Visitors to Greece can't help but notice the Greek coffee culture. There seem to be cafes every few metres, serving Freddo Coffee, Greek Frappe, and traditional Greek coffee. This quick guide explains it all.
Coffee in Greece
Coming from a country that is famous for its tea culture, it's quite interesting living in Greece. Here, a coffee culture is predominant, but it's not the fast paced caffeine induced US coffee culture. Instead, Greek coffee culture is more laid back and social.
It's one of those subtle things that contributes toward the national psyche. If you want to understand Greece, you need to understand Greek coffee culture.
History of coffee in Greece
According to the most prominent theory, coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia around 850 AD, by a goat herder named Kaldi. Kaldi saw his goats jumping around after having consumed the fruits of a plant. When he tried it himself, he realized that he had more energy – coffee had been discovered.
Coffee made its way to Yemen, and later to several Arabic countries, where it became very popular as it was allowed to be consumed by the Quran, as opposed to alcohol.
It was first imported to Europe through Venice, and quickly spread throughout the continent with Pope Clement VIII’s blessings. By the end of the 1600s, there were several coffee shops in Italy, France, and yes even England. We English swapped to a tea culture a little later!
Coffee makes its way to Greece
Coffee was often offered as a gift, and was regarded as a highly desirable substance – in more than one battle against the Ottoman Empire, European armed forces came away with plunder of large quantities of coffee.
As Greece was occupied by the Ottoman Empire for about 400 years, it is no mystery that coffee made its way here. Even though there were special places to have coffee, called kafenes / kafeneio, the enslaved Greeks were not allowed to visit.
The Greek Kafeneio
After the country won its independence in 1821, the first Greek kafeneio opened in Nafplio. When Athens became the capital, in 1834, there were already a couple of kafeneia – ironically, the first one was opened by a Bavarian.
While originally the kafeneia were men-only places, women were eventually allowed – which was a shock for the times.
The original Greek coffee culture
The coffee served in the original kafeneia was essentially the same type of coffee that can be found today in Greece, Turkey and many Arabic countries.
The Greek coffee, which is exactly the same with “Turkish coffee” in Turkey, is boiled in a small tin pot, called briki, and then served into a small cup. If you want sugar, it will need to be added before it’s boiled.
This coffee will leave a residue at the bottom of the cup, which is not edible – so make sure you don’t drink up. These days you can also get a double Greek coffee.
Modern Greek coffee culture
But this is not what Greek coffee culture is about! Greek coffee has definitely made a comeback, especially among young people and students, as it’s fairly inexpensive compared to other types of coffee in Greece. However, there are several other types of coffee these days, and if you are a coffee lover you should try a few of them.
The famous Greek frappe
According to Wikipedia and other sources, the most famous Greek coffee, called frappe, was invented in the late 1950s in Thessaloniki. This type of coffee is super popular all around Greece, and it is also linked to a relaxed, carefree attitude.
In order to make a frappe you need instant coffee and water, and optionally sugar and milk, often the condensed variety. The coffee and sugar are blended together using a special frappe machine, and milk can be added on top. The frappe is then poured in a glass full of ice cubes and served with a straw.
The expression “let’s go for a coffee” essentially means “let’s go for a chat”, and the frappe can be made to last for a couple of hours, often adding more cold water in the drink. Frappe can also be served with ice cream, Baileys, or other suitable liqueurs.
Freddo Coffee in Greece
While many Italians will definitely frown upon the idea of a cold version of their national coffee, Greeks seem to love it. A shot or two of espresso over ice, with or without foamy milk on top, is close to becoming (or has already become), the new staple.
In fact, many cafes around the country have invested in espresso machines in order to be able to make these types of coffee, that were unheard of 20-30 years ago. In short, Freddo Coffee is becoming the new Greek coffee!
Cold brew coffee in Greece
A more recent coffee trend in Greece, is cold brew coffee. Unlike the freddo espresso coffee, where hot coffee is poured over ice cubes, cold brew coffee is another thing altogether.
Here, the coffee grains are immersed in cold water for a period of 12-24 hours, which helps in preserving the aromas and reducing the bitterness.
If you are a coffee connoisseur (or just curious), you will find several cafes that offer cold brew coffee in the bigger cities.
Hot coffee in Greece
By now you must be wondering if hot coffee is still a thing in Greece – yes it is. Apart from the Greek coffee, other common types of hot coffee are instant coffee, espresso and cappuccino, while filter coffee is far less popular among Greeks. Arguably, these are most likely consumed in winter rather than summer.
Takeaway coffee in Greece
Go for a walk around any big city, and you will definitely come across locals rushing around, carrying plastic cups with a straw.
Almost any half-decent place that offers food, including many bakeries, can make a takeaway frappe.
At the same time, there are several franchises that make hundreds of cups of takeaway coffee on a daily basis, such as Coffee Island (likely the biggest franchise in Greece dedicated to coffee), Everest and Grigoris, to name a few. You can even order it online!
Starbucks Athens Greece
The reason I am mentioning Starbucks, is that they seem to be one of the very few places that have fully complied with the anti-smoking law.
While I find their drinks are overpriced and pretty bland, and the environment quite impersonal, I sometimes go there to work, like some other people.
However, if you are visiting Greece for leisure, there are plenty of other choices out there, so I don’t really recommend going to Starbucks in Greece.
How much does Greek coffee cost?
The answer to this varies a lot, as it depends on the type of coffee you are having, the type of establishment, the area, the view, and whether it’s a takeaway or you want to sit somewhere.
While a takeaway frappe can start from as low as 1 – 1.50 euro (sometimes even including a small bottle of water), a more elaborate drink can set you back a lot more – especially if you go for a cold brew coffee with a shot of liqueur and a rooftop view of the Acropolis. The choice is yours!
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