When most of the world thinks of Greece, usually what comes to mind are the impressive architectural ruins, the delicious Greek food, and the stunning cliff coastlines peppered with bright white and blue Greek homes and resorts. We don’t always think about the Greek coffee.
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Just like in many other parts of Europe, coffee is a key component of Greek culture. You can trace its roots back to several hundred years, while young people today, still love to meet up in the newest, trendiest cafes of the city to enjoy a chilled frappe or espresso coffee. In fact, Greece comes in at number 15 on the list of top coffee-consuming countries in the world.
At 5.4 kg per person per year, the Greeks consume more coffee than the French, the English, and the Americans!
However, just like in any other coffee-drinking world capital, Greece has its own recipe for the perfect cup of coffee. Sure, you can find all the international chains that will serve you the same coffee you have every day back at home, you can probably find it, but where’s the fun in that?
Therefore, if you want to feel like a local while traveling through this ancient birthplace of modern democracy, here, we'll give you an insight into the way the Greeks drink their coffee.
Greece's coffee heritage
Traditional Greek coffee - credits: Santorines/Shutterstock.com
When you stop to think about it for a moment, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that coffee has become such a major part of Greek culture. Located just south of Turkey—the gateway between Asia and Europe— Greece has been at the center of human history, and ever-expanding trade routes, since people first started forming civilizations.
Additionally, our country has changed hands many times throughout its history, and while it has maintained cultural continuity, each society that passed through left their mark in one way or another.
Coffee first came to Greece during the times of the Ottoman empire. After being discovered and made into a drink in Ancient Arabia, and then traded by the Persians around the world, the first coffee shop opened in 1425 in Constantinople. This tradition quickly spread around the world, and as the Ottoman Empire increased its influence in the region, so did coffee.
Now, several hundred years later, coffee has become entrenched in Greek culture. Despite coming from faraway lands, drinking coffee in Greece today is considered a very Greek thing to do.
However, there’s another layer of intrigue to this story. Because coffee trickled its way down from Turkey, and because of the similarity between the way the Greeks and the Turks make coffee, for most of recent history, people in Greece would go to a cafe and order Turkish coffee.
This changed in 1974 when a Greek military junta attempted a coup that resulted in an attempted Turkish invasion. A lot of anti-Turk sentiment rose in the country, and one of the ways this materialized was by changing the name from ''Turkish coffee' to 'Greek coffee', as a way to demonstrate the Greek displeasure with the political maneuvers of their Northern neighbors.
Coffee Culture in Greece
Man preparing traditional Greek coffee on the hot sand - credits: SARYMSAKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock.com
Despite the colorful history surrounding the emergence of coffee in Greece, the way in which it is built into the country’s everyday life is rather similar to what you will find in other parts of the world. In Greece, drinking coffee at a cafe is about as common as drinking it at home.
People will often have the materials they need to make Greek coffee or any other type of coffee. If you get invited to someone’s home, you will most likely be offered a cup of coffee. And if you have someone over to your house, the polite thing to do is to prepare coffee to share with your guest.
Coffee shops in Greece are not vastly different from those of other countries, but if you spend a little time in the country, you’ll notice a few distinctions. Firstly, there are two types of Greek cafes: kafeteria and kafeneio. A kafeteria is what you would expect a typical cafe to be. They vary in design from a simple coffee shop to a more elaborate and trendy hangout spot.
Some kafeterias will only be open during the day, whereas some of them will turn into bars in the evening. Many serve some sort of food to accompany the coffee, even if it’s just small pastries or pieces of bread. A kafeneio is also essentially a coffee shop, but usually, it will have been claimed by the locals, particularly old men.
These are the spots where Greek retirees get together to hash out their differences about local politics, play cards or backgammon, and escape from the summer heat. The decoration inside a kafeneio is far more basic, and not all of them serve food. However, the coffee there is exceptional, and they offer a real local flair that’s worth checking out.
It might be intimidating to walk into a place filled with old Greek men arguing, but everyone’s friendly and will quickly make you feel at home.
Drinking coffee in Greece
Frappe coffee - credits: Tomas Mehes/Shutterstock.com
While the influence of other cultures can certainly be noticed in Greek coffee culture, there are still a few things uniquely Greek that you should keep in mind so that you can make the most of your coffee-drinking experience in Greece. Greek coffee is the “true” Greek coffee despite being made much in the same way as Turkish coffee.
