Guest Post: “Enan kafe parakalo”: Greeks and Coffee
“Café”, “cafedaki”, “frappedaki”, “espressaki”: these are only a few ways coffee drinkers in Greece call their favorite beverage of coffee. Greeks take their coffee very seriously; it is the most social of beverages, drowning even alcohol and water in its consumption. The title, “enan kafe parakalo”, means “one coffee please,” and it’s just about the phrase most heard on a daily basis in Greece!
The favorite types of coffee enjoyed in Greece are the classic espresso, the zesty cappuccino, the simple but potent filter coffee, the traditional “Greek” coffee, and a Greek invention called the “frappe”. Greeks are so serious about their coffee, that even the colossal international empire of Starbucks had to adapt, adding the Greek “frappe” ice coffee to its menu.
Greek coffee (also frequently called “Turkish” coffee) is usually consumed by older people, in the specially named “cafene” coffee houses. Greek coffee is a rich, thick blend made in a special coffee pot, traditionally made by leaving the coffee pot to boil in hot coals, embers or sand (called the “chovoli”). Any new-fangled methods of making Greek coffee, like the steam tube on espresso machines or oven tops, are generally frowned upon.
The ice-cold “frappe” is definitely the most popular coffee in Greece: it is easily made with instant coffee mixed or whipped with water and sugar and poured over ice. The most common way to drink it is sweet with milk, usually made with two spoons of instant coffee blended with four to six spoons of sugar. “Frappe” actually means “shaken”: the “café Frappe” was invented during the 1957 International Trade Fair in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, by a Nestle employee looking for a quick way to enjoy some instant coffee during his break. The employee put some coffee and sugar in a shaker, and lo and behold, a new trend was born!
Filter coffee, or “French” coffee as it’s called in Greece, is rarely ordered in restaurants, except by those who want a simple and inexpensive beverage instead of ordering nothing at all. Every dignified workplace in the country is equipped with a bottomless coffee pot, with endless quantities of filter coffee brewing. One can say that filter coffee is consumed almost as much as water, or actually instead of it. Not tending to the coffee pot after it has been emptied is a frequent, and justified, cause of picking a fight (especially in the morning!) The vast majority of Greek hotel rooms, private villas and apartments will be equipped with coffee making facilities too!
Decaffeinated coffee, although offered in retail stores, is not very common in Greece. Even the thought of “decaf” strikes a Greek’s funny bone – “it’s not coffee if it’s decaffeinated; it’s just water!” Coffee is considered more of a social drink than a pick-me-up. Just think that most people are so used to drinking large quantities of caffeine, that they’re hardly affected by the stuff anymore!
One very popular coffee beverage, made widely known in the last decade in Greece, is the “freddo”, or “cold”, espresso and cappuccino, which is comprised of the regular respective parts of espresso and cream poured over ice – this is a favoured drink especially for the summer months. Apparently, Italians have no idea of the existence of these drinks!
An invitation for a sip of coffee in Greece is also used as the most well-known pick up line, or friendly socialization: “Let’s go for coffee.” It’s the most widespread invitation to meet up with a friend or love interest, or an outing with friends. In contrast to other countries, especially Italy, where espresso is considered a quick drink, there is no such thing as a “quick” coffee: Greeks can drink the smallest sizes of coffee for hours on end. “Going out for coffee” is an outing in itself! Just the number of coffee shops and cafeterias in Greece proves how much we fill (and take up space) these shops: one can expect to see about 4-5 cafeterias on a busy city street in Athens, all full during all seasons of the year.
The price of coffee in Greece ranges from about €1.00 for a simple instant coffee, either hot or cold, bought at a fast food & beverage stand on the street, to about €5-6 for fancy cappuccinos and espressos at the hot cosmopolitan cafeterias in city centres and designer stores.
One thing that Greeks don’t tend to do, unlike the rest of the world, is order coffee after a meal. It’s actually safe to say that coffee is actually considered a meal in itself!
One thing one hears a lot in Greece is “I can’t wake up in the morning if I don’t have my coffee and a cigarette.” Truth is, coffee and a cigarette are so widespread and natural in Greece, that smoking laws are never followed in cafeterias. Smoking and no-smoking areas have been brought back, sometimes even integrated if the café is small enough, because it’s unthinkable for Greek smokers to comply with the smoking ban. Coffee and smoking go together hand in hand, so much so that the law has been overseen altogether! Never deny a Greek their basic pleasures, then!
To get a feel of how important coffee is to Greeks, here’s an example of a weird, probably even awful (albeit convenient) way to quickly make some coffee: the “karavisio”, or “boat-made” coffee. This is just spoonfuls of instant coffee and sugar poured into a cup of water, lightly blended together with a spoon. No mixing, no shaking, nothing! Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
In a nutshell, coffee is one of the most important – if not the most important altogether – beverage in Greece. With so many coffee shops, cafeterias and fast food & beverage stands on every road, no economic recession will quench the Greeks’ thirst for a good brew!
About the Author: American-born, living in Greece, and a professional copywriter, Vicky spends her time writing about what she loves, jots down occasional rants, and loves answering readers’ questions ’bout stuff. Catch Vicky on Twitter