Ikaria Longevity Secret: Drink Greek Coffee

Greek Coffee

Diane Kochilas – Greek coffee

Greek coffee made headlines in 2013 as the elixir of life, the secret to longevity among inhabitants of Ikaria, all thanks to a stuffy conducted by Dr. Gerasimos Siasos a physician and professor at the University of Athens Medical School, and published in Vascular Medicine in March, 2013. It essentially found that drinking a daily cup of Greek coffee may be good for our hearts and one more in the long list of food and lifestyle clues behind these islanders’ enduring life spans.

Moderate coffee consumption in general is thought to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health. Dr. Siasos and his team researched the link between coffee-drinking and endothelial function. The endothelium is the layer of cells that lines blood vessels and is affected by aging and lifestyle habits, such as smoking.

Siasos’s team randomly selected 71 men and women over the age of 65 on Ikaria. They tested them for high blood pressure and diabetes and asked them to fill in a questionnaire about their medical history, lifestyle and coffee-drinking habits. More than 87% of those tested said they drank Greek coffee daily. The subjects, even those with high blood pressure, had better endothelial function than those who drank other kinds of coffee.

The reason might lie in the nature of Greek coffee itself. Greek coffee is lightly roasted, finely ground, almost powdery. It is prepared by boiling, usually with a little sugar, in a tapered small pot called a briki. Boiling helps extract more of the healthy compounds, such as polyphenols and antioxidants, than are found in, say, brewed coffee.

Greek coffee in Athens

Greek coffee tradition at an old Athens café.

I can add my own observational two cents here, too. Making Greek coffee is something of a ritual. First you have to measure out a demitasse of water and pour it into the briki. Then you measure out one or two heaping teaspoons of the coffee and as much sugar as desired, typically a teaspoon for a metrio, or medium-sweet cup. With a long-stemmed spoon or miniature whisk you then proceed to stir the coffee over a low flame until it begins to swell and rise in the briki. The best Greek coffee is actually made over a bed of hot sand, and there are special machines in contemporary cafes in Athens and beyond where you can find this. You lift the coffee several times over the flame as it swells, careful not to let it boil over, until a creamy foam forms on the surface, called kaimaki. To make good Greek coffee requires mindfulness and presence; it is not just a matter of pressing a button on an automated espresso maker or turning on the coffeemaker for a cup of filtered coffee.

It is something you have to do slowly and deliberately and it takes some skill to get the viscosity right. A typical cup of Greek coffee is not more than a demitasse full, or 2 to 4 ounces, compared to 8 ounces in a regular cup of filtered coffee.

Take a look at how to make Greek coffee in my youtube video, here. Sip slowly, and enjoy!