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Greeks and Coffee; A Love Story

Greeks and Coffee; A Love Story

by Athens Insiders

It is said, and maybe not unjustly, that Greeks have a serious case of iced -coffee addiction. As a non-Greek friend pointed out on his first visit in Athens, “everybody seems to always have a glass or plastic cup in hand, with a straw sticking out and some foamy, brown liquid in it!” No matter where they are, or what they are doing: relaxing in a café or driving a tractor, selling fruit in a farmer’s market or addressing a group of students in a seminar hall.

Greeks and coffee fell in love at first smell, back in Ottoman-rule times and since then they have dedicated whole centuries, in terms of hours, sitting and chatting around very small cups of Arabian blended coffee.

The American instant coffee and the French filtered varieties added new life to their love story with coffee, but it all went ballistic when two very small things where added: Ice cubes and a straw!

Legend has it that it all began with an “accident”, a bit like the ones in typical love-stories where the lovers-to-be bump into each other. Back in 1957, at the International Trade Fair in Thessaloniki, – the biggest city in northern Greece-  Giannis Dritsas, the representative of the Nestlé Company in the country, was exhibiting a new chocolate beverage produced instantly by mixing it with milk and shaking it in a shaker. One of his employees named Dimitris Vakondios, wanted to enjoy his instant coffee with a Nescafe during one of his breaks but had no hot water. Addicted to coffee as any Greek, he poured instant coffee, cool water and ice cubes into a shaker, tasted it and… a “behold! I made coffee without fire!” moment had just gone down in history. Of course, a straw was as essential to the invention as the axle to the wheel, because this coffee was covered with thick sticky foam from all the shaking.

frappe 1
Frappe Image Credit: MihiScholl

The milky option was added later, together with a French name to give this simple idea some sophistication and elegance, so it was called by the French word for “shaken”: “frappe”.

The idea was instantly successful and the reason was simple. It combined the taste and the awakening “kick” of coffee at a cooling and thirst-quenching serving temperature that made it perfect for a country flirting with heat waves 4 months a year. And as it required nothing more than a shaker and a straw, it was the most practical way to make coffee ever invented in human history!

Pretty soon, “frappe” was being served everywhere and some people even created myths about secret ingredients – like raw eggs beaten in the mix to produce the creamiest texture etc. – that were purportedly used by some “kafeterias”, the modern version of the traditional “kafeneion” (coffee place). In the 80’s the younger Greeks started enjoying it year-round, to distinguish themselves from the older generations, that only drunk “hot” coffees, like “Turkish coffee” or “hellinikos” (Greek) coffee.

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 Many working men and women, from office clerks to truck drivers, adopted it as it could be easily made –especially since plastic disposable kits containing anything but the water were launched – and enjoyed with no fuss while working, walking or even driving, thanks to the straw.

Back to our coffee love-story now. Decades later, time had taken its toll on the relationship of Greeks with their “frappe”. New trends came from abroad and more people every year turned to drinking espresso and cappuccino. Some even declared “frappe” to be “passé”. But the thirst never ends under the Mediterranean sun, so eventually they turned to “frappe” hybrids.

Cappuccino freddo Image Credit: Michele Ursino

So, today you look to a café’s menu and you find out a complete listing of popular cold coffees; Espresso or cappuccino “freddo” which are the cold version of these Italian coffees. Espresso freddo is normal espresso shaken with ice and the only foam you get is from this shaking. A straw is mandatory. Cappuccino freddo is practically the above topped with frothed milk cream and maybe a touch of cinnamon on top. Then we get to “Fredoccinos” and “Frappuccinos” – a chaotic area; they are practically hybrids between cappuccino, espresso, frappé and milk shakes, as they “shake” these Italian coffees with ice cubes and top them with frothy milk, or freshly made whipped cream, often mixed with syrups or even with portions of condensed milk “shakes” and then sprinkled with anything – from cinnamon, to chocolate truffle or even biscuit crumbs.

Order them as if they were ice cream and specify sweetness, cream, toppings, syrup etc. Just keep in mind that they are known to have secretly killed off too many people’s diets.

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