December 9, 2021

Exploring Greek coffee shop culture


Greece is one of the oldest and most prominent coffee consuming markets in the world. It’s estimated that as early as the 17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in the Greek port city of Thessaloniki alone.

As the years have passed, coffee has become even more firmly entrenched in Greek culture. Today, traditional coffee houses remain a staple of modern Greek life, while a burgeoning specialty coffee scene has developed alongside them since the early 2000s.

The increasing focus on coffee quality has naturally led to innovation in how coffee is roasted, brewed, and drunk, which is enabled by products such as Roastelier by Buondi Craft

To learn more about these innovations and how coffee shops can keep up, I spoke with two Greek coffee professionals. Read on to find out what they told me.

You may also like our article on why coffee shops choose to roast their own beans.

Coffee served in a Greek coffee shop.

A history of coffee in Greece

Greece’s historic relationship with coffee dates back as far as the 18th century. Across the country, the “kafeneio” (a traditional coffee house) has been an institution since the 1700s. 

Back then, kafeneia were renowned as meeting places where intellectuals and free thinkers could discuss and debate topics of the day.

In the three centuries since, Greece’s love for coffee has only grown. Of particular note is the ibrik or cezve (referred to as “ellinikó” in Greek), which started to become popular towards the end of the Ottoman Empire’s reign. 

While it originated in Turkey, the method was picked up by Greek locals under Ottoman rule, and is used to brew Greek, Turkish, and Arabic coffee to this day.

In 2014, Stavros Lamprinidis won the World Coffee Cezve/Ibrik Championship. He was also a finalist in the 2012 and 2013 competitions, and works with Roastelier by Buondi Craft.

“Greece continues to consume traditional Greek ibrik coffee, especially at home,” Stavros says.

He tells me that Greek ibrik is prepared in a long-handled pot by adding finely ground coffee to water; sugar is also often included. This mixture is then heated to near-boiling, before being poured into small cups. The fine coffee grounds remain at the bottom of the cup, giving the ibrik an intense, smoky flavour and a thick mouthfeel.

A Nestlé coffee brewed using Roastelier coffee.

Traditional coffee culture

Traditional kafeneia are still very much a fixture of the Greek coffee market. Prominent coffee houses such as Dexameni and Panellinion in Athens – established between the late 19th and early 20th centuries – remain in operation to this day.

These kafeneia are frequented mainly by locals, and are typically popular among older generations. While they tend to use darker roasted coffee that has historically not been of outstanding quality, they play a key role in the country’s coffee culture.

For instance, ibrik coffee has been a staple of kafeneio culture for centuries, and was the most-ordered beverage on their menus until the 1950s. However, since then, the Greek market has seen a considerable number of changes.

“Greece is a country that mainly prefers cold coffee drinks over hot ones,” Stavros explains. This is naturally down to the country’s Mediterranean climate. 

“The frappé (an instant coffee based beverage) and its espresso-based equivalent, the freddo, were both invented in Greece,” he adds.

The frappé was actually accidentally created at the 1957 Thessaloniki International Trade Show. Nestlé employee Dimitris Vakondios paired instant coffee, sugar, and cold water in a shaker, which created a foamy coffee drink. 

This texture, similar to a modern frappuccino (which is arguably inspired by the frappé), had never been experienced before in Greek coffee culture. It became popular almost overnight, and has been prominent since the 1960s for its simplicity and convenience. 

However, in the 1990s, we saw another change in Greek coffee culture: the proliferation of espresso. As espresso machines started to arrive on the scene, the frappé evolved and became the freddo. 

The freddo is prepared by shaking two espresso shots over ice (and often sugar), which creates a similar texture to the frappé. This can then serve as a base for other drinks; the freddo cappuccino, for instance, is made by pouring a thick layer of cold foamy milk over this cold espresso mixture.

“These types of beverages are prevalent in specialty coffee shops, especially the freddo,” Stavros says.

Flocafé with Roastelier coffee.

The emergence of specialty coffee

Some time after embracing the frappé and freddo, we saw another key change in Greek coffee culture, as specialty coffee started to become more widespread.

Stavros says: “Specialty coffee culture became more common in Greece during the early 2000s, which was a surprise to more traditional consumers.”

As the specialty coffee scene evolved, Greek kafeteria began to open. At these more modern coffee shops, the focus shifted to improving quality and customer services. The kafeteria subsequently became known as a place that attracted younger consumers.

“Over time, coffee quality improved, which allowed new trends in the specialty coffee market, such as single origins and 100% arabica coffees,” Stavros informs us.

Throughout this, coffee consumption stayed strong, too. In 2018, it’s estimated Greek consumers drank a net 40,000 tonnes of coffee, putting them 17th in the world at the time. 

