What is Greek Coffee?

Greek coffee
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Question: What is Greek Coffee?

A friend of mine recently visited Greece and raved about the "Greek Coffee" that they served in all the cafes. He said it was some kind of a local delicacy and that he has never tried anything like it back home. What exactly is Greek Coffee, and how do I make it?

Answer: Greek Coffee is basically the same thing as Turkish Coffee. Like Armenia's "Armenian Coffee," "Cypriot Coffee" in Cyprus, Serbian "Domestic Coffee," and "Bosnian Coffee" in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the term "Greek Coffee" is Greece's way of laying claim to something that is very much a part of their culture, even though Turkey (which, along with other areas in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East and North Africa, claims to be origin of the drink) has often had dicey political relationships with these nations.

(For example, Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, straining relations between Greece and Turkey, and prompting the name change from "Turkish Coffee" to "Greek Coffee.")

Like Turkish Coffee, Greek Coffee is made with a fine grind of coffee (sometimes called a "Turkish grind") that is boiled in a tall, narrow pot known as a briki, cezve or an ibrik. Greek Coffee is served with grounds in the cup (often a demitasse cup), and the grounds are allowed to settle as the coffee is slowly sipped. The relaxed pace of drinking Greek Coffee makes it ideal for social gatherings, so it is not uncommon to see people conversing over Greek Coffee at a local cafeteria (a Greek cafe for men and women) or kafeneio (a Greek coffee house for men), and Greek Coffee is often served to visitors and guests in Greek homes. One study showed that the typical Greek coffee break lasted over 90 minutes -- ample time to chat, catch up, gossip...

and let those grounds settle.

There are four main styles of Greek Coffee:

  • Unsweetened, or sketos (pronounced SKEH-tohss)
  • Somewhat sweet, or metrios (pronounced MEHT-ree-ohss)
  • Sweet, or glykos (pronounced ghlee-KOHSS)
  • Very sweet, or vary glykos (pronounced vah-REE ghlee-KOHSS)

Another variation on Greek Coffee is sweet boiled coffee, or glykys vrastos (pronounced ghlee-KEE-vrah-stohss), but this drink is boiled more than once, and it is missing its foam, which is one of the three main parts to Greek Coffee:

  • The grounds / dregs, which settle to the bottom of the cup
  • The liquid coffee, which is strong and thick
  • The foam (or kaïmaki, pronounced kaee-MAH-kee), which should be rich

Greek Coffee is typically served with a glass of cold water (much like coffee is served is Czech coffee houses) and is sometimes served with sweets (such as cookies). It is traditionally served black, though some young people prefer to order a "double" Greek Coffee and add milk to taste.

You can learn to make your own Greek Coffee with this excellent photo tutorial on How to Make Greek Coffee.

If you're interested in learning about another style of coffee that's popular in Greece, the Frappe, check out these video recipes for Espresso Frappes and Cherry Frappes.