What is traditional Greek Coffee? (Explanation with photos)

Traditional Greek coffee poured from a briki / tzisves (Ibrik)
Traditional Greek coffee poured from a briki / tzisves (known elsewhere as an Ibrik).

by Darren Oliver

As a region, the Balkans definitely stand out on the coffee map of the world. Here you will find brewing methods that are not as popular in other parts of the world. As someone who enjoys new coffee experiences, I couldn’t help but try Greek coffee when I found myself just in this picturesque country. What is Greek coffee, how to prepare it, and how does it differ from Turkish coffee? Here’s what I learned during my visit to the Mediterranean.

My First Experience With Greek Coffee

My first experience with this way of brewing coffee occurred in the town of Ioanin. There, among the picturesque, narrow streets, I found a small, cozy cafe where I wanted to take refuge from the heat surrounding me from all sides. On the menu, this very item caught my attention: Greek coffee. Motivated by curiosity, I decided to order just this brew. I had already had Turkish coffee, so I wondered what the differences between these two coffees, brewed in the same way at first glance, would be. 

After a while, I received an empty mug and thick coffee in a small copper pot, which in “mainland” Greece is called briki (while on the islands it is known as tzisves). The base of the pot is a little wider than the top: this allows the grounds to settle to the bottom, with a smaller portion falling into the cup. In addition to the coffee itself, the price included a pastry and a bottle of water (a common practice in this part of Greece). 

Taking the first sip, I immediately felt the intense, slightly bitter taste that characterizes this type of coffee. There doesn’t seem to be a brewing method that produces an infusion that is stronger in flavor. After drinking the whole thing, there were grounds left at the bottom of the cup – interestingly, some cultures use them for divination. However, despite the fact that the coffee itself was excellent, I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied. The Greek coffee I ordered was identical to the Turkish coffee I had already had the opportunity to drink. I was eaten up by curiosity: if preparation is the same, why the difference in nomenclature?

boiling Greek coffee and preparing it to drink
A barista is making Greek coffee over a flame.

Greek vs. Turkish Coffee – Is Greek Coffee Turkish?

Some say that the difference is in the beans used, while others that in Greece they sweeten the prepared coffee. But the truth is different and much more fascinating. The difference in nomenclature is purely… political! What’s more, this is not a phenomenon that occurs only in Greece: in other countries you will find coffee brewed in an almost identical way, named “Serbian coffee” or “Bosnian coffee”. 

In Greece, coffee brewed in this way was called “Turkish coffee” until the 1960s – that’s when political tensions between the two countries led to the brew being renamed “Greek coffee.” Subject researcher Albert Arouh even stated that in the 1980s, ordering Turkish coffee in a Greek café was frowned upon, and in the 1990s, advertising campaigns were even created to promote the use of the phrase “Greek coffee.” So is Greek coffee different from Turkish coffee? By way of preparation: no, but the name used is a real semantic political manifesto.

Traditional Greek coffee in a briki / tzisves (Ibrik)
Traditional Greek coffee in a briki / tzisves, also known outside of Greece as an ibrik or cezve.

How To Make Greek Coffee

Having already known the political history of Greek coffee, it is useful to know how to prepare this wonderful brew. It is quite simple. The coffee (usually medium or dark roasted) should be ground fine – so that its thickness resembles that of flour (there are even special grinders for this purpose, as most home grinders do not allow such fine grinding). Next, it is poured into the special, metal pot (known most commonly as ibrik or cezve) and poured over water (most traditional recipes use cold water, but it is becoming popular practice among modern baristas to use hot water to prevent over-extraction). Next, the mixture is boiled over high heat, and once it starts to froth, it is taken off the flame. This process can be repeated one or two times for higher intensity. Next, pour the coffee into small cups and wait for the grounds to settle to the bottom of the cup.

Greek Coffee Meets Specialty

Greek/Turkish coffee, despite being one of the oldest brewing methods, was not in the field of interest of specialty coffee lovers for a long time. It was ignored, as it did not fit into the dominant trends of alternative brewing methods. 

It is worth noting that this situation is changing, with modern baristas reaching for ibrik more and more often. In recent years, there has even been a World Ibrik Championship, which this year was held in… Athens, the capital of Greece! So at the end of this article, we will present the winning recipe, whose author is Pierre de Chanterac, a French barista, and the World Ibrik Champion 2023. 

In his recipe, he used a ratio of 7 grams of coffee per 80 grams of water (with 150-200 ppm mineralization), and a blend of coffees: 60% Colombian Geisha coffee and 40% coffee from Ethiopia. The coffee is boiled only once. Although this recipe is designed for a specific blend of beans, it is simple enough to allow endless experimentation with different coffees – it is worth trying and seeing for yourself how multifaceted and non-obvious ibrik coffee can be.

The Phenomenon of Greek Coffee

Greek coffee is a remarkable cultural phenomenon: it is where taste and tradition mix with culture and politics. Although for years it was underestimated and overlooked by coffee professionals, today it is finally returning to the good graces of coffee lovers. When visiting picturesque Greece, it is a must-see item for anyone who loves coffee. However, for those who do not have such an opportunity, I heartily recommend trying to prepare this type of coffee at home: surprise guaranteed.

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