For the Coffee Lovers !

Coffee is the ….unofficial national Greek drink!

For most Greeks, the consumption of coffee is a beloved habit, a daily ritual, a fundamental addiction. Almost all of the adult population, and not only, have made the pleasure of drinking coffee an inseparable part of their lives.

As other nationalities throughout the world have, so too have the Greeks modified their cultural customs according to the consumption of coffee, a custom in its own right which is nourished by the general way of life and the temperament of the people. As such, it is characteristic that the enjoyment of drinking coffee is not represented by a fleeting instant in one’s busy day, but a prolonged recess, which becomes the motive for socializing and interaction.

Greeks do not (usually) drink their coffee from a plastic cup, standing up, in a hurry on their way to work. On the contrary,you can find a Greek in a café, sitting down for hours (!) on end, combining his daily dose of caffeine with a variety of other things.

In particular, the many cafeterias which are found in almost all of the central areas and neighbourhoods of Athens as well as in the countryside, are meeting points for social contact and enjoyment, appealing equally to the young, as to the more mature crowd who devote many hours a week there, to meet friends, and exchange news. In an attractively designed environment accompanied by music, widely diversified, according to the style and atmosphere each owner wishes to convey, the patrons are required to choose from a variety of coffee types {most of the varieties of coffee available worldwide} and other hot and cold drinks, alcoholic drinks, sweets and snacks.

Whilst drinking a coffee, you may see people playing board games, which most cafes have at their disposal, or traditional backgammon ( tavli ).

For those with an enthusiasm for technology, there are of course internet coffee shops available. It should also be pointed out that the self service system is very rarely implemented in cafes, and such there are hardly any such cafes.

Within this framework, it can be understood to a certain degree, why Greeks pay for their cup of coffee more extravagantly than in other countries. These inflated costs associated with all coffee related products, are in part, due to the fact that a cup of coffee is not defined by a plastic cup, but it is accompanied by other services, provided during its consumption. Of course it would be an oversimplification to ascertain that the cost of coffee is influenced exclusively by the Greek custom of spending lengthy hours in a cafe, drinking only one hot drink. The reasons are primarily financially related, reflecting the general rate of inflation.

The traditional Greek coffee:

The Greek coffee is served hot in a small cup and saucer. It is prepared very easily and quickly in boiling water. The various proportions, or, the absence of sugar and milk, undoubtedly, determine the taste.

Apart from the traditional Greek coffee, Greeks also prefer the frappe. This comprises of a chilled glass of strong coffee, served in a tall glass and apart from sugar and milk, may also contain ice-cream. The frappe is especially preferred during the summer months.

A variety of coffee especially popular in Greece, is Nescafe. It is prepared quite easily with boiling water, preferred hot with sugar, and is served in a cup with saucer.

Take away coffee:
For those who yearn to enjoy a quick cup of coffee, there are various locations where one may purchase one, apart from the cafes. Throughout all of the central streets of Athens, and in the suburbs, there are at least 2 or 3 casual snack bars per area, serving coffee, not to mention the fast food chain stores. The prices are clearly less expensive, with relation to café prices, although there is definitely not the same variety to choose from.

Traditional coffee shops: (kafenio)

For those who adore tradition, and the old customary way of life, the traditional coffee shops or “kafeneia” can be found. It is true to say that in the 21st century, in Athens, there are only a few that retain the traditional style, mainly located within the suburbs. A tourist may see them more often in the countryside, at the main squares or “plateias” of villages or small towns.

The atmosphere is traditional, the comforts minimal in relation to cafes, and the selection of coffee offered, is limited. The patrons usually represent the mature-old age bracket, and are usually very familiar with one another.

In a coffee house in Greece you might find anything from handcrafted straw-bottomed chairs to modern plastic stools. Tables could be the plain wooden variety to fine marble. Whatever the decor, the kafenio remains an important institution in Greek society.

It’s a place to sit and relax, so you needn’t be in a hurry to order. It also provides a spot from where to observe the day’s or evening’s activities going on street side or dockside.

It’s the norm to see men playing cards or enjoying a game of tavli, often staying for hours. The traditional Kafeneio is a man’s world in Greece.
Even today, men far outnumber the women patrons. On hot summer days, you may be joined by a few local cats also in need of a break from the Greek sun. And tourists eager to order their first frappe (iced coffee)

Some coffee houses close for the siesta time, but many remain open from the early morning hours to late into the night. The best time for socializing in a kafenio is after 6 p.m., when the air starts to cool and friends begin to meet for a chat over drinks.

Apart from socializing, business is frequently conducted within the walls of cafes all over Greece. Merchants talk their deals and lawyers meet with clients. House or boat prices are discussed. Mayors hold open town meetings and Orthodox priests set up their various appointments for weddings and baptisms.

One foreign tourist on a small Greek island reported how she happened by a pleasant-looking kafenio and selected an outside table under an olive tree. She asked the waiter for a coffee, then enjoyed a quiet morning sitting there watching passers-by in the nearby square.

Only when she asked to pay was she was politely informed she had seated herself outside the man’s private home.

In the countryside or on small islands, the kafenio is the center of life, a so-called “second living room” to discuss politics or talk sports. It used to be the town’s sole public telephone was located in the kafenio. There are usually local and regional newspapers available for patrons to borrow and a television is kept on whether or not anybody bothers to watch it.

Even in touristy areas, at least one coffee house will be set aside for locals. Tourists who chance to wander in will be served, of course, but are not encouraged by any flashy signs posted outside in English. In fact, tourists may not even notice these little gems.

(Local Tip)
Pay attention to the color of the doors (and sometimes window banks) of the kafenio, you’ll learn something about the political affiliation of the owner! (in the countryside and small islands)
Blue stands for the conservative New Democrats, while green means PASOK, the Socialists. Red signifies the Communists, or KKE. Of course, this isn’t true of all coffee houses. Not all owners wish to declare their party of choice so boldly!

Usually you can’t order much in the way of food in a kafenio, although you probably can order sweets of some sort. You can order water, hot tea or beer. All foreign label beers are made in Greece under license. Various soft drinks are available. You’ll also find spirits, such as anised-based ouzo and brandy (often the Metaxa brand) on the menu card. You’ll probably get a mix of mezes (small appetizers).

If you want a mild instant coffee, simply ask for Nescafe (or Nes). Most patons order traditional Greek coffee, which is prepared in a variety of ways. Ask for sketo if you want unsweetened. Metrio is medium, where coffee powder and sugar are mixed. Double- sweetened is called glyko. But that’s just an overview, the list of ways to get your coffee goes on.

For tourists, a kafenio might be the perfect spot to wait for the afternoon ferry or to get out of the sun between hikes. But it plays a far greater role in Greek society than what you might take in at first glance.