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St. Valentine and Greek Coffee

St. Valentine and Greek Coffee

What is love?

Love is sharing. Love is trusting.

St. Valentine was not known in the old days in Greece. Couples were showing their love with everyday little acts and habits and one of them was drinking their Greek coffee from the same cup. I remember my grandparents sharing their morning coffee from the same cup. It was their daily sweet habit to show their affection and love to each other. Even if they had fought, sharing their coffee was a proof of reunion.

Greek coffee in Greek culture is a ritual, a welcome to the guest, a companion in loneliness, a reason to gather together, a consolation. It is the only coffee served at funerals and memorial services and for that reason we call it the “coffee of consolation” or we use to say “make me Greek coffee to take the poisons away”, meaning to calm me down.

There is no house in Greece without a Greek coffee brewer and little porcelain cups, with a thick side, just to keep the coffee hot for a bit longer.

In the old days this coffee set was an integral part of a bride's dowry and was proudly placed on the buffet in the living room, along with the elaborate handmade crochet and embroidery.

Women used to drink a little cup of coffee in the yards of their houses with their neighbour housewives, discussing their worries, problems and joys before starting their household chores or over crocheting in the afternoons, and men in the cafes (kafenio), a place of social life and political and sporting discussions, similar to the ancient church of the city.

But… is 'Greek' coffee really Greek? My grandmother was getting furious when she would hear someone calling the coffee Turkish. 'It's Greek!!!!' she would shout, and she had even left a visit for that reason. Well, my dear grandma…..

In fact coffee, as we drink it in the brew, without being filtered it was a survival habit that started with the Arabs. The Bedouins would leave the pot of coffee on the sand covering the coals to keep them lit. This established the practice of roasting coffee in the sand (hovoli).

Over the years this habit was passed on to the Ottomans and when Ozdemir Pasa, the governor who was sent to Yemen, tasted qahwah (pronounced kawa - mia of the words the Arabs used for wine since alcohol was forbidden in Islam and this drink was equally widespread) Ozdemir decided to bring the “gahwah” to the sultan's court. It was originally served without sugar, accompanied by a Turkish delight (loukoumi), a glass of water to balance the bitterness and of course the “reading of the cup” from a fortune teller.

The very method of brewing the coffee helped the development of future telling as the coffee grounds remain in the cup and cannot be removed. The shapes and their position are riddles that few people know how to decode (read the coffee).

It is said that the best coffee readers are elderly Turkish women that pass their gift from one generation to the next and from mother to daughter or grandmother to granddaughter, as well as that whoever reveals the secret, loses this gift forever.

The history of Turkish coffee in Greece began during the years of the Turkish occupation and that's how it was known until the early 1970s when, due to advertising reasons, people started calling it "Greek". To say the truth, Greek coffee has its own identity. It is finely ground and has a specific blend and specific roasting.

These are the three basic elements of it’s identity. Greeks make coffee that is blonder than Turks or Arabs, without flavouring (Arabs use mostly cardamom), is more concentrated and is drunk in larger quantities per cup. I remember when I was in Tunisia and tasted Arabic coffee I thought it wasn't roasted. I could feel the coffee beans in my mouth.

The 'right' Greek coffee is brewed on the hovoli (hot sand) in a copper pot, so that it boils slowly and makes the velvet kaimaki (thick foam) that characterizes it. Ιf there is any big bubble οn the kaimaki you will hear us say 'wow a big eye!!!' meaning that someone admires you or maybe envies you. In Greece this way is called meraklidikos (made with love and affection) and greek people are meraklides (appreciate having good time).

Besides, over the years the “Greek coffee” has become a national tradition and a custom, unlike the regions where it originates from, where they still prefer tea according their tradition.

In Athens, the first 'kafeneia' were initially mainly Turkish, but over time their clientele was enriched with Greeks, and were places where artists, scholars and politicians gathered.

You can still find the kafeneio “Oraia Ellas” in Mitropoleos Street near Monastiraki, that exists since 1839 and it functions as a "time capsule" for the visitor, who is transported back at least a century when passes it’s door which used to be the luxurious hangout where captains, foreign diplomats, travellers, politicians and poets gathered to discuss current affairs. It was from there that many mobilisations began, many famous poems and theatre plays were written and important partnerships were started.

And remember!!

Greek coffee is drunk slowly and means chat, company and... sharing.

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