where coffee is served like this. Once it is served, with a glass of cold water and with either a small Greek delight (loukoumi) or some spoon sweet, check out the kaimaki; If you spot a lot of bubbles in the kaimaki, you are likely to get a large amount of money. The same is valid if your coffee has been spilled! And if the coffee reading that is done afterwards also reveals that your finances will be all right, you can heave a sigh of relief.
More of Greek coffee: Frappé, shaken – not stirred and Freddo
Actually, another kind of coffee really deserves to be called Greek as it was accidentally invented by a Greek in Thessaloniki in 1957. He wanted to make an instant coffee but didn’t have access to hot water and ended up shaking the coffee with some cold water and sugar, which resulted in a thick foamy substance. He then added more water, some ice-cubes and a straw and the legendary drink was born! This so-called ‘frappé’ (‘shaken’ in French) is enjoyed nationwide although Thessaloniki can rightfully claim it as ‘their’ drink and you will see people of all ages enjoy this drink at any time of the day, in any workplace, walking the streets or hurrying to work: this drink fits every occasion!
Another Greek invention is the Espresso Freddo, which is prepared by making a regular espresso, Italian style. It is then poured into a metal shaker containing ice-cubes in order to make it cool down quickly. This drink is also served with ice-cubes and a straw and again it gives you an excuse to take it easy, ‘halara’ as they say in Thessaloniki!
Now, all these cold drinks are very refreshing, especially on a hot summer day, but please bear in mind that strong coffee is their main ingredient and if you make the mistake of drinking it fast, the way our Italian friends drink their espresso, your stomach may disagree. These drinks are made to last, to be enjoyed over a long time, either alone or with friends!
Which coffee will you order next time you are in Greece?