Coffee is dumb.

Wait, now… hear me out.

We find these berries that only grow on shrubs that only grow on a certain side of mountains of a certain height, right? Then we take the berries, and… wait, forget the berries, throw those away. We want the SEEDS. So we take the seeds and dump ’em in the road. We leave them there until they’re all dried out, and we might walk on ’em to make sure they’re all spread out evenly while they’re doing it.

Then we take our road-seeds inside, and we burn them. Burny burn burn, cook ’em within an inch of their seedy little lives until they pop. And then we burn them some more. After they’re good and burnt, we dump the burnt seeds from a berry that grows on a bush only on the side of mountains of a particular height, and ship them off on the backs of donkeys in burlap sacks. Those sacks are sent at great cost to various first-world countries where folks carefully measure them into vacuum-sealed bags and then ship them around again depending on what sticker happens to be on the bag.

People then pay exorbitant prices to take these burnt seeds back out of the bags, and smash them up. We then take the ground up seeds that we burnt after throwing away the fruit from berries that one can only get from a particular side of particular tropical mountains at a particular altitude, and pour hot water over them. Then we drink the water that we poured over the burnt bits of difficult tropical berry-seeds and take the wet mush that we worked so hard for and throw it away. Or perhaps use it in fertilizer, YMMV. HOW IS THIS EVEN A THING.

I’ve also heard that French roast coffee came about because the French tried to grow coffee in France, and it turned out so poorly that they had to burn it extra-hard to get it to resemble the coffee they’d dreamed of.

Several species of the Coffea genus produce these so-called “beans,” but the most popularly grown are Coffea canephora and Coffea arabica. Both are native to different regions of the African continent, and only C. arabica is self-pollinating. It’s considered the ‘better’ coffee anyway. However, beans from C. canephora (robusta) have 40-50% more caffeine and can produce better crema in espresso. Robusta plants are also more disease resistant and can be grown in a wider range of areas, so whatever gets the job done, right?

(And yes, I spent far too much time working in coffeeshops.)

Studies on coffee and/or caffeine have been all over the place. Is it the coffee or the caffeine? Do the best benefits come from roasted or green beans? Is it an antidepressant? Does it cause anxiety? And what, exactly is a “moderate amount” of coffee, anyway?

You can ask over at World Coffee Research. Or the Coffee Research Foundation. Or perhaps you’d prefer to inquire at the Institute for Coffee Studies. Harvard, the Mayo Clinic and even the Atlantic weigh in. O, we love it so.

In particular, I am fond of Greek coffee.

In various national permutations, this is essentially unfiltered coffee made with very, very finely ground beans. It’s not a type of bean, but a method of preparation. The coffee used feels like powdered sugar, and it kicks like a mule. This stuff is seriously fantastic, but it’s not something you can take with you on the train in the morning since you leave the grounds in.

There’s a wide variety in the methods used to make Greek coffee, and I’m probably doing it wrong since I’m tiresomely American and want as much coffee in my belly as humanly possible without vibrating off the planet. The pot I make it in is called a μπρίκι (bríki), which my sister also likes to use to melt butter for popcorn. It’s shaped to help the coffee foam, so you kinda want to use one, but since it’s multi-purpose it’s not such a ridiculous purchase. The coffee mine makes usually could fill a few demitasse cups (like you’re supposed to serve it) but I keep it all for myself. If you want a cup of your own, I’ll make you another pot.

Greek briki pot with coffee on a stovetop with a bag of Loumidis coffee
This is the stuff.

The way I learned is this:

Fill the bríki most of the way with cold water, balance it carefully on the stove burner (it’s a little thing). Drop a heaping teaspoon of ground coffee on top of the water, it will float. Turn on the heat to somewhere around whatever your definition of ‘medium’ is and wait for the coffee to sink, then give it a good stir. (This is when you’d add the sugar, if you like your coffee sweet.) Then you wait.

Some versions add cardamom, even MORE sugar, cinnamon, and/or cloves, depending on where you are and who is preparing your coffee. I like it black.

Greek briki pot on a gas burner full of frothy Greek coffee
Tiiiiiiiiny bubbles….

The best Greek coffee has the most foam on top as you can possibly manage, without boiling the whole mess over. You can experiment with time and temperature to get that part right; I’ve adapted to about nine different stovetops in both gas and electric formats over time and somehow they’re all different. You really want to keep an eye on this, as the good stuff happens quickly and you can go from “hmm, I’ll give it a minute” to “HOLY FOO IT’S GONE TO PLAID” in about fifteen seconds.

When the coffee is foamy but not too bubbly, turn off the heat and pour it into your cup(s). If you’re using multiple cups, try to get an equal-ish amount of foam in each. Let the coffee settle, then slurp. Since you’ve got all the grounds in the bottom of the cup, take care when you get close to the end of your beverage.

A mug of Greek coffee from above.

This is better than some foul-tasting energy drink any day.

For more entertaining coffee factoids, may I point you in the direction of the Oatmeal?

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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  1. I seriously love coffee. It’s one of my favorite things and I want that in my face now.

  2. I now want sweet coffee with cardamom. I have never had such a thing, and usually prefer my coffee unsweetened, but this just sounds right and good.

  3. Maybe a pinch (1/8 teaspoon, if you’re a measuring type) of cardamom per cup of water will do it. Add it with the coffee.

    I’ve found that I actually like more sugar in Greek coffee than I EVER would in “regular” drip coffee, but I recommend you start with small amounts nonetheless. You’re basically making it a cup at a time, experiment until you love it.

  4. I’ve had this as Turkish coffee before, though the main place I’ve had this is at a local Lebanese restaurant I’ve been going to for nearly 20 years and they brew it essentially this way as Lebanese coffee. I love this and have been threatening to purchase the necessary hardware for ages.

  5. Do it! Bríki are surprisingly inexpensive!

    (and I think you can call it $nationality coffee as you like. It’s really the same stuff.)

  6. I’ve done coffee for a number of camping events, as you can do small batches on demand and too taste. I’ll see if I can dig up my kit in time for Skeptics Under the Stars.

  7. I’d thought about bringing this stuff camping, but I’d need a really long handle on the briki. If you’ve done it before, I shall leave it to the professionals. You’ll be very popular in the morning!

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