Finely ground coffee is added to hot water and then allowed to boil. As the water recedes and the coffee grounds sink to the bottom, the drink becomes thick and velvety. Its flavor and aroma are quite strong, and because of its intensity, many Greeks will add a little bit of sugar to their coffee. If you don’t specify how much sugar you want, you can expect the barista to add in a spoonful or two. Be more specific if you want more or less.
There are generally speaking four different levels of sweetness you can order for your coffee:
- sketos (no sugar)
- metrios (one sugar)
- glykos (sweet, two sugars)
- variglykos (very sweet, more than two sugars)
If you’ve never had coffee prepared this way before, consider asking for sugar on the side so that you can sweeten it to your taste. Then, once you’ve figured out what you like, you can order like a local. Or you can simply create your own DIY coffee station!
Greek Summer Coffees
If you are coming to Greece for the first time you are about to discover that as well as having a rich and captivating history, scrumptious cuisine, and a philosophy of living life to the fullest, we also have the best selection of Greek summer coffees.
All of us here at Greeking.me have traveled extensively and we have discovered that no one does a ‘frappe’ quite like the Greeks and that’s only the beginning!
Like for many of our fellow Europeans, coffee is such an essential part of our daily lives. However, we treat drinking coffee almost like a form of meditation. We drink it slowly, savoring the taste whether we’re in the office, working away or in the company of good friends at a seaside bar discussing the issues of the day. We know that good coffee, like good food, needs to be given the time it deserves!
"Ellinikós Kafés" -traditional Greek coffee- had been for centuries the Greeks' chosen morning drink. However, in the late '60s, they found another answer to our caffeine cravings. Enter the cold coffees! The story of how the cold Frappe came into being is truly one of innovation and resourcefulness.
At the International Trade Fair in Thessaloniki, an exciting new chocolate drink was being promoted which was made instantly by mixing chocolate powder with milk and blending it in a shaker. An employee, Dimitrios Vakondios, wanted to have his usual instant coffee during a break but couldn't get any hot water.
So he had the brilliant idea of blending the coffee with cold water and ice cubes in the shaker. The effect of blending spray-dried instant coffee in this way produced a unique frothy top layer which remained stable and gave it its creamy taste. His creation, the now acclaimed Frappé, became one of the most popular drinks in Greece. As Plato told us all those years ago, 'necessity really is the mother of invention'!
Traditional Greek coffee - credits: RUBEN M RAMOS/Shutterstock.com
However, the Greeks' creativity didn’t stop with the Frappe. Here are some more of our favorite coffees to try for the summer; You are sure to find one that you love, no matter how demanding your taste buds are!
Freddo espresso - credits: pilipphoto/Shutterstock.com
If you like your espresso in the morning, this is the one for you. It’s still the same -but on ice. A fantastic start to the day, simple yet effective!
Freddo cappuccino by the sea - credits: kostasgr/Shutterstock.com
This is a much-loved local favorite. It has the same base as freddo espresso, but it is topped with deliciously smooth, frothy, creamy milk that is dangerously addictive!
An espresso coffee with frothed milk. An excellent choice if you want a milder, milkier coffee to start your day with or as an afternoon treat.
One of the more recent cold coffee inventions, this is more like a coffee milkshake. Frozen in texture and redolent of a coffee-flavored ‘slushie’, it is usually more decadent with flavored syrups and/or coffee whipped cream!
Now the sweet-toothed amongst you may be wondering if a freddo espresso, freddo cappuccino or frappe made on its own may be slightly bitter for you. The great thing about these coffees is they can all be altered to suit the individual palate. Here in Athens and across Greece, if you listen to people ordering coffees you will hear the terms ‘sketo’ (plain) ‘metrio’ (medium sweet) and ‘glyko’ (sweet) so be sure to say which level of sweetness you would like when you order yours. You can also specify if you’d prefer sugar (zachari), sweetener (zacharini) or Stevia.
When you visit Athens, you will discover that there is a coffee shop waiting for you around just about every corner. Check out our 10 Extraordinary Coffee Shops in Athens blog post to see some of our favorite places to go for coffee. Be sure to try one, if not all, of our cold coffee concoctions and savor the delicious delights of your coffee the Greek way: slowly and in great company!