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Slowly enjoying a coffee under the warm sun with good company or a good book is practically a national pastime in Greece. In fact, Greeks love their coffee so much that owning a coffee shop is considered one of the safest businesses in the country: even when times are tough, who doesn’t want a cup of coffee?

Despite (or perhaps because of) Greece’s ongoing economic crisis, the number of quality coffee shops in Athens has mushroomed in recent years, and a rising cadre of professional baristas – a trendy title to hold nowadays – is taking pleasure in sharing their knowledge of coffee making and drinking.

As in the rest of the world, filtered coffee and espresso-based drinks have infiltrated Athenian cafés, which had previously stuck to serving traditional Greek coffee and what locals refer to as a frappé, a chilled concoction that took Greece by storm in the late ’60s and ’70s and hasn’t completely let go since. To make it, instant coffee, sugar and water are mixed together in a shaker or by hand until as frothy as meringue; the coffee is then poured into a tall glass and then ice and milk (regular or evaporated) are added according to taste. Most Greeks today prefer a freddo, an iced coffee prepared with espresso, to a frappé.

Regardless of what kind of coffee you like to drink, make sure to head first to Kaya, without a doubt the best espresso bar in the city. Located in Stoa Bolani, an arcade close to Syntagma Square that hides some of central Athens’ best secret spots, this tiny coffee workshop is always teeming with locals. But don’t let the queue scare you away – service is fast. Plus, everyone here always seems to be in a good mood (perhaps in anticipation of a delicious coffee), so waiting to be served can become an unexpectedly pleasant experience.

To Dentro tou Cafe (The Coffee Tree) in Exarchia doubles as a cozy coffee shop and a retailer of freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee sourced from all over the world. The servers are very friendly and have a devoted following – it’s one of those places where everybody seems to know each other. The upstairs seating area is more tranquil, a perfect spot for studying or reading. The café also caters to those who have a sweet tooth – each coffee comes with a small cookie, on the house, and there are a variety of cookies, truffles, handmade chocolates and cakes on sale.

For award winning coffee served in an outdoor space, go to The Underdog in Thiseio. Situated on a picturesque pedestrian street, this beautifully designed shop is definitely one of the best places to have a proper coffee in Athens. Don’t waste time deciding what to order – just have a chat with their talented barista about your likes and dislikes, and he’ll guide you to the right beverage. We recommend their cold brew coffee or espresso tonic, which is especially refreshing.

Despite (or perhaps because of) Greece’s ongoing economic crisis, the number of quality coffee shops in Athens has mushroomed in recent years.

Only a short walk away, in the nearby neighborhood of Gazi, is another café that is serious about their coffee. Kudu “The Workshop”, which opened in May 2016, has already earned a number of accolades in the field. The concept store is a spinoff of its older, successful sibling shop Kudu, located in the suburb of Neo Psychiko. For a true coffee connoisseur, we recommend their Mixed Sensory Experience, a trio of espresso, cappuccino and filtered coffee. All that caffeine made us hungry, so we sampled their burger served in a poppy seed bagel, one of the many snacks and mains on offer. They also host barista and roasting seminars and coffee tastings, all at very affordable prices.

After all this new wave coffee, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention traditional Greek coffee. Similar to Turkish coffee and other versions hailing from the Middle East, Greek coffee is made from a blonde roast, resulting in light-colored coffee with a mild earthy flavor and little to no bitterness.

This unfiltered coffee is prepared in a briki, a small pot often made of copper or bronze. After adding in water and finely ground coffee (and sugar for those who take it), the briki is placed over low heat. As soon as the liquid starts to rise, it’s carefully poured into an espresso-sized cup in such a way so as to preserve the “cream” or kaimaki as the Greeks call it. The best unfiltered coffee in the country is traditionally prepared in hovoli (warm sand), a practice that can be seen in certain coffee shops or traditional kafeneia.

Cherchez la Femme (Σερσέ λα Φαμ), named after an old famous Greek song written by the beloved Rempetiko musician Vassilis Tsitsanis, is one such place. Stand at the bar of this beautiful kafeneio right across from the Cathedral in central Athens, and you will see the Greek coffee being prepared in the hovoli. Try the Greek coffee made with rose water – the floral aroma and flavor is particularly enticing. Just remember that because Greek coffee is unfiltered, adding sugar to the coffee or stirring it will kick up the grounds, rendering it undrinkable.

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Nikos Efstratiadis

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