“Another bite” is a series of occasional posts about food, presenting the delicious local products, tasty dishes and other gastronomic delights we encounter on our tours and cruises.
Sometimes, I long for a frappé.
For example, just a few days ago, as I was exploring some remote sites in Lycia (southwest Turkey) with a trusted local colleague in the August noonday heat, I realised three things in quick succession: 1) I was running out of water, 2) I really wanted a frappé – and 3) I wasn’t going to get one for a few weeks, as I am still in Turkey. Frappé, the object of my desire, is very much a Greek thing.
“Parakalo, ena frappe me gala kai ligi zachari” – “please, a frappe with milk and a little sugar”. According to some people who know me well, this is the sentence I utter most frequently during my daily life in Athens. I have friends who remember it being the first words I ever said to them – but usually not the last (generally speaking, ordering coffee does not suffice as contact, and sometimes it probably should). Frappé is the Greek non-alcoholic refreshment par excellence and has been a distinctive – if modest – expression of Greek culture for over five decades, as well as a mainstay to the instant coffee industry.
So, what is this miraculous concoction? You may be disappointed by its simplicity. Greek frappé (as opposed to various cold coffee drinks that have appeared under the name elsewhere) is not exactly a gourmet treat.
It is very straightforward: between one and two teaspoons of instant coffee and a specified amount of sugar (“sketo”, “metrio” or “glyko”, i.e. “black”, “medium” or “sweet”) are blended with cold water by shaking or whisking, then poured into a tall glass, where ice cubes and – optionally – milk (usually condensed) are added. That’s it, actually.
Well, not quite. Two things make Greek frappé more than just cold instant coffee: its physics and its mystique.
The physics are easily described: as the instant coffee used in Greece (normally the Swiss brand famous for that product) is spray-dried and thus nearly free of oil, the post-agitation frappé undergoes a physical reaction that leads to the formation of a thick, creamy foam on top. The drink is, by the way, almost always consumed through a straw.
The mystique is – as is the nature of such things – beyond words. The invention of frappé is the stuff of mythology: according to most sources, it was invented 58 years ago, in 1957, supposedly by accident, as an off-the-cuff solution to a lack of hot water at Thessaloniki’s trade fair. It turned out a success and was marketed henceforward.
Be that as it may, the drink has become, at least within Greece, a strangely ambiguous symbol: a properly prepared frappé stands for leisure and relaxation (even just for a few minutes thereof), and a hastily made one (as most likely intended by the original design) is a shorthand for being busy and on your feet.
Three of the most emblematic and most contrasting images of Greece are these: first, finely groomed young people sipping their frappés in seafront bars, often out of originally shaped and labelled glasses, second: all manner of people drinking frappé from plastic cups while doing their work, e.g. as a driver, a builder, a security guard or at an office desk (such as my own), third, piles of used cheap disposable frappé shakers found on the edge of motorway layovers or similar spots, as they were consumed on the go by truck drivers and discarded on the spot (Peter Sommer Travels does not condone littering!).
There is also some frappé folklore. For example, some websites list colloquial terms for badly-made frappés, like “petimezi” (“grape molasses“), if it’s too sweet, “dynamitis” (“dynamite“) if it’s too strong, or “nerozoumi” (“water-brew“) if it’s too weak. Admittedly, I have never heard any of them used – but I have come across the occasional frappé variation, including additional ingredients such as ice cream, various alcoholic drinks or chocolate. To my mind, they spoil the simplicity.
In my own life, frappé mostly indicates summer, or the long sunny season: I will start asking for it at about the same time of year that I begin to sit outside, i.e. March or April, and replace it with cappuccino when the cold season begins (November or so). Of course, my flat contains a tiny (and very cheap) frappé blender, as do most households in Greece. And yes, occasionally when stuck frappé-less and abroad, I have been known to improvise by shaking instant coffee with cold water in an empty plastic bottle (a trick I learnt from a colleague I ought to admire just for that).
So, a Greek-style frappé, perhaps not the finest kind of cold coffee available (in Greece, it has strong competition now from various freddos and other modern concoctions), is not just a rough-and-ready cold-coffee drink – it is an expression of culture, lifestyle and identity – and long may it last!
Join us for an authentic Greek frappé on our expert-led tours in Greece!