Warning Note: Always specify the level of sweetness you prefer; “Sweet” or “Glikos”, as it is pronounced, means (usually) 2 teaspoons of coffee and 4 teaspoons of sugar. Medium or “Metrios” means 2 teaspoons of coffee and 2 teaspoons of sugar). Plain or no sugar or “Sketos” means 2 teaspoons of coffee and no sugar. And no, it is not easy to add as much sugar as you want later cause of the foam and the fact that the ice cubes will make it hard for the sugar to be dissolved.
* As with most coffees in Greece, when you order remember to specify whether you want milk in it. If you want milk and you suspect that English might not work, just say “me gala”, that means “with milk”, but if you don’t leave a gap between the two words it will sound like you said “big ones” in Greek. This might lead to certain “problems”. Especially if being served by a woman.
*You can sit for as long as you like at a place where you have ordered coffee. The main idea with Greek coffee-drinking is that you take your time with it. It is not about consumption. It is about interaction. The coffee is the excuse for it as much as a delight by itself. Forget everything you know about fast foods, take-aways and the Italians sipping espressos and taking off like a Formula One pit-stop crew. This is where the East meets the West and everything slows down. You may read while drinking it, have a long discussion, even a “philosophical” debate that started with the simple question “what are we gonna do next”, or lay a complete life- or business-plan to a friend. After all, it is not strange for people to discuss business matters at a café. Or just talk about what bothers you, chat, comment and analyze everything from foreign policy to the latest gossip or the Chinese Space program. Or just lay there enjoying the view, the sounds or just absorbing the sunrays.
* Some say that this modern habit of Greeks – spending huge amounts of time in cafes under the sun – is an evolution, over centuries, of the time spent in ancient Greece and Italy in the market (or “Agora”), where they went every day to conduct business and communicate with one another, exchange views on all things public, see their friends etc. A habit which, eventually, led to philosophy and democracy. Practically, it was the epitome of social life which during Ottoman rule transformed into a more laid-back activity, also associated with drinking and water-pipe smoking.
*Sitting in a place and just fancied an “Hellinikos” or Greek coffee? Before you order you are totally entitled to ask the service if they use a pressure machine to make it. If they say “yes”, skip it. Many places do so, and it totally destroys the experience because it burns the ground coffee, takes away half the aroma and the small ground particles swim in the mix forever destroying the “kaimaki” – the foamy cream at the top. Greek or Turkish coffee is, as most eastern things, a matter of slow pace not speed.
*When you do get your “hellinikos” coffee, do not stir it with anything. Let the ground coffee sit on the bottom. Remember that this bottom, sand-like residue is not to be drunk. In some cases old ladies claim that they can tell the future of the person who drunk the coffee, particularly on the issues he or she was thinking while drinking it. They just turn the cup upside down, let most of the residue fall out and then focus on the shapes formed and “read” the future through them. If anybody tries to take you to such a lady –a paid “fortuneteller”, fooling people for a fee – don’t go, it’s a scam.
*Another proof that Greeks don’t take their coffee culture lightly is that many of the cold coffees we mentioned can be found in the menu of international cafes in Athens, like Starbucks.
*In case you have spotted these strange plastic things with a big ring on top, next to the driver’s seat in every cab, bus, van, truck, boat or even a motorcycle and wonder what it is; it’s a long cup holder, so the driver can have his iced coffee with him and in arm’s reach without it getting spilled around. It might also be strategically placed in front of the car’s air-condition grille so that the coffee could stay cold longer with the air-conditioning unit’s help.
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