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Coffee Culture in Greece

One of the traditions with deepest roots in Greek society is the habit of drinking coffee. And similarly to other countries with unique coffee rituals, Greece has its own coffee culture worth discovering.

If you like digging into statistics, you will be amused by the fact that a country that does not produce any single coffee bean, remains among the top twenty countries in the world with the highest coffee consumption per person (more than five kilos of coffee annually).

The Greek coffee culture also features other components that make it a special tradition, elements that range from the cultural relevance of the beverage to the social habits that come together with every single cup of coffee.

So if you’re a coffee lover or are interested in learning about the different coffee types you can find in Greece, grab a cuppa and enjoy this article about everything you need to know about the coffee culture in Greece.

 

Coffee culture in Greece (essential info).

 

Is Greek Coffee the Same as Turkish Coffee?

Coffee has been a favorite drink in Greece for ages, but the tradition does not just develop around a simple coffee-drinking ritual, it also has its unique traits regarding the preparation of coffee and the varieties of coffee-based drinks that you can enjoy in the Balkan nation.

Today’s popular coffee drink made its way to the country several centuries ago, with the arrival and subsequent conquest of the country by the Ottoman Empire.

And although that coffee has gone through a long process of change during the years, the most characteristic coffee you can still order in Greece remains Turkish coffee, which in Greece, of course, you will never call it Turkish coffee.

In Greece, as a matter of fact, you will order a cup of Greek coffee. Don’t you dare forget that! Years of conflict between Turkey and Greece have favored the adoption of the term Greek coffee, at least within the borders of the country.

Both Turkish and Greek coffee share the preparation mode, the taste, and oftentimes the way it is served.

What is a Briki?

The beverage is traditionally made using a briki, a small pot with a long handle, normally made of copper or even ceramics, that is heated on top of hot sand in order to avoid a strong burnt taste in the drink.

And even when the briki is still the most common utensil used to prepare the drink, hot sand has been replaced by small gas burners (similar to the ones used for camping), in homes and bars, thus exposing the bottom of the briki to direct flame, something that the old Turkish invader would have never allowed.

How is Greek Coffee Unique?

Experts in Greek coffee often claim that, even when the drink was not born in the country, the Greeks came up with more than 45 different ways to prepare the drink, making locals incredibly proud of their national beverage of choice.

 

Traditional Greek coffee, cookie, and briki.

Greek coffee is traditionally prepared in a briki

 

The Kafenio Culture

Bars, cafeterias, and coffee shops have spread like wildfire all over the country.

You can find just the right place to sit and enjoy your coffee, but also coffee to go, and even coffee delivery. Yes, a guy riding a motorbike will deliver the much-desired coffee right at your front door in many important cities in Greece!

Traditional Greek Coffee House

However, it was not always this way. In the past, the best place for a cup of coffee was the kafenio, a small coffee house with a few tables and chairs.

Often times in the open, the kafenio were the place where local men would sit for hours with their cup of coffee, discussing the affairs of the world, the country, and the village.

Indeed, kafenia (the plural of kafenio) used to be the most important gathering place in small villages and solitary settlements.

And they remain a decisive ingredient when discussing the roots of the Greek coffee culture. 

Especially in smaller towns, where you could normally find just one kafenio and a couple more stores, this coffee house was where most social activity would take place or would be discussed.

And even when this characteristic might make you think about social gossiping, it might sound easy (and rather cliché too) to associate the kafenio with the women of the village. Well, you might be surprised that women would never set foot in a kafenio.

These very simple places served just coffee, sometimes spirits, and occasionally small pastries or sweets, such as loukoumi (Turkish delight) or other small and easily made candies.

And, of course, they were governed by a set of unwritten rules that were so deeply woven in the fabric of the Greek society that, even today, many women still don’t even consider setting foot in a kafenio. The place was and still remains a sanctuary for men, mostly appealing to the working class.

The Kafeteria and Modern Coffee Shops

It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that more luxurious coffee houses bound to cater to higher classes in the Greek society, but also to women, made their entrance into the coffee panorama in Greece.

Home to a European touch of flair and elegance, the modern kafeteria would also serve refreshments, liquors, and teas besides coffee, as well as cakes, pastries, and small sandwiches.

These more refined coffee rooms have been around for long, although in the last 10 years, they have been slowly replaced by bars and more modern coffee shops where, oddly enough, the young Greek crowd would leave Greek coffee as their last choice if given the opportunity.

 

Greek coffee.

Greek coffee in Greece is the same style as Turkish coffee in Turkey

 

Greek Frappe

It was not until the mid-fifties that a new, modern drink irrupted in the Greek coffee culture leaving a mark so strong that still survives today.

Back in 1957, during an important trade fair held in the northern city of Thessaloniki, a local decided to serve a new mix that was easy and fast to make.

Made with instant coffee, cold water, sugar, milk, and — of course — ice cubes. Greek frappe had been born.

This might easily mark the beginning of the cold coffee experience in Greece, and a tradition that has come a long way, for decades to come bound to polarize the coffee market between Greek coffee fans and frappe addicts.

During the seventies, the frappe also turned into a local landmark, the drink of choice among foreign visitors in the first booming years of tourism in Greece.

Frappe was, and still remains for many, the favorite drink to sip on any given hot day at the beach, or anywhere. It’s easy to order a cup to go and slowly drink it through your day on the street, at the office, running errands in town, or for hours at a local bar.

 

Frappe (Greek cold coffee) with coffee beans on a table.

