Nikos Koulouris lives for music, playing saxophone with the Czech band Krystof, while enjoying good food and coffee on their travels. His family comes from Crete and he often returns to visit them, searching for good coffee while there. Lately there has been a growing number of cafes to pick up a tasty brew, and so the Cretan coffee scene deserves an introduction. Get fresh tips from Nikos.
When the boys from the European Coffee Trip asked me to write an article on coffee culture in Crete, I asked myself, ‘Is there really anything to write about?’ The question which I thought deeply about stayed in my mind. Then I came to this conclusion—The modern coffee culture as we know it in Europe is just at its beginnings in Crete. I am of Cretan origin and despite the fact I live in the Czech republic I visit Crete at least 1-2 times a year so you could say I am quite familiar with Cretan gastronomy, coffee culture included.
If you’ve ever been to Crete or other parts of Greece, you surely remember Greek coffee shops full of people, Greeks enjoying their daily coffee dose. Coffee drinking has a long tradition in Greece as well as in Turkey, and the whole Middle East. Simply put, Greeks and coffee go hand in hand.
Traditional Greek coffee preparation has been preserved for over 500 years. It has got specific rituals. If you want to prepare your coffee the original Greek way, you have to follow strict rules. The coffee beans have to be lightly roasted, and ground on a very fine setting. Originally, the coffee used to be prepared in hot sand. When preparing the traditional Greek coffee, be aware not to boil the water at all. The other, and definitely more popular way of drinking coffee is the original Greek product–Frappé. It was first introduced in the 1950’s, and it interrupted Greek coffee evolution for many years. Though the Frappé and it‘s variations dominate coffee menus during the hot months, there are already few pioneers who do their best to spread ‘fresh coffee ideas' in Crete.
Chania is one of the busiest touristic cities in the whole of Crete yet it retains the spirit of an old multicultural city where different ethnics used to live next to each other. Nowadays, it is the capital of Cretan gastronomy and most of the finest dishes come from this harbor city. Whether it is coffee or food that brings you to Chania, you will find here both, and not even so far away from each other!
Kross Coffee Works is situated in the old part of the city centre and my favorite one as well. Every time I come this way I have to visit the cafe too. The head barista Manolis prepares you filter coffee, espresso, cappuccino or Greek coffee from their menu. If it is an iced coffee that you are craving, you can get a Freddo Cappuccino, though prepared on the instant base. There are three Kross coffee Works cafes in Chania which all keep the coffee at a high quality. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a cappuccino here yet, but I’ve seen some lovely latte art. The balance of the coffee always stays with barista and that’s also the case of the Kross Coffee Works.
Crete still preserves the most traditional way of dining culture with the old types of plants as well as recipes that have been forgotten in most parts of Europe.
The Cretan national dish are Chochlios (snails), and my favorite too. Do not hesitate to stop by at Kouzina EPE, where my punk aunty prepares her best recipes daily, bringing to the table the most fabulous dishes you will ever taste in the whole Crete. Upon entering the restaurant you are invited to ‘look under the lid’, which literally means to open the pots full of fresh food for a peak of their daily menu. Order everything and just share it to taste the most traditional dishes of greens, grasses, seafood and snails, the national dish of Crete.
Oionopieio is a restaurant situated right next doors to Kross Coffee Works and Kouzina EPE. This tavern is usually more of a supper place. Tamam restaurant is where you will find a very high level of cuisine. The restaurant is situated in the Old harbor commonly known for touristy shops, hence a nice stop after visiting the site of Chania.
If we move a couple of hundred kilometres to the east, to the capital Heraklion, we can’t miss Crop. It is something completely rare in Crete for a café to roast their own coffee and also make their own beer.
The first time I visited Crop was in summer 2016 and I was very excited. Despite the fact that the roasting experience is at the very beginning they work very hard to improve it on a regular basis. Right upon entering the cafe you immediately spot the roasting machine on the right side which brings you even closer to the coffee itself. Afterwards, you proceed further into the whole cafe which is quite small, yet very warm and hospitable compared to most cafes I’ve seen. It is not even a problem that there are people literally everywhere. The waiters are at your service straight away, which is always helpful, especially in such a small space.
The Crop are doing their best to push the coffee scene in Crete forward. Their baristas are very interested in coffee culture and if you happen to talk to them, they will be very excited to share with you their experience. The owners of Crop are the first Cretans who are planning to travel to source their green beans which I understand to be very rare in the whole Greek scene. At the moment, they are sourcing green beans through Nordic Approach, Cafe Imports or Trabocca, with direct trade relationships opening up in Colombia hopefully in 2017.
Another of Heraklion’s interesting cafés is Indigo café situated in the very centre of the city. Whenever you come it’s always packed with people. Their Baristas’ interest in coffee is obvious in the way they interact with customers. The usual orders coming through are for espressos or cappuccinos, brewed with Athen’s most popular roastery, Taf coffee. If you happen to order a filter coffee though it sparks conversation with them. Despite the majority of customers ordering espressos, the cafe keeps two additional grinders to serve you the best filter coffee they can.
Heraklion has got a lot to offer to a foodie as well! If you are looking for a traditional Cretan type of restaurant you will definitely find it at Peskesi, which in Cretan means the present. You can choose from a selection of perfect traditional meals here. Kouzineri is yet another great restaurant, perfect for meat lovers. Especially those who love old type of meat preparing.
To sum it up, the island’s coffee culture is at the very beginning, hence it is driven by enthusiastic baristas excited about coffee and its origins. The thing I value the most in Cretan baristas is their lightness of being. Whatever the topic, they are always open to talk to you about it. The Cretan coffee culture is growing every day, which means that one day we might travel to Crete to discover new ways of coffee brewing.