Tatiani Cambioti is the Business Executive Officer for Nestlé Professional Greece, Albania, and Cyprus. 

She says: “Greek consumers are very knowledgeable about coffee, not only because of the variety of products and coffee shop concepts, but also because of the well-trained baristas in the market.”

In Greece, being a barista is a well-respected career. Across the country, baristas are highly-regarded for their skills and coffee expertise, and consider it a profession, rather than a temporary or part-time job.

Tatiana says that this is why Nestlé Professional has invested heavily into training the barista community, with more than 5,000 trained in the last six years.

To date, a total of ten World Coffee Championship winners hail from Greece, including 2011 World Latte Art Champion Chris Loukakis and 2014 World Brewers Cup Champion Stefanos Domatiotis.

A Greek coffee roaster examines roasted coffee.

Greek coffee culture is steeped in tradition, but it has also embraced specialty coffee in some areas, meaning that popular roasting trends do vary. 

“[When specialty coffee started to emerge], roasters seemed to prefer lighter roast profiles, which traditional consumers were not used to,” Stavros explains. “Now, we have a spectrum, and light to medium roast profiles are becoming more common.”

As a variety of styles and trends are popular in the Greek coffee sector, it’s important that cafés are able to adapt to a range of consumer demands. 

“Some cafés have their own roasting equipment and they produce and sell unique blends,” Stavros tells us. However, commercial roasting equipment can represent a significant investment for many coffee shops. It is difficult to roast consistently and it also takes up a lot of space, which is often at a premium for cafés.

“Although coffee shops have become more advanced in their offerings, only a selective number of shops can offer the unique experience of on-site roasting,” Tatiani says.

One of the ways that coffee shops can stand out among the crowd is through Roastelier by Buondi Craft.

The Greek market was the first to launch the Roastelier countertop roasting solution, which supports coffee shops to better leverage their expertise. 

Tatiani says: “It makes on-site roasting simple, accessible and customisable, thus offering a unique competitive advantage.”

Thanks to their more compact designs, countertop roasters allow café owners to roast in smaller batches – and maximise freshness for both blends and single origins.

“Roastelier® by Buondi Craft is a revolutionary and original solution,” Stavros adds. “By using it, cafés can roast coffee beans fresh for immediate consumption.

“Other micro roasters usually wait seven to ten days before they are able to use the roasted beans. With Roastelier‘s innovation, it’s easy to create your own blend with different roast profiles, and help your brand to stand out in the market.”

A barista prepares espresso in a Greek coffee shop.

Keeping up with changing consumer demands

The Greek coffee market is at once both traditional and innovative. While espresso-based beverages account for over 75% of all coffee drinks ordered in the country, frappé and ibrik still comprise 21% of all out of home (OOH) consumption – a significant chunk.

“Over time, consumers have become more accustomed to innovation and the increasing quality of coffee, and we are now reaching the newer waves of coffee,” Stavros says. “There are more and more better trained baristas, and consumers are still looking for superior quality coffees – in and out of home.”

To this end, the country has also started to roll out events. For example, the first Athens Coffee Festival took place in 2015, and just six years on, some 16,500 visitors attended the 2021 event

On the café side, the biggest area of focus continues to be freshness. Tatiani tells me more about how Roastelier’s process ensures that café owners can get the most out of their coffees.

“Our solution offers a combination of top-grade arabica coffees from around the world,” she says. “At our Inofyta factory in Greece, the beans are carefully taken through the first step of roasting with our proprietary roaster and filter set, using our INTELLIRoast technology.

“Our customers then use our services platform and unique in-store roaster to transform their shop into a Roastelier fresh coffee experience.

Stavros, meanwhile, adds: “Roastelier® by Buondi Craft not only is creating a new trend, but it’s helping to shape the future of in-store roasting. 

“It empowers coffee shops to elevate their business by offering crafted coffee experiences with their signature roast.”

Roasting coffee for a Greek coffee shop.

It can be tricky to keep up with the ever-changing number of trends in coffee, especially in a large and unique consumer market like Greece. For coffee shops, countertop roasting solutions like Roastelier allow baristas to focus on freshness and the art of roasting, while dialling in profiles for a range of brewing methods, beverages, and consumer tastes.

“Thanks to Roastelier® by Buondi Craft, passionate baristas can now offer hassle-free, freshly roasted coffee – or even personalised blends – to satisfy customers,” Tatiani concludes.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on Greek coffee culture.

Photo credits: Anastase Maragos on Unsplash, Pete Willis on Unsplash, Thimo van Leeuwen on Unsplash, Tyler Nix on Unsplash, Nestlé

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