Want something with espresso-level intensity with just a little more flair? Or maybe you’re traveling and wondering what to expect abroad. Either way, we’re here to tell you that, rich in both flavor and culture, Greek coffee is a cornerstone of Greek social gatherings. And with good reason!
Read on for the full low down on the history of Greek coffee, how it’s made, and what makes it so interesting.
What is Greek Coffee?
Greek coffee is unique for several reasons, mostly important are its grind, brewing method, and serving style. It uses extremely finely ground coffee. In fact, when done correctly, the grounds are almost powder-like, similar to flour.
These unique grounds are then brewed in a specific, tall, narrow pot that may be called a briki, cezve, or ibrik. Once it has been boiled and brewed in the pot, the Greek coffee is served without removing the grounds. They are left in the cup, which is typically a demitasse.
Additionally, Greek coffee is usually served with a glass of cold water. It may also be accompanied by cookies or other sweet. It is typically drank black or with sugar, but some people do opt to add milk.
This grounds-included serving style is responsible for the very specific method and social practices surrounding the brew, which we will get into later.
The term “Greek Coffee” is actually relatively new. As recently as the 1960s, Greek coffee was actually called Turkish coffee in Greece. However, the political tension caused by the targeting of the Greek minority during the Istanbul Riots in 1960 and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in the 1970s, caused a vernacular shift. Due to increased Greek nationalism and anti-turkish sentiments, there was a decided push to create the political euphemism “Greek coffee.”
The movement and sentiment behind erasing Turkey from Greek culture was so strong that there were even advertising campaigns that acknowledged and encouraged the shift. As a result, by the 1990’s the term “Turkish coffee” was widely deemed politically incorrect in Greek Cafe’s, and some natives have never even heard the term.
While most people will refer to Greek coffee as being served “black,” this can get a little confusing, especially in the US where black coffee=nothing added. This is not necessarily the case with Greek coffee. In this case, black means no milk, thus the color of the brew is preserved. However, sugar may be added and that’s where the biggest variation comes in.
Sugar is actually added during brewing for Greek coffee. The amount added is what differentiates the four main “styles” of the brew: Those are:
Pronounced SKEH-tohss, this is the unsweetened style. The brew is made using all coffee and absolutely no sugar.
This semi-sweet variant is pronounced MEHT-ree-ohss. It is made by using a ratio of 1 teaspoon of coffee to 1 teaspoon of sugar. Thus, it’s equal parts sweet and bitter.
Next in the line-up is the sweet Glykos (ghlee-KOHSS). It’s ratio is 1:2 teaspoons of coffee to sugar. So this one leans sweet.
This is the sweetest style of Greek coffee and is pronounced vah-REE ghlee-KOHSS. It has a very sweet flavor and uses a ratio of 2:3 tsp coffee to sugar.
Sugar can be added directly to the coffee while it’s brewing and the amount added creates the four main styles of Greek coffee:
Don’t worry, this isn’t just another step up in sugar content. This style (pronounced ghlee-KEE-crah-stohss) is different in that it is double boiled. It uses the same sugar ratio as the Glykos style, but it is boiled more than once. As a result it does not have the distinctive foam that the other styles have.
How It’s Made
Step one, as with most coffee, is the grinding. As we mentioned, Greek coffee uses an extremely fine grind, sometimes called a Turkish grind. This type of grind creates grounds that are essentially powdered, reaching a similar texture to espresso powder (no, they’re not the same thing).
The downside to this is that an inexpensive grinder probably isn’t going to cut it. You’ll probably need a pretty good burr grinder if you want to get the job done right. And, trust us, you do. If the grind isn’t super fine, drinking this could be a nightmare since the grounds are left in the cup.
Briki + Brewing
First, let’s start with what exactly a briki is. At a basic level, it is a tall, thin pot. It has a long handle that angles upwards from the rim. As important as the shape though, is the size of the briki used for brewing. They’re usually sold in sizes labelled 2, 4 or 6 cups.
The briki should have the capacity to hold the number of servings being brewing plus one. The extra room is for the foam to rise. Too much extra room and the foam ends up with the wrong texture. Not enough room and you end up with a mess and not nearly enough foam.
As far as actually brewing, first, water is added to the briki. Then, the briki is placed on a medium to low heat stove. The coffee grounds and sugar are then mixed in.
Once throughly mixed, the brew is allowed to sit as bubbles begin to rise and the brew approaches a boil. When enough foam, called Kaïmaki, has gathered, the brew is quickly removed from the heat to avoid spillage.
Important note for DIY-ers:
Do not get the measurement term “cups” confused with servings! Greek coffee is traditionally served in demitasse cups, which hold 2.5-3 oz. There are 8 oz in a cup. So [insert math here], you can serve about 6 people with a 2 cup briki, 11 with a 4 cup, and 16 with a 6 cup. Are you starting to see why this thing is usually used to serve a group of friends?
If you’re using bigger cups or full sized mugs, the math will work out differently. But all the same, be aware of how much beverage you’re probably going to be serving before you buy a briki.
Demitasse Cups + Serving
Demitasse cups are the same cups used for espresso, so they’re pretty small, holding between a quarter and a third of a cup of coffee. Since Greek coffee, like espresso, is super concentrated, that serving size is usually plenty.
The beverage is typically served without sides of sugar or milk since the sugar content is determined before brewing and honestly, milk isn’t going to fit. Plus, it’s intended to be consumed black anyway. You’ll probably find it served alongside a glass of water and perhaps some sugary treats.
How to Drink it
Drinking coffee might seem like a no-brainer. But the method of drinking this particular style of drink is just as important, if not more so, than the way it’s brewed. Remember how we mentioned that drinking this coffee is a big part of Greek culture? Here’s why.
Greek coffee is a social drink. It is consumed at an extremely relaxed pace typically at social gatherings or intimate, local cafes. Patience is key with this drink because the grounds need time to settle at the bottom of the cup. Otherwise, you’re just asking for a rather unpleasant experience.
Greek coffee breaks can easily run into hour and a half gatherings. So the point is to sit back, sip, and chat with friends or colleagues.