There are countries that have developed particular coffee cultures that have influenced the international coffee scene, such as Italy. Maybe Greece did not invent the espresso machine, but it has certainly developed its own unique coffee culture.
Coffee has always been very popular in Greece - after all, my country is among the top fifteen in per capita coffee consumption worldwide—as coffee consumption in Greece reaches 5.5 kg per person per year.
The roots of coffee in Greece go very far back in time. One thing to note is the different coffee drinks that have developed, but also the special habits that involve coffee drinking. These habits pertain to the preparation and the consumption of coffee, but also the cultural and social importance that coffee gradually acquired for the Greeks—an importance that still holds true today.
Greeks try coffee for the first time
The Greeks' first experience with coffee dates back to when they were part of the Ottoman Empire. As in other parts of the this region, in Greece the traditional brewing of coffee in an ibrik started as early as the 19th century, perhaps even earlier.
In Greece, along with the rest of the Balkan countries, this coffee remained the protagonist of the country’s coffee scene, almost until the end of World War II.
Back then, Greeks called this coffee “Turkish” coffee. However, the invasion of Cyprus by the Turks and the tense, hostile relations between the two countries led to the adoption of the name "Greek." Greek coffee companies of the time achieved this change through targeted advertising campaigns.
It's traditional to serve the coffee with a small Turkish delight on the side
Greek coffee and the first coffee shops
Greek coffee, with its special aroma and thick, full flavour, was the most popular drink from the creation of the Greek state until the Second World War. It was then that it gradually became sidelined.
In the meantime it had laid the foundations for the development of the first pillar of Greek coffee culture: the “kafenio.”
The first form of shop that served coffee in Greece was without a doubt the “kafenio,” the Greek word for coffee shop. The first coffee shops opened in Greece during the last years of Turkish rule and served Greek coffee, drinks and some pastries.
Despite the years that passed, these coffee shops did not evolve much. They they remain simple popular places, where mostly male customers get together and play cards or talk about politics.
A traditional Greek coffee shop
Europe’s influence in Greek coffee shop culture
Around the end of the 19th century more luxurious cafes began to pop up, where women were also welcome. These coffee shops had a more European orientation and were characterised by a greater appetite for avant-garde and modernity.
These bourgeois cafes, but also the coffee confectioneries actually lay the foundations for further development of coffee in Greece. During the 1960s there was a boom of modern coffee shops that were geared toward the younger generation and served all kinds of drinks.
Coffee as a Lifestyle Choice
Traditional cafes and modern coffee shops are both around today, while in recent years coffee chains have also become very popular.
For most Greeks, coffee is not just a drink, but an occasion to go out with friends. It is characteristic that in contrast to the counters of Italian espresso bars. Greek coffee shops always have tables, as a cup of coffee with friends lasts in Greece an average one and a half to two hours - many times, even longer.
It is no coincidence that the most common proposal for a date, which marks the beginning of a new relationship, a new friendship or just a new social contact, is the question "Do you want to go for a coffee?"
For this reason, coffee may have taken root so deeply in the daily life of Greeks, beyond its taste and caffeine properties: it is a cohesive element for bringing company together, an occasion for socialisation and the cheapest, easiest form of entertainment.
The Invention of the Frappé
In the late 1950s, instant coffee arrived in Greece. Then, during the Thessaloniki International Fair of 1957 a Nestlé professional mixed instant coffee with cold water, ice cubes, sugar and milk and invented the frappé.
The frappé quickly became the new favourite drink of the young Greek generation and did not leave its throne up until the end of the 1990s. Its invention gave inspiration for other drinks that have become popular worldwide such as the Frappuccino.
Greece drinks espresso
Although the introduction of espresso in Greece took place as early as the 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1990s that drinks such as the espresso and the cappuccino became popular with the general public.
Two Greek variations, the Freddo Espresso and Freddo Cappuccino, which combined the rich taste of espresso with the Greeks’ need for iced, refreshing drinks, led to the decline of frappé, and the almost universal adoption of espresso.
Espresso has become the new favourite Greek habit, whether we are talking about espresso, cappuccino or their cold versions.
Freddo Cappuccino to the left, Frappé to the right
Greece and the Third Wave of Coffee
The first years of the 21st century find the Greek coffee scene more diverse than ever. It is a fact that these days Greeks are highly informed and demanding customers that are always looking for, reading, tasting and having an opinion about the coffee they want to drink.
Third wave coffee has found fertile ground in Greece, and all the discussion that has developed around coffee always results in more choices for the consumer but also in improving the services provided.
These days you will find many speciality coffee shops in Greece, offering single origin coffees but also signature blends and various drinks such as pour-over, cold brew, batch brew and more.
The only thing that has not changed is the core of the Greek coffee culture. Coffee needs time and devotion. It is a simple daily entertainment and is always enjoyed with friends, whether it is an old-fashioned frappé or a quality Italian espresso. Once thing's for sure, whatever changes come their way, Greeks will always continue to love their coffee!