When you visit Greece you will quickly notice that no matter the time of the day, cafeterias are always crowded with people drinking coffee and chatting vividly. “Coffee culture” is strong in Greece and reflects the local rhythm of life, and other pleasurable habits of the Greek people: socialization, leisure, and a “slow life” attitude. Train yourself to drink coffee like a Greek and practice in local cafes to fully enjoy a unique cultural habit you might grow to like and adopt.
Take your time!
Coffee-drinking in Greece is the opposite of images we have from neighboring Italy, where small cups of espresso are gushed down in a hurry while sitting on a bar. The first thing to know about coffee culture in Greece is that every coffee is meant to be lingered over, often for many hours! Greeks drink their coffee slowly as they chat with their friends, play tavli (pagamon), or munch on some snacks. Customers in cafeterias are expected to sit at a table for a few hours with just one coffee. Plus, you will rarely see people drinking coffee alone while reading a book or working on a laptop, as social interaction is an integral part of Greek culture. Do you want to drink coffee like a Greek? The first and most sacred rule is to take your time, so find a spot with a view you will enjoy!
Which Greek coffee?
Today there are several types of coffees that have acquired a Greek identity. The most popular Greek coffee is the traditional and oldest one, made from finely ground Arabica beans, mixed with water and sugar to taste. The traditional Greek coffee has been around since the Ottoman occupation, and it is commonly consumed in Turkey, Arab countries and the Balkans in different variations. Today it remains an all-time favorite, and sometimes the only choice you get in traditional coffee shops in villages. Other “culturally adopted” types of coffee include freddo espresso, freddo cappuccino, and the most popular in the 80s and 90s frappe, made of nescafe, which was actually invented in Greece! So, if the traditional Greek coffee is not your favorite, worry-not, there are many other types of coffee that fit an authentic Greek coffee experience!
How and where to enjoy it:
Even if traditional Greek coffee is not your thing, you should not leave the country without giving it a try in a traditional coffee shop (kafeneio). How to recognize a traditional coffee shop? Usually found in villages or in less touristy streets of the city, a kafeneio is easily recognizable from the tables of almost exclusively retired men, gazing at people passing by! Traditional coffee shops are an important part of village life, often serving as a cafe, community centre, and restaurant at the same time, giving you a glimpse into the local culture. When you check the visit to a traditional coffee shop off the list, then you will discover that there is a wide variety of cafeterias to choose from anywhere you are. Pick the one you like, preferably with a nice view to a square or the sea, sit comfortably as you will stay there for a while, and ask for a menu to choose the coffee you like. Last but not least, learn how to order your Greek coffee in Greek! You can ask for your coffee sketo (= no sugar), metrio (= medium sweet), or glyko (= sweet). This goes for all types of coffee you may order. For example, you may ask for a freddo espresso sketo (without sugar). Some cafeterias also serve sandwiches and desserts, and almost always you will get a small cookie on the side. Once you have your favorite coffee, sit back, slowly consume it, enjoying every sip, as you delve into people-watching, chat with your friends, or try to learn a new game in pagamon. Congratulations! You are now drinking coffee like a Greek!