An essential summer coffee drink in Greece is the frappe

 

Italian Coffees with Greek Flavors

The late nineties marked the era of espresso and cappuccino. Not in Italy this time, but in the heart of Greek cities. Having a freddo with friends has turned into the thing to do when in Greece, at any hour.

Even when both cappuccino and espresso are a beverage of choice in the Italian peninsula, both drinks got their own Greek-style version: they are served iced… something that most Italians wouldn’t do.

Freddo Espresso and Freddo Cappuccino have slowly but firmly replaced frappe as the drink of choice for younger generations in Greece.

As well as for those bar and coffee shop owners that consider instant coffee unhealthy or even not stylish enough.

But do not be misled, while in Italy you will be expected to sip your coffee standing at the bar, in as little time as you possibly can.

While the story in Greece takes a whole different turn. You will enjoy your freddo comfortably sitting at a table… for hours. And this is what truly shapes coffee culture in Greece.

Coffee is a beverage that brings people together, that encourages quality time on your own, with friends, or with family. 

You can enjoy having a freddo cappuccino while reading a book under the beach umbrella, in a beautiful square, on a first date, or at a business meeting.

A glass of freddo is the drink that you will have in hand while you go window shopping, visit a park, or go to the movies.

How to Order Coffee in Greece

Depending on the weather and the time of the year, you might want to avoid Greek coffee in summer and explore this new variety of cold coffees that are easy to spot in the hands of at least half of the locals you will meet in Greece.

Sketo, Metrio, or Gliko

No matter whether it is hot or cold, the first rule to remember when ordering coffee in Greece has to do with sugar.

In contrast with many other countries, your coffee is prepared with the desired amount of sugar unless you order a French or American coffee.

That is simply because when it comes to Greek coffee, but also frappe and freddo, shaking or simply stirring the mixture is part of the preparation process.

This means that you will normally be asked how you want your coffee. The same applies to milk, cocoa, or even cinnamon that you might want to add to your coffee.

So, at the coffee shop, the barista will ask you whether you want your coffee sketo (without sugar), metrio (with two spoons of sugar), or gliko (very sweet).

Me Mavri Zaxari and Me Gala

Your barista may also ask if you want me mavri zaxari (brown sugar) or me gala (with milk).

Ordering Greek Coffee

If you are ordering a Greek coffee, then you will want to ask for an elliniko kafe, mono (single), or diplo (double), and again, either sketo, metrio, or gliko.

Frappe in Summer

Frappe might be old-fashioned, but many locals still enjoy a cup of frappe in summer, especially at home, where not everyone can afford an espresso machine. Frappe is also easy to order in different beach bars.

You might have it with or without milk, with as much sugar as you want, and even with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a very hot day.

 

Frappe is a delicious cold coffee in Greece.

Frappe is the cold coffee drink you will want to try in Greece

 

Popular Local Coffee Chains in Greece

During the last few years, different international coffee chains, for instance, Starbucks, have landed in many major cities and some of the Greek islands, and although they might have dazzled the locals in the initial months, Greeks still prefer their local coffee shops and bars over flat whites or lattes.

As a response to that, local coffee franchises have spread all over Greece with a coffee menu that mixes the favorite coffee drinks Greeks prefer with more international coffee options.

Among them, we can count three popular coffee franchising companies: Coffee Island, Coffee Lab, and Grigory’s.

Coffee Island is a local coffee shop chain that has grown a lot in recent years directing its attention to coffee lovers who want to savor a wide variety of coffee blends.

They not only serve both classic and trendy coffee types, but they also promote a more modern take on coffee, selling also eco-friendly cups.

Their “home barista” approach also proposes to clients anything from espresso machines to filter machines, cups, boxes, and cans for coffee storage.

But also herbs, teas, sweets, home-made biscuits, and chocolates, everything you need not only to make but also to serve a fantastic homemade cup of coffee.

The company combines all the traditional elements of a coffee-grinding shop with a great coffee-to-go service, a winning trend in Greece.

Another coffee shop that has seen an increase in popularity is Grigorys, the green and white coffee shop franchise that started in the Athenian neighborhood of Dafni back in 1972.

Grigory’s is constantly growing since then to become the ninth biggest coffee store chain in Europe, counting over 350 stores in Greece and other European countries, including Germany and Cyprus.

This coffee shop also offers a variety of sweet and savory snacks, fresh juices, and relaxing places to sit. Besides, following a global ecologic trend.

They now even offer discounts if you get to the shop with your own cup in order to help reduce waste when purchasing your favorite cuppa.

Finally, Coffee Lab, is a new coffee chain that is gaining more and more popularity all over Greece, it is now one of the main coffee franchise networks in Greece, with more than 170 stores in the country, but also present in Cyprus, Egypt, England, and Bulgaria.

Summary of Greek Coffee Culture

As you can see, coffee is an important binding element that brings people together, and a delicious pleasure that, even with old ancient roots, projects into the future as a big part of Greece’s culture and habits.

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Do’s and Don’ts of Dining in Greece

 

Guide to Greek coffee, how to order coffee in Greece.

 

About the Author

Gabi Ancarola.

Gabi Ancarola is a translator and travel journalist living in Crete. She regularly writes about Europe for several magazines about travel, gastronomy, and hospitality. She has published several travel guides about Greece and plans customized trips to the Greek islands. She loves cooking local dishes, taking photos, and driving on the mountain roads of Crete.

 

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