In a country historically perceived as a well-oiled machine, there is both pain and uncertainty brought on by the very elected officials that promised to serve and protect the voters. Greece is not only financially broke, but morally as well in the realm of the EU. For such wonderfully warm and friendly people by nature, you can see feel strain on the sidewalks. The pace of Athens is not buzzing to the tune of it’s own pride and productivity but rather mourning the disappointment in their government. As an American citizen I recognize this feeling all too well and can empathize.
Imagine my hesitation as I walked out of a coffee shop to see a dozen or so “soldiers” in full riot gear, walking two by two down the streets of Athens. A little unusual for Greece, apparently a protest regarding new plan to tax citizens in order to re-allocate funds back to said government was taking place at a nearby University. Regardless, the sun is out, literally and the sidewalk cafes are full of friends meeting friends, perhaps some discussing the political chaos, but still life goes on. Interestingly a statistic caught my eye, that directly reflective of the Greek economy alcohol sales were down 20%, and coffee up 18-20%.
A couple of years ago when I began this project, I set out to learn everything I could about the history of Greek coffee culture. Terms began to surface such as Kafenia, which later became simply the general coffee shop. And Tambi, the Barista as we know it today, applied his craft to Greek coffee exclusively. Over an open flame, and hot sand to heat the briki filled with finely ground coffee, water and sugar, then brought to a boil once or twice and whisked to a foam before diverted into the stone demitasse.
From this stage, the automation process took over, as did the birth of the frappe. No more traditional bitter coffee that their elders drank a new generation wanted a sweeter, cold option. So the process of coffee, sugar, water and milk were fluffed and foamed until poured over ice and served with a straw. When I made my first trip to Athens to do the perfunctory “situation analysis”, the café’s with frappe’s were packed, one in fact right next door to the clients, more traditional Greek café. Needless to say the client needed a shot in the arm to buck the culture, and he had the vision to see the potential of specialty coffee in the Greek future.
So here I am a couple years later, sitting in the same café at a common table surrounded by strangers, but fraternally bound by conversations over brewing methods, single estate discussions and the in-house Greek National Barista Champion on bar. It occurs to me I have yet to see a frappe go over the counter. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but clearly the risk is paying off, the shift of a new culture is speaking loud and clear. Not a generation, but a culture. All ages, all genders, levels of education and walks of life have come together in this social melting pot with one goal, perhaps the Kafenia has returned. One step at a time.