There’s an old joke I love to tell about Greeks: How many Greeks does it take to make a party? One.
My in-laws are loud, animated, lovely, talkative people. As an introvert, I was terrified at the thought of meeting so many people in my husband’s family at once. My first Christmas dating Steve, we visited his grandparents (and aunts, uncles, and countless cousins) in Tucson, Arizona. Instead of the anticipated social terror (common for us introverts with anxiety), I was met with warm smiles, kisses on the cheeks, and open arms into their loving homes. I did eventually get used to the lamb roasting on the electric spit outside—shots of Metaxa helped with that.
My Greek mother-in-law once said to me, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” This rang true as I later learned about the culture I was marrying into once Steve and I got engaged. I remember as we were planning our wedding, we debated about having a traditional Greek ceremony.
“It would be a long drive for our guests,” I said to Steve as we contemplated how everyone would be able to get back and forth from Colorado to the traditional Greek church all the way up in Wyoming. He pinched my cheeks, pretending to be his yiayia (Greek for grandmother, spelled various ways) and said in a shaky, high-pitched voice with rolled R’s, “Laura, it is for the family.”
Shortly after, we got married in front of our beloved friends and family, carrying on the tradition in a Greek Orthodox church as so many have done before us.
Greeks love tradition. Through traditions, we can tell our story and pass it down through generations, with tales from our ancestors infusing the rituals of everyday life.
One such ritual is coffee. At Christmas last year, I spent time with my husband’s grandparents learning the Greek tradition of coffee-making on the stove in a briki—the traditional steel pot with a long handle used to make coffee.
As a coffee nerd—nay—addict, I wholeheartedly dove in to absorb the old ways of Greek coffee-making.
Steve’s grandmother, Helen, demonstrated the technique using two briki on her stove at home in Arizona. Savoring the aroma of the grounds inside the giant can of Venizelos coffee, we pulled out small cups called “demi-tasse” and measured enough cold water for the number of people to be served. Each cup held about 1/4 cup of water.
She asked us if we like our coffee unsweetened, sweet (glykos), or somewhere in the middle. “Metrios.” she said. “Not too sweet, and not too bitter.” We mixed one heaping teaspoon of coffee and a teaspoon of sugar into the water and set the heat to a low-medium, mixing it in until it dissolved.
And then we waited.
A few times, Helen added very small amounts of the ground coffee and gently stirred the top, creating a richer, thicker flavor. Just as in life, we can tailor the taste depending on what we put into it. And, just as in life, the more we stir the pot, the less we get what we want. “Let it simmer, the foam will rise,” Helen said. As it slowly came to a boil, foam gathered on the surface. “The more foam, the better.” Called kaïmaki, the foam is left to gather as the coffee heats up. Just before it came to a boil, steam rose and a thick, delicate layer of foam crowned the surface. She poured the coffee into the small cups, with equal foam placed on the surface of each one.
Greek coffee is made to be savored, slowly, among friends and family. Afterward, it is a tradition to have the grounds in the bottom of your cup “read” by spinning the base in your hand, then quickly turning it over, revealing your fortune as the grounds dry in patterns over the walls of the cup.
My fortune, as told to me by Steve’s uncle, was that I am living a full, uncomplicated life. I hope that cup was right.
May your cup, as in life, be full and sweet.