Greeks love coffee, but coffee in Greece is about so much more than the drink itself. It’s a culture, a state of mind. It spans the spectrum from on-the-go all the way to the traditional kafeneon, where predominantly older men park themselves for the day to sit, sip, and discuss local gossip—or say nothing at all.
Crisscross your way through Athens’ narrow streets, and whether it’s a short mid-day break or a meeting with friends on the weekend, you’ll find people gathering for coffee. What you won’t often see are people sitting with laptops or standing in long queues gazing into their devices while they wait for precious coffees in paper cups.
This is not to say “to-go”culture doesn’t exist in Athens. In fact, a multitude of coffee-carrying mechanisms have developed to serve this express purpose. Taking your coffee on your motorbike? No problem, there’s a special plastic bag that holds your cup and then fits around your wrist to preserve your freddo espresso while you ride. Need your coffee delivered? Consider it done. In fact, your barista probably knows your usual order, so just motion to him from afar that you want your coffee, and it will be ready for you to grab and go.
But sitting for coffee in Athens is where this thriving coffee culture is best experienced. In any given café, on weekdays and especially on weekends, from morning through the late afternoon, you’ll find Athenians of all ages sipping coffee and gathering for conversation. This tradition of a long, slow experience is even apparent in the language Athenians use to invite one another for coffee. “Shall we meet for a coffee,” rather than “Let’s grab a coffee,” is the common way to initiate the rendezvous. Grabbing a coffee would imply speed, which is contradictory to the act of meeting, sharing time, conversing, and enjoying a parade of friends coming and going throughout the day.
The last core component of Greek coffee is, of course, the drink. You’ll find all the standard hits including espresso, cappuccino, americano, et cetera, often accompanied by a morning pie, koulouri (round shaped bread with sesame seeds). You’ll find drinks like the frappe, a dizzying combination of a strong dose of Nescafé (or other instant coffee), water, ice and sugar. Whizzed together to create a frothy top, frappes should be enjoyed by those with high caffeine tolerances. There are also freddo espresso and freddo cappuccino, which dominate summer coffee services. Freddo espresso consists of a double espresso shot poured over ice, blended at high speed in a special frothing device, then poured over ice. Freddo cappuccino repeats this process, with the addition of extremely thick and creamy frothed milk. It’s not a true visit to Greece without trying one of these drinks.
What has also developed in Athens is a budding specialty coffee industry by way of a handful of bona fide Greek-based roasters. A number of these purveyors can be found around Athens at what seems to be an ever-increasing number of coffee shops.
Spirou Merkouri 25, Athina 116 34
At o.kokkos, walk up to the bar and place your order with owner Spiros Lappas, grab a seat at a table outside, and take a pie from the shop next door, Chez Alice, run by his parents and sister. I recommend the spanakopita(spinach pie).
o.kokkos happens to have been quite convenient to where I once lived in Athens. But it is also objectively excellent coffee. Spiros takes his practice very seriously, and the energy of the café is casual and local, making it the perfect combination an exceptionally high-quality product and atmosphere.
Emmanouil Benaki 7, Athina 106 78
TAF is probably one of the largest and more popular specialty roasters, found widely around Athens and with international distribution. Stop by their shop on Benaki Street to enjoy some high-quality drinks by excellently trained baristas. You can also pick up some of their merch, including a wide range of roasts.
Emmanouil Benaki 20, Athina 106 78
Just across from TAF you’ll find Mr. Bean, an adorable shop with the additional bonus of homemade sweets. This is a great outfit for a weekday coffee, often buzzing with locals on work breaks throughout the day. Sit inside and watch the baristas work their magic, or park at any of the tables outside and people-watch the passersby.
Voulis 7, Athina 105 62 (inside the breezeway)
Located in the center near Syntagma Square tucked away in a breezeway, you’ll find Kaya. Run by coffee experts Adonis and Lambros, the shop spans the length of its coffee bar, and not much more. Kaya is uniquely pleasing in its aesthetic, and while small, the entire shop is exposed through a glass window the makes up the wall between in the inside and outside world. To accommodate the space, the shop has a lovely stand-and-sip area outside, giving it a bit of an Italian-coffee bar flair. Kaya regularly features local specialty roasters, making it an excellent spot to sample and learn about the Athenian coffee scene.
But wait, there’s more…
Aminta 15, Athina 116 35
A superb café for daylong relaxing and people watching.
Anaxagora 3, Athina 105 52
Housed in arguably the most impressive creative co-working and collaborative space in Athens, this is a great place not only for a good coffee, but to hold a meeting or post up with a laptop.
Pireos 84, Athina 104 35
The precedent to Romantso, BIOS is a cultural hub that in addition to an upstairs bar, budding restaurant, and ongoing cultural program, houses an excellent café downstairs with incredible décor.
Stadiou 30, Athina 105 64 (inside the breezeway)
Great coffee and bites, and conveniently located near the city center.
Louka Mpellou 14, Athina 115 24
An excellent option for coffee outside of the center of Athens.
Corner of Archimidou and Eratosthenous, Athina 116 35
Best visited on weekdays, Chelsea is a relaxing corner café serving high-quality coffee drinks.