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Traditional Greek coffee. (Photo by Nick Karvounis via Unsplash)
For some it’s a habit that can’t be broken, for most it is irreplaceable, and for others it is a welcome infusion of aromas that help kickstart the day with energy. International coffee day on October 1, epitomizes our unanimous love for a discovery that took place in the 9th century by the goat herder Kaldi, who noticed that his goats became very energetic after eating the fruit of a yet unknown plant. This encounter led to a variety of beverages we enjoy today, including the classic espresso, americano, cappuccino, latte, and cold brew.
Greeks, however, have created their own selection, integrating it with their culture, lifestyle, and social gatherings. Coffee in Greece is much more than just a drink – it’s a pretext for meeting friends and discussing everyday life or serious affairs. In 2018 alone, Greeks consumed 40,000 tons of coffee which translates to 5 billion coffee cups, according to Athens Coffee Festival.
The first Greek coffee shop, also known as, ‘kafeneio’, was opened in 1475 in Constantinople, which traditionally was a meeting place for men to sit and socialize, while women on the other hand could also enjoy the beverage but only in the comfort and security of their home. By the 17th century, the coffee shops proved to be a success as there were over 300 of them in Thessaloniki alone, while by the 18th century coffee shops spread to every corner of the country.
Historically, green coffee beans were roasted on an open fire in a pan, and later handed out as grounds to coffee shops. However, in the 19th century, coffee cutters were introduced, shops that specialized in grinding and roasting that also served coffee. This was how most people enjoyed coffee during that time, up until the invention of instant coffee in the mid-20th century.
When the authentic Greek frappe was developed around the 1960s, the coffee industry adopted a modern twist, attracting a younger crowd.
The Greek’s love of coffee has led them to create a few specialties throughout the years. Authentic Greek coffee is made from extra-finely ground roasted coffee beans combined with cold water (and, optionally, sugar) in a traditional coffee pot called ‘briki’. Traditionally, the pot is placed on coals covered by hot sand, and the coffee simmered until a thin layer of foam (‘kaimaki’) appears on top. This type of coffee is characterized by its dark color, thick foam on the surface, and its strong bitterness.
Moving on to a favorite, the Greek frappe: This drink consists of instant coffee shaken together with cold water and a few ice cubes, with optional milk and sugar. Typically, it is served in a tall glass, with a straw, and has a thick layer on foam on top. The word frappe stems from the French word ‘frapper’, meaning to stir or shake.
The freddo cappuccino and freddo espresso are the newest introductions to the Greek coffee lineup. Espresso and cappuccino both originated in Italy in the 90s, and its hot variations can be found anywhere in the world. Their cold alternatives however are mostly popular in Greece.
Freddo espresso is a simple Greek coffee that combines espresso and ice. Unlike similar iced coffee varieties that merely serve coffee over ice, this version primarily blends the two ingredients until the coffee is slightly chilled, smooth, and creamy. The slightly chilled coffee is then strained and poured over ice.
The drink is sweetened according to preference, which should be done before it is blended.
Freddo cappuccino follows the same procedure, however, it is topped with well-chilled milk that is shaken or blended until it achieves a light, frothy consistency.
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