Athens The heart of ancient + modern Greece

Notes from the road

What comes to mind when I mention Athens?

Do you think of Greek gods and the Acropolis, of a culture deeply rooted in mythology that birthed modern-day philosophy and performance art? Do you wince at the thought of its economy? Are you attracted to the romance of its grungy streets? Repulsed by them?

Personally, I think of frappes.

Nothing perks you up after a big night on ouzo or a day of ruin roaming quite like Greece’s unofficial beverage. The frappe, long may it reign, is simply powdered instant coffee, sugar, water and milk, blended together until it becomes a cooling, caffeinated cloud. According to my Greek travel companion the Nescafe is manufactured differently, which accounts for the thick, enduring foam.

I’m surprised more people haven’t called out dalgona coffee (a recent Korean beverage that went viral in home kitchens during COVID lockdown) for what it is: a bloody Greek frappe. There are entire articles dedicated to arguments over who invented dalgona, but a Nestle representative in Thessaloniki invented the frappe –made the exact same way – during a 1957 trade fair. He couldn’t find hot water and turned to the shaker he was using to promote a new chocolate beverage for children, accidentally birthing the frappe.

These days cool young things – the kind you herd into the same category as Athens’ graffiti and rooftop bars – drink freddo, similar to a frappe but invented in the ‘90s and made with espresso instead of instant. Despite instant coffee being somewhat “off-brand”, I am loyal to the humble frappe. Nothing else powers me through markets and hilly neighbourhoods to hidden gems and local tavernas in the same way – and no trip to Athens is complete without at least one (per day).

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