Like many things, Greeks take their Greek coffee very seriously. From which briki is selected to be used to brew the hot drink; to the thickness of the kaimaki; to which cup they choose to drink their brown goodness out of all plays a part in the theatre of Greek coffee. And even who you choose to share this almost ‘holy’ drink with enters the equation. Basically, Greek coffee, and the time spent drinking it, is a sacred time. It is a daily ritual in a Greek’s life that some choose to take part in early in the day, some late in the afternoon, some several times a day. Whatever the case and however you choose to drink Greek coffee, simple steps remain the same – the way it’s prepared, and the end result: o kafes.
The history of Greek coffee began in 1475 when the world’s first coffee shop was said to be opened by Greeks soon after the occupation by the Turks in the then Constantinople. The coffee house, called Kiva Han Coffee Shop, started a boom in coffee shops that opened. Today, kafenia are common places in Greece, and even with Greeks of the diaspora. In every village, city, on every street corner: you will find the local kafenio (coffee shop). It’s a place for the Greek men to go to, generally older Greek men, to discuss life, play a game of backgammon and enjoy each other’s company. They are a meeting hub, a cultural institution that ties the elleniko kafe (Greek coffee) into the Greek way of life. As a visitor, you will notice the first thing you receive when entering a Greek’s house is a small cup of Greek coffee, and something sweet to whet your appetite.
Greek coffee is a fine rich brown powder that can be purchased at all good delicatessens and is also readily available in supermarkets now. As usual, it’s a good idea to try and purchase coffee imported from Greece in support of the Hellenic Republic. In the same way we do with espresso, many Greek coffee drinkers have a favourite brand of coffee that they like to indulge in too and find they rarely try another flavour.
The way coffee is prepared will influence the end result. Rush a Greek coffee and you will wind up with a watered-down substitute, but give it the time and care it deserves and you will be rewarded with a brown liquid heaven. First and foremost, you need a briki. A briki is the vessel that you will use to boil your Greek coffee; nothing else can be used as a substitute. It is a small, tall, cylindrical-like pot with a spout at the end to help with pouring. Nearly every Greek household has a few of these in different sizes depending on how many coffees are being made at once. And nearly all now have an electric briki for when making a large amount of coffees needed in a hurry.
Prior to making Greek coffee you need to have an idea of how your guest would like it drunk. Because coffee can’t be stirred after it’s been made, sugar needs to be added in the boiling process and never after. There are a number of ways to prepare Greek coffee, but I’ve chosen to focus on the top five: sketos; metrios; glikos; variglikos and glikivrastos.
Sketos is a strong and bitter coffee without sugar. A coffee that is guaranteed to wake you up to start the day, it’s thicker than the other coffees as the sugar doesn’t cut out the strength of the coffee grain. Metrios is probably the most popular way of drinking Greek coffee. It’s a medium coffee so not too bitter or not too sweet. It is boiled using one teaspoon of sugar. Glikos translates to sweet in Greek so this coffee cuts the bitterness out by adding in two teaspoons of sugar but for the sweet-tooths out there, you can always order a variglikos coffee, which translates to very sweet. This coffee is made with as much sugar as the person drinking it would like but in most cases, three teaspoons is a great place to start. Glikivrastos is again a sweet Greek coffee that has been reboiled so it isn’t served with the bitter kaimaki.
The kaimaki is the same thing as the creme of a short black, and the defining element of a good Greek coffee over a mediocre attempt – the icing on the Greek coffee cake. It’s the froth that covers the coffee on top that is sipped through when consuming Greek coffee. To get a good kaimaki, you need to boil your Greek coffee very slowly, when you notice it is starting to rise, take it off the heat and pour a little in your cup, then return the briki with the rest of the coffee to the flame and again, ever so slightly boil till it rises. Take it off the flame and genlty pour it into the coffee cup and you should have an unbroken kaimaki gliding on the top of your coffee. If you are making multiple coffees from the same briki, be sure to half-fill all of the cups before putting the briki back on the heat and then when it’s boiled again, you can distribute the rest of the kaimaki. The coffee cup used when drinking Greek coffee is very important. They are normally thicked-rim white cups, with a small handle and a small saucer. The Greek coffee cups are similar to espresso cups, the same in size and thickness.
And once a Greek coffee is drunk, another element of Greek culture comes into play. Superstitions filter their way into the conclusion of the cofee. Once it is drunk, the cup is turned upside down onto the saucer so the thick bottom of the Greek coffee – which is not to be drunk – slides down the cup. The patterns it makes create away to read your future. It is said ‘what’s in the cup’ is a window into what will happen in your life. Who would have thought one simple cup of coffee could mean so much?
How to make the perfect Greek coffee
What you will need:
briki / Greek coffee cups
/ water / sugar (if desired)
1. Measure one teaspoon of
coffee and measure one Greek coffee cup of water and place in briki. If you are
wanting your coffee metrios, place one teaspoon of sugar, and if you want it
gliko place two teaspoons of sugar. Give it all a good stir.
briki over the stove with the coffee and water over a gentle heat and wait for
the mixture to boil.
3. When it starts to bubble and rise, pour half
of the coffee mixture in a Greek coffee cup then place the briki back on the low
4. When it boils again, pour the rest of the mixture into the
Greek coffee cup, gently so not to break the kaimaki.
* Remember, use a large
briki when making more than one cup of Greek coffee, but only a small one for
one Greek coffee.