Greek coffee is made in a little copper pot called a briki. You begin by putting water into the pot.
The coffee is finely ground to a dust-like-consistency and placed by the heaping-teaspoon-fulls into the briki. How many teaspoons depends upon how big or small the briki is. How heaping depends upon how strong you like your coffee. It’s all open to interpretation. It’s subjective. It depends upon you.
Once the coffee is added by the imperfect teaspoonful (usually spilling off of the spoon and all over the counter … and the floor … with lots of swearing going on), you get to sweeten it however you like. You can add an equal amount of sugar to coffee or half as much sugar — or more sugar than coffee if you prefer a suggestion of coffee with your sugar. You get the idea.
It’s all a matter of taste and preference. Some days I like my coffee sweeter. Others less so. I always like it strong. I’m not a watery coffee person. What’s the point in that?
Once all of your ingredients are placed into the pot, there are many suggestions as to how you “brew” your Greek coffee. The pot must be placed over a gas flame for it to be “proper.” Up until a year ago, my grandparents had an electric stovetop and my grandfather used a blowtorch to heat our coffee. I’m not joking. It was an ordeal and took forever. But it was done “right”, which according to my grandfather, was all that mattered.
I must confess, when my husband and I lived in California, we had an electric stove and my Greek coffee came out just fine. Sometimes you just need to go with the flow and not get too attached to things. At least I think so.
My dad taught me to dump all of the coffee and sugar on top of the water and then wait for it to boil three times. I recently learned that my grandparents insist you must put everything into the briki and stir it all together before heating it. They can’t fathom that they raised a son who makes Greek coffee without stirring it first. Go figure.
One thing they all agree on is that you boil the coffee three times. It must be three times. Always. One boil and then remove it from the flame. When it settles, you do it a second time. And then a third. I imagine other families are different but I’ve never asked.
The instructions on my bag of coffee recommend that you heat the water before adding the coffee and the sugar. I have never been taught this. Clearly the coffee manufacturers have not met my grandmother.
It is a rule, however, that you may never, ever, call Greek coffee “Turkish” coffee. If you do, you will see all of the color drain from your relatives’ faces, eyes will cast downward and you will soon become invisible. No words will be spoken, but you may quite possibly be disowned by your Greek grandparents. Forever.
I am told that the older the briki — the more dented and stained — the better. This means you are a true Greek and not an honorary Greek. My briki was bought in 2000. I wonder what that makes me?
As much as my grandmother would like to think otherwise, my briki was not handed down to me from a great-grandparent. My grandmother always asks me about my briki. Whose was it? When did I get it? I always have to remind her that she never gave me one. She will then proceed to go through the lists of brikis she remembers.
“You don’t have the one with the swirls on the side and the silver handle?” “No, Gram. I don’t have that one.” “Re-e-e-e-a-a-a-a-ally?!” She exclaims with shocked horror. “Who has that one then? I must have given it to your father.” Everything that’s gone missing was given to my father. He gets a bad rap. She then goes on, “Well what about the one with the ding on the side, to the left of the handle, about a finger’s width below the rim? Or the one that is supposed to make four cups but really only makes three?” I tell her I don’t have them. She doesn’t believe me but it’s true.
The truth is that I bought my briki on the Island of Corfu with my dad. Along with all of the little cups that you must have to serve your Greek coffee “properly.” My cups look like restaurant cups. They are plain white. I like the simplicity of them. The only story behind my briki, the cups and the saucers is the memory of purchasing them with my dad between fits of giggles and drips of honey pouring down our chins as we snarfed just about the biggest pieces of Baklava you ever laid your eyes on.
That and the fact that we surreptitiously snuck away, inadvertently keeping everyone in our family waiting, while we devoured our delicacies without sharing and did such a scandalous thing — buying new brikis and non-ornate cups.
Just that. That’s the story behind my briki.
There’s more I guess. Like the events of that year. My husband’s work which kept him from joining us. My father’s preceding divorce which allowed me to go without having to pay for my trip and my aunt’s unraveling marriage. My mother being home on the East Coast with my step-father and my brothers as she underwent breast cancer treatment. Me leaving the trip early to rescue her. Flying into Boston instead of to my husband and our home in Los Angeles. Me unravelling a bit myself for having done so. And my husband coming to my rescue, flying me back to our home and away from my mother and that house. There are those stories that I suppose are for another time. Another page.
When the coffee has come to a boil three times, you remove it from the stove and pour it into the little cups.
My briki makes two cups of coffee. Because of this I usually make two pots. The cups are small and it’s so lovely you never want just one cup. My husband and I always want two. Which makes us giggle like my dad and me with our sticky-honey-covered-chins, because in truth we’d like more than the two cups. But to have more than two would leave us zooming around the house as if on rocket-fuel. Our kids and our dog catching our caffeine buzz. The five of us dancing and hopping, laughing and shout-singing to too-loud 80’s music while bouncing off of the walls. The dog barking like a deranged animal; jumping in to join in the zaniness. That’s what three cups will do.
Sometimes … occasionally … we go for the third.
We have found that the caffeine-hangover is well worth the hysterics of laughing while playing air guitars to Poison and gyrating as we sing “Holiday” in perfect tune with Madonna blasting in the background. But please consider yourself warned.
The final act — the most important — after you’ve finished your coffee, you tip your tiny cup over at an angle and let the dregs drip down onto the saucer. If you were on vacation and had the luxury of time, Ouzo or Metaxa would be served with pastries and you’d get a good buzz on before flipping your cup back over to unveil your fortune. Your story. Your truth.
The true mystery in all Greek coffee is in the grinds. Before you rinse them down the sink and wash them away. It’s not the briki. It’s not the tiny cup or the saucer. Nor the amount of coffee or how much sugar. It’s in your fortune that lies within the muck on the side of your cup. In the dregs.
And you know what? What you see in that cup is all up to you.
You can see a future so brilliant and promising that you just might weep with anticipation and joy. You can see sorrow and suffering. You can look within the lines and find heartache or hope. You can see nothing. But if you do, you’d better make something up quick or my grandmother will snag your cup and spin some far-fetched tales. I think you’re better off doing your own reading. I do.
The thing is, it’s up to you. It is all in how you interpret it. Your life. Your story. It’s how you choose to read it and maybe more importantly, what you decide to do with it each day. This is for you to decide. Always. I promise.
Cheers. Take care. Shegia!