Sunday, 20 August 2006

Cooling coffee

Friends of mine started asking if the Greek alphabet is really short, because the Kitchen-ABC of Lesvos has not been continued. Well, no, dear readers, at the moment it is so incredibly hot that even thinking about the Greek alphabet will cause me to overheat. First I have to think about which dishes, then I have to find out the right spelling and then encoding all the Greek letters for the internet causes another effort of searching and thinking. Do not worry, the follow up is coming.

This week my sister brought a digital thermometer which shows the inside and outside temperatures. So you'll understand why this week you get a lot of numbers. At this moment the outside temperature in the shade is 38.2°C and inside 30.4°C. We could have used an air conditioner in order to get cool, but I prefer not to have such big temperature changes going in and out. A few times already I was in an air conditioned ice cold car and when you open the car door you get an incredible wave of hot air that makes you gasp for air. I think these changing temperatures are not good for your health, so air conditioners, we do not use.

You're better to cool off at the seaside, although the seawater is sometimes that hot that it not always cools you. Instead of writing about Greek dishes, I'd better write about a cooling drink.

Coffee is one of the important things in Greek life. Passing a kafenion you always see somebody sipping at his coffee. Greeks do not make themselves crazy with all those fancy new machines for making all kinds of coffee, they do not like filter coffee or espresso, but stick with their traditional cup of Turkish coffee called 'Greek coffee' (kafé hellenikos). The only new style that has conquered the Greek market since 1957 is frappé, iced coffee. This is made with the famous instant coffee Nescafé. Do not make the mistake, when you want to order this iced coffee to order a Nescafé (in short: nes). Because then they will serve you a hot cup of coffee: a splash of hot water with Nescafé.

While I think and write this, the temperature outside has gone down to 38.0°C (the sun moves, so you have a deeper shadow). Inside, the temperature has risen to 30.9°C. My sister says that smoking a cigarette will also cause an increase in the temperature in a room. So I will try to smoke less, although it is difficult to write without a cigarette between your fingers.

It is not that simple to order a coffee here in Greece. First (being a foreigner) they ask you if you want a hellenikos or a Nescafé. When you want an iced coffee you order a frappé. Then the question follows how you want your coffee. There are three possibilities: 'skèto', which means with no sugar. 'Metrio' means that you get as many spoons of coffee as sugar and with a 'gliko' you get more spoons of sugar than coffee. These terms are for all 3 kinds of coffee (hellenikos, nes and frappé) Ordering a frappé or a nes you can also ask for some milk: mè gala (with milk).

The traditional coffee is made with a warm hearth. They use a small pan with a long handle called a briki. Water is poured into the briki, then the coffee and finally the sugar. The briki is heated above a gas stove (traditionally above hot ashes) and when the coffee boils foam rises out of the briki. That is the sign to take the briki from the heat source, let the foam settle and repeat this another two times. The coffee is served in very tiny cups. In Turkey and some Arabian countries they also add some cardamom.

The coffee is always served with a big glass of fresh water. This not only helps you to digest the coffee, but it rinses your mouth, so with the next sip you can better taste the coffee. The Greeks use a very fine ground coffee which also ends up in the cup. You slurp your coffee and use your lips as a filter. The sediment that stays behind in the cup is perfect for fortune telling, but that is another story.

Frappé is usually made in a shaker: put 1 to 2 spoons of Nescafé in the shaker, the amount of sugar you like and a little bit of water. Shake it for a few minutes, but take care that the lid is firmly closed, otherwise you will need an hour or so to clean your kitchen. You pour the foam into a long drinking glass, add ice cubes and fill it up with ice cold water.

You would think that writing about such a cooling delicacy would decrease the temperature. But no; the inside temperature has risen again and is now 31°C. If I were to wring out my dress I could not only fill a cup for hellenikos coffee, but even fill a cup for nes.

Nowadays they sell a very handy little mixer for frappé. In under a minute this little machine makes a delicious foam (ideal for these temperatures: just thinking about shaking the shaker will make you hotter). This machine is not only perfect for making frappé, but also for turning a hot nes into a nice cappuccino. The risk of filling your kitchen with coffee is also less, you must be really clumsy to manage to do this with the small mixer.

The recipe with the mixer is the same: put coffee, sugar and/or milk in the glass. Pour three fingers of water in the glass and mix until everything has become a steady foam. Fill up with ice cubes and water. This coffee is especially good on hot days.

But you can make an even better frappé: real iced coffee, This recipe comes from my own kitchen, so do not order a frappé with cappuccino ice sitting in a kafenion, or whatever flavour you fancy, but experiment at home. When you pour the foam in a glass, add vanilla ice cream on top. Then you fill up with ice cubes and water. You serve it with a straw and a long spoon.

For some unknown reason this year I have not been able to get vanilla ice cream in the local supermarket. It is either sold out, or people have gone crazy for all those fancy new brands with exciting flavours and nobody asks anymore for normal ice creams. So I was forced to do some experimenting with chocolate ice, ice with caramel and nuts, butter scotch, tiramisu with real pieces of chocolate and so on. The result was smashing but not good for the budget because the best ice has the highest price. But the coffee hour has become a real treat.

Do carefully read first what flavours are in the ice. Strawberry ice cream gives your coffee a pretty strange taste. I did not check out the lemon ice yet, but I can imagine it that will not be a big success. For the people who do not drink coffee: the Nescafé can be replaced by decaffeinated or cocoa. Who knows maybe strawberry ice cream will go very well with a cocoa frappé!

I am now writing at such a speed about such a cooling and fine tasting glass of coffee that the temperature inside has reached 31.5°C. Outside the temperature continues to increase: 37.1°C! It really is time for a nice cool glass of coffee!

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

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