I’ve already written about my favorite drink, frappé coffee. But as the autumn wears on and the temperatures begin to drop, it is time to talk about another favorite, good old Greek coffee.
Ah, that delicious, bitter-sweet aromatic brew without which the day cannot begin. It is the perfect drink to wake up with, the ideal pick-me-up in the middle of the morning when energy is flagging, and heavenly in the afternoon, to help one unwind with good company.
How is Greek coffee different?
Greek coffee is not filtered, infused or expressed; it doesn’t need any fancy equipment – all it requires is a hot spot and a small pot. Not needing to pass through a filter, Greek coffee has the finest grain of all other kinds. It is also very aromatic, a result of its special roasting method. Greek coffee is essentially a brew, cooked to order and consumed fresh. It cannot be mass-produced nor made in advance.
What is it like?
A proper Greek coffee comes served in a small cup with saucer, like an espresso. It is a strong tasting drink that tastes better when hot. It doesn’t take milk or cream.
Ideally, Greek coffee should have a thick “kaimaki” on top (a sort of thick froth). However, there are some people who like it without; that’s okay too.
How to make Greek coffee
Its preparation is quite simple, but as all simple things, it takes a little practice to get just right. We’ll start with the basic, medium, mixture, just to show how things are done. Then you can play with it, increasing or decreasing sugar or coffee, until you get it just the way you like it.
Greek coffee recipe
Ingredients for one coffee:
1 teaspoon of Greek coffee, moderately heaped
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 small cup of water (espresso or Greek coffee cup)
Hot plate or, preferably, gas flame; small, narrow pot; teaspoon; coffee cup and saucer
Measure one cup of water and pour it in the coffee pot. The cup must not be brimming, because the volume of water will increase with the coffee and sugar.
Add the sugar and coffee and stir.
Put the pot on the flame; set to medium-low. Stir at least two more times while the mixture heats up.
Note 1: Stirring is very important. It helps dissolve the sugar, distribute the coffee grains evenly throughout the mixture and results in a smoother drink.
Note 2: Gas is used because it’s easier to regulate than electric cookers, which retain heat and don’t respond as quickly. Since very few Greek households have gas, most have a small, portable gas stove just for making coffee.
Note 3: Don’t leave the spoon in the pot. First, the handle will get too hot to touch, secondly, it shouldn’t be there when your coffee begins to froth, as pulling it out may destroy the “kaimaki.”
When your coffee begins to froth, turn the heat as low as possible. Wait patiently but attentively. This is NOT the best time to take your eyes off the coffee.
When the froth begins to rise, remove from the heat immediately and let it settle down. Then put the pot on the stove again, until the froth rises. Repeat a third time, taking care not to break the “kaimaki, ”i.e. the skin that forms on top of the pot.
Serve your coffee immediately. The “kaimaki” will be broken in the process, but will reassemble itself in the cup, if you’ve done things right. If you’ve overcooked the coffee, the kaimaki will be thin and will break up in the cup (see image on left below). If you’ve been careful, the kaimaki will be thick, uniform and unbroken (see image on the right)
Now all you need is some good company; if not, a good setting, such as a nice, shady balcony or garden, or a roof with a view might do the trick.
Er, how do I drink it?
It is okay to wait a little for your coffee to cool down, but not too much – cold coffee is not fit for drinking.
It is also okay to sip quickly, drawing some air in, to avoid getting burnt by the hot liquid. This takes some practice to do smoothly, without choking, so be careful.
Sugar dissolves in the final product, but the coffee grains tend to settle at the bottom of the cup, forming what we call the dregs.
DON’T DRINK THE DREGS!
- a) they taste vile, b) they’re good for your potted plants c) you can have your fortune told by reading the patterns they make around the cup.
Can I accompany it with something?
Greek coffee is always –always– served with a tall glass of cold water.
In the morning it may be accompanied by a koulouri or a bougatsa, taking the place of breakfast. In the afternoon, it is often accompanied by something sweet – traditionally a syrupy fruit preserve, but a chocolate cake would do nicely too, especially in winter.
With the exception of the day’s first cup, which is usually drunk in a hurry (except for weekends) coffee should always be drunk at leisure. Ideally, it should be drunk with good company, but if there is none available, then the newspaper will do. Alternatively, choose a good spot and people watch.
What coffee should I make (or order)?
I recommend starting with the most common brew, “medium,” made with one teaspoon of coffee and one of sugar. Most Greeks do the same, then experiment until they find the proportion that suits them best. Some like it black, whereas others may use two teaspoons of sugar or more. One can play with the amount of coffee too; some prefer their coffee “heavy” (meaning with a heaped teaspoon of coffee, or even more) whereas others drink it “light.”
Which brand to choose?
Many Greeks still prefer to buy their coffee freshly-roasted-and-ground from small specialty shops found in most commercial streets. The roaster (below, left) works all morning, spreading the smell of roasting coffee up and down the street. The grinder (below right) produces a very fine coffee powder, sold in small quantities, so that it stays fresh.
However, the busy younger generation is finding the vacuum-packed supermarket kind more convenient. There are many brands to choose from – as with everything, try a few until you find the one you like best.
Does it keep?
Once opened, Greek coffee must be kept in an airtight container somewhere cool, otherwise, its aroma quickly evaporates. Unless you live somewhere really cold, put it in a tin in the fridge.
PS. It seems that Greek coffee is not only delicious, but healthy too. Read all about it in this article.