Coffee in Greece is a huge part of the Greek culture. It’s much more than just a drink – it’s a pretext for meeting friends and discussing everyday life or serious affairs. Here is everything you need to know about the coffee culture in Greece.
Greek coffee culture
First-time travelers to Greece are always surprised by the numbers of locals sitting around at cafés at any time of the day.
Having a coffee is a big thing here in Greece. While the drink itself is important, the expression “going for a coffee” usually indicates meeting for a chat and a catch-up.
But what’s the story behind Greece’s most popular pastime? Let’s find out!
A brief history of coffee
According to legend, coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia in the 9th century AD. A goat herder, Kaldi, noticed that his goats became very energetic after eating the fruit of a yet unknown plant.
Kaldi took the fruit to a monk in a nearby monastery, who made a drink and discovered that it helped him stay awake. This is thought to be how coffee was first discovered.
The drink made its way to Yemen, many Arabic countries and the Ottoman Empire, often replacing alcoholic drinks that were banned by the Quran. It eventually reached Europe in the mid-1600s, and the US a few decades later.
Inevitably, coffee shops started appearing everywhere. They were places where male citizens gathered, discussed, and exchanged political and other opinions. They became an alternative place for men to meet, alongside the bazaars, marketplaces, houses or mosques – similar to the Ancient Agora of Athens.
Coffee shops in Greece
As Greece was a part of the Ottoman Empire, Greeks embraced coffee and coffee culture early on. Several hundreds of cafés existed in Thessaloniki, Kavala and other cities in northern Greece long before the Greek Revolution in 1821.
There are conflicting accounts regarding which was the first coffee shop, or kafeneio, in Greece owned by a Greek national. Some people claim that it was founded in Nafplion, the first capital of the Greek state.
According to others, Kafeneio Forlidas on Pelio mountain, which opened in 1785, is the oldest coffee shop in Greece. It’s still in operation, currently owned by the seventh Forlidas generation! You can see what it looks like in this short video.
The first coffee shops in Athens
In 1834, Athens became the capital of modern Greece, and the Bavarian Prince Otto Friedrich Ludwig von Bayern was appointed as the first King. Soon after, the city began to have some entertainment and nightlife, and a few cafes opened.
One of the first establishments at the time was the “Bavarian Café”. Commonly known as “Gruner Baum” (Green Tree), it functioned as a multi-purpose coffee shop/beerhouse/restaurant/library/bowling club. It was mostly frequented by Otto, Bavarian officers and other expats.
Another popular kafeneio in AthensOrea Ellas” (Beautiful Greece), on the corner of Aiolou and Ermou Street, close to today’s Monastiraki metro. Here is where everyone gathered to read the most recent newspapers and discuss political affairs.
During those times, cafes were limited to male patrons. Greek women only started going to cafes a few decades ago. If you visit more remote areas in Greece, you might still see a few kafenia mainly frequented by old men.
Greek cafes and coffee shops today
These days, coffee shops thrive everywhere in Greece.
In bigger cities, like Athens, you will see several coffee shops in every little neighborhood, from bigger chain shops to small family-owned cafes. It’s always easy to sit for a coffee or get one to go, and it’s a daily ritual for many Greeks.
In smaller towns and villages, cafés are often the focal point of the community, where locals go to gather together and discuss the latest community news.
There are many different coffees to choose from in Greek coffee shops. From steaming hot coffee to iced coffee, here are the most popular types of coffee in Greece.
Traditional Greek coffee
The so-called “Greek coffee” is an iconic drink which has its roots in the distant past, in Yemen, the Arab countries and the Ottoman Empire.
Traditionally, water, grounded roasted coffee beans and, optionally, sugar were placed in a small pot, called ibrik. The pot was placed on coals covered by hot sand, and the coffee simmered until a thin layer of foam (kaimaki) appeared on top.
Both Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee, are inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. Variations exist in several countries in the Mediterranean and the Balkans.
This type of coffee is traditionally served in demitasse cups and meant to be sipped slowly. In Turkey, it is often accompanied by a Turkish delight.
Greek coffee, or Turkish coffee?
While this coffee was originally known as Turkish coffee in Greece, things changed in the 1960s, mostly for political reasons. Nowadays, Greeks commonly refer to this drink as Greek coffee, or Ellinikos kafes.
As Greek coffee is unfiltered, a sediment forms at the bottom of the cup – be careful not to drink it! And even if you are not a huge coffee drinker, you should indulge in this original Greek coffee drinking experience at least once.
Greek Frappé coffee
Frappé coffee is one of the most famous types of coffee in Greece. It consists of instant coffee shaken together with cold water and a few ice cubes, with optional milk and sugar. The iced drink is served in a tall glass, with a straw, and has a thick layer on foam on top.
According to urban legend, Greek frappé was invented during the International Trade Fair of Thessaloniki, in 1957. One of the companies exhibiting their products was Nestlé, the famous food and drink company.
