Mission accomplished. Along with your run-of-the-mill cappuccinos and drip coffee, I managed to sample four varieties of coffee beverage that were entirely new to me! Here’s the breakdown:
Forget the associations that Starbucks has tacked onto this word. This is not a bastardized concoction of syrup and whipped cream, but rather an iced coffee drink using either spray-dried instant coffee or an espresso base. My hostel, Thessaloniki’s Little Big House, fixes their guests up with a free frappé upon arrival – just one of many reasons to stay at this lovely, welcoming haven.
They nailed the preparation – quenching cold, thick froth, intense flavor. Leaving the sugar out (by request) allowed the subtleties of the coffee that much more room to play. Rather than the bland milky fluff one sometimes finds atop mediocre cappuccinos, this foam was its own entity – a textured layer almost offering resistance and structure in the mouth, many-hued whorls and swirls, gritty dark kiss like a breath of desert air. Demanding and absorbing, caffeine kick straight to the brain and then bliss. The perfect thing to conclude a long day of travel!
On advice of Greek insider @ili4n4b, I headed to the Mikel coffeehouse next to the Arch of Galerius and ordered myself an espresso freddo, this time with the traditional sugar. The freddo involves a double shot of espresso over ice cubes, generally served with sweetener and, optionally, a small amount of milk foam. The variant with more foam is known as a cappuccino freddo. Delicious and refreshing. Loved the Mikel café atmosphere – they were playing an excellent blend of house music, like a perfect fusion of a Berlin coffeehouse experience and Greek coffee culture, with patrons relaxing for ages, complimentary baked treats to nibble and majestic ruins right outside the door.
This was a new one to me – a single shot of espresso with two fresh lemon slices. Do you squeeze the lemon into the cup? Do you drink the shot and then suck the lemon slice, as with tequila and limes? It wasn’t self-apparent. I decided to squeeze it directly into the shot and taste them simultaneously. The combination really pops – citrus is one of those subtle undernotes people are always detecting at professional cupping events, and it seems to be a hit, so why not combine the coffee and lemon flavors more powerfully? Zesty contortions for your taste buds.
The big finale – pure, unadulterated Greek coffee. No milk, no sugar, no ice, no additives. I expected something along the lines of Turkish coffee, and wasn’t disappointed. Thick brew, rich flavor, a chemical kick like a jolt of electricity and sludgelike grounds. I mean that in a good way – like sludge you want to inhale, squelch your toes in at the bottom of a river of coffee and wear on your eyelids like some kind of spa facial / nicotine patch for caffeine junkies. I ordered a cup of this stuff after wandering along jade-bright, grove-lined streams at the foot of Mount Olympus. The Mount Olympus. Home of the old gods. This coffee tastes like it could be straight from their table. Good times. Greece, you’re doing it right.