by Bruce Milletto
Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup
1972, Pat Conroy wrote The Water is Wide, a book that illustrated
the huge cultural differences between the inhabitants of a small island
off the coast of South Carolina and those who lived on the mainland,
only a few short miles away.
The water between Greece and Italy
is also small, but the coffee drinking habits of the two countries
are many miles apart. As most of us know, Italy is the home of espresso.
A recent survey revealed that Greece is primarily a country of instant
coffee drinkers, with Nescafe being the coffee of choice for
I found this surprising. Everywhere
I went I saw two- and three-group espresso machines. Why were they
so underused? Obviously there was great coffee and equipment available,
but it appeared there was little demand for the product. I was not
able to answer this question during the three weeks I traveled through
drink called the Caffé Frappe was popular everywhere I went.
To prepare the drink, the barista or barman puts a scoop of instant
coffee into a 10-ounce glass, then adds a small amount of milk, ice,
and a dash of sugar. The contents are then blended by what looks like
an old-fashioned milkshake machine and topped with approximately 50
percent sparkling mineral water.
Greece are warm for most of the year, so it was no surprise to me
that a cold coffee beverage would be so popular. What was surprising
was that the six-thousand dollar espresso machines found in most Greek
coffee bars were rarely used. When I spoke to the industry at the
first annual Greek coffee show, Athens CoffeeBiz 2001, I asked my
large audience this question: "Why are coffee drinks in Greece
prepared with instant coffee when most coffee bars have an expensive
espresso machine and great beans at their disposal?" I never got a
satisfactory answer. I drank frappes in numerous bars around Greece
and was frustrated by the bitter, flat taste that resulted from the
use of instant coffee as the base for the drink. I believe the quality
of the frappe would increased ten fold if it were prepared using espresso.
I also ordered
numerous straight shots throughout the country. I was served either
illy, lavazza, segafredo or Pellini (major Italian brands). The baristas
understood proper preparation techniques and rarely did I receive
an over- or under-extracted shot. The product was good, but why was
the demand so small?
in Athens did I find traditional Greek coffee. This type of coffee
is prepared on a machine that heats a bed of sand to an extremely
high temperature. First, coffee and water are mixed in a "briki,"
a small copper vessel that is placed directly on the hot sand. The
coffee is then steeped and almost boiled. It is served in a demitasse.
I found this coffee quite drinkable, but somewhat bitter from the
process I dubbed "cooking the coffee."
Gerantonaki, Editor of Coffee Net, the only specialty coffee
magazine in Greece, was my host for Athens CoffeeBiz 2001. She told
me that the influence of the West and the rest of Europe is finally
impacting Greek coffee. The show itself was a testament to this fact.
Given this was the first coffee show on the Greek mainland, I was
shocked to see three floors of sophisticated booths selling machines,
coffee, and every imaginable accouterment. There was even a "best
barista" contest, a fixture at most U.S. coffee tradeshows.
Coffee Net show exhibited more positive energy and elicited
more participation than any first time show I have ever seen. I would
guess that the next show scheduled for 2003 will be light years ahead
of this first show in exhibitors, attendance and knowledge.
the folks at Coffee Net, specialty coffee is beginning to make
a big impact in Greece. Like in many other countries where specialty
coffee is emerging, the Greek coffee culture is growing and developing
quickly. Two years ago at a U.S. tradeshow, I spoke to a young entrepreneur
from Chicago. Today he has a small chain of coffee bars in Athens.
of Greece's proximity to Italy, I had expected their coffee cultures
to be similarI was wrong. However, I predict over the next few
years the Greeks will begin to use their espresso machines and the
instant coffee craze will be history.