Among other consumer goods, Nestlé was promoting their usual instant coffee. As hot water was not available, one of their employees tried mixing cold water with the easily soluble coffee, to make an uplifting drink.
The rest, as they say, is history. Frappé became a huge part of the Greek coffee scene. The image of the iced drink in a tall glass is linked to summer, long chats, and care-free holidays.
Fun fact: The word “frappé” comes from the French word “frapper”, meaning “to knock/hit”.
How to make the perfect frappé iced coffee
The most common coffee to use for a Greek frappé is Nestlé’s Nescafé. These days, there are many other brands producing spray dried instant coffee, and each of them may have several products. I prefer Jacobs Gold myself!
You can make a frappé using a shaker, but it’s best to use a special hand mixer / milk frother.
Pour a small amount of water in a tall glass, add 1-2 teaspoons of instant coffee, and sugar to taste (optional). Mix with the hand mixer, until a thick foam appears on top. Add some cold water, ice cubes, and milk to taste (optional).
Your cold coffee is ready. Serve with a straw, and enjoy!
Note: Unlike a coffee milkshake, this beverage typically has very few calories. If you are not used to it, it can be hard on your dollar system, so proceed with caution!
Espresso and cappuccino
Espresso and cappuccino, which were invented in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century, are very common throughout Greece. These days, most cafes have Italian espresso machines.
The Italian word “espresso” is widely used to describe a small shot of coffee with a strong flavor, served in a special cup. The brewing method uses high water pressure and finely ground coffee beans.
Cappuccino contains a double shot of espresso coffee along with steamed milk and milk foam on top. Its name may derive from the Capuchin monks, whose robes brown color was similar to that of the hot drink.
Freddo espresso and freddo cappuccino
Espresso freddo and cappuccino freddo are two fairly recent additions to the Greek coffee culture. They are the cold versions of espresso and cappuccino, and are steadily gaining ground against the frappé, with many Greeks ordering them as a take-away.
To make a great freddo espresso, you will first need to make a double shot of espresso. Pour it in a metal shaker with (optional) sugar and ice cubes, shake it for a few seconds, and pour it over a glass with some more ice cubes.
For freddo cappuccino, just add a few tablespoons of frothed milk on top.
Good coffee beans are essential to make these cold coffees. Common brands in Greece are Illy, Lavazza, Dimello and Buondi.
French coffee / Filter coffee
While filter coffee is available at coffee shops in Greece, it is not among the most popular types of coffee. Unlike traditional Greek coffee or espresso, it is light in flavor, and typically contains less caffeine.
You can ask for it as French coffee, or Gallikos in Greek. Common brands include Jacobs, Dimello, and the signature Coffeeway. They often come in different flavors, such as vanilla, hazelnut or caramel.
Ordering coffee in Greece
When ordering some types of cfdependoffee in Greece, your waiter will typically ask you how much sugar you want. This is because they might need to add the sugar at the time of preparation.
You can ask for your coffee to be sweet (glykosmedium sweet (metrorios) or without sugar (sketos).
If you are a fan of coffee, you can opt for a double coffee (diplos). This usually applies for Greek coffee, espresso and cappuccino.
If you want milk in your frappé or filtered coffee, the Greek words you can use are”me gala”. Different types of vegan milk are also widely available.
A take-away coffee costs from as little as 1-1.50 euro. Prices at coffee shops depend on where you go. Generally speaking, the price of a coffee will be around 2.50-3.50 euro, but it will be higher in touristy areas in places like Athens, Mykonos and Santorini.
Frequently asked questions about Greek coffee and the Greek coffee culture
Here are a few questions often asked by visitors:
Is coffee popular in Greece?
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in Greece today, and Greeks enjoy it at most times of the day. There are literally hundreds of coffee places everywhere around the country, and coffee drinking is a huge part of the Greek culture.
What kind of coffee do they drink in Greece?
Some of the most common Greek coffees today are frappé, freddo espresso, freddo cappuccino and the so-called Greek coffee.
How do Greek people drink coffee?
Drinking coffee can be described as Greece’s national sport. Greeks drink coffee everywhere, at almost any time of the day. You will see dozens of people sitting at cafes, but also people with a take-away coffee in their hand, taking short coffee breaks.
How do you ask for coffee in Greek?
The Greek phrase you would use to ask for a coffee is enan kafe parakalo. However, you’d have to specify what type of coffee you want. If you are visiting Greece on a holiday, you should aim to drink Greek coffee and frappé at least once.
What is the difference between Greek coffee and Turkish coffee?
There is no real difference between Greek and Turkish coffee, though the coffee grounds that you find in the two countries might be of different origin. When in Greece, it’s best to refer to the traditional coffee as Greek coffee.
Coffee and coffee culture in Greece
I hope you enjoyed this article about coffee and the Greek coffee culture. Here are a few more articles you might like:
Hi! I’m Vanessa from Athens, and, like most Greeks, I love meeting friends for coffee – preferably a cold one! For more info on Greek culture, follow my FB page. If you live in Greece, or are planning to move here, join our FB group, Expats in Greece.