What’s the secret to heart health and longevity? It may be a daily cup or so of Greek coffee. In a recent study published in Vascular Medicine, researchers found that elderly residents from the Greek island Ikaria who drank boiled Greek coffee at least once a day displayed better overall cardiovascular health. (Ikaria, by the way, has been documented as one of the regions where people live well past 90 at a significantly higher rate than the rest of the word.)
In general, coffee – one of the most consumed beverages worldwide – is considered to be good for the heart since this beverage contains high levels of protective antioxidants and polyphenols. However, what makes Greek coffee superior to your average cup of Joe is its concentration and preparation, both of which deliver more protective compounds in each little cup.
Greek coffee is boiled rather than brewed. This boiling method was developed in Yemen during antiquity, long before filtration of coffee was introduced. Boiling coffee is also carried out in Turkey and throughout the Middle East. This method also creates a foam the Greeks call kaimaki (pronounced kaee-MAH-kee), which adds a rich, creaminess to the coffee. The process of boiling coffee extracts much more nutrients from the coffee beans than the filtering method.
Additionally, Greek coffee is comprised of Arabica coffee beans, which are ground down to a very fine powder, thus delivering more concentrated antioxidants per ounce than in a cup of regular coffee. The combination of boiling a fine grind gives Greek coffee a powerful, one-two health punch. Plus, you get less caffeine than in an American cup of coffee, so ounce for ounce it’s a healthier choice.
Rich in chlorogenic acid, polyphenols, lipid-soluble substances and other heart-healthy compounds, Greek coffee has been shown to help protect the arteries, as well as lower your risk for diabetes and boost overall immune health.
Greek Coffee and Healthier Blood Vessels
According to the study, those who drank Greek coffee had healthier blood vessels. What’s more, the new research suggests that Greek coffee protects against endothelial cell dysfunction, a type of heart disease that is particularly lethal to women and is on the rise.
Endothelial function represents the health of blood vessel walls. The endothelium is composed of a thin layer of cells that line the interior of blood vessels, helping them to open and allow blood to flow through more easily. This process keeps blood pressure in check, allowing the heart to work less in terms of pushing blood through the vessels.
However, when the endothelium becomes inflamed, it creates areas where arterial plaque can latch on and build up, a process that may eventually trigger a heart attack. The intense concentration of heart-protective properties in Greek coffee calms inflammation in the vessels, thus smoothing down the endothelial layer, allowing blood to flow more freely and helping to prevent plaque buildup.
Drink It the Greek Way
In Greece, coffee is typically consumed 3 to 5 times a day in small demitasse cups. In general, each cup contains just a little over 100 mg of caffeine, which equals the amount in about a cup and a half of American coffee.
Greek coffee is typically sipped slowly in social settings with family and friends, either around the kitchen table or in cafes. Part of the health benefits beyond the drink itself may also be connected to the leisurely pace of Greek life, which could also reduce overall stress, another boon for cardiovascular health. In addition, Greeks adhere to a Mediterranean diet, rich in fish, olive oil and plenty of fruits and vegetables, which also contributes to a healthy heart.
Boil Your Own Greek Coffee
To reap the benefits of drinking Greek coffee, follow these steps to make your own at home.
What You’ll Need to Make 2 Cups
Briki (pronounced BREE-kee) pot, available online or at Greek specialty stores for about $10*
2 demitasse cups, available at department stores
2 tsp Greek coffee, also available online or at a Greek specialty stores**
2 cups of cold water
*If you don’t have a briki pot, use a small saucepan
**If you can’t find Greek coffee, purchase espresso, another very fine grind that also uses Arabica beans
Add 2 cups of cold water and 2 heaping teaspoons of Greek coffee to the briki pot or saucepan. (The briki pot is preferred since this traditional pot is wider at the bottom than on top, which helps create a proper amount of foam, adding to the coffee’s unique taste.) Stir 4 to 5 times to blend until the grounds are dissolved and then don’t stir again. Slowly bring to a boil. (According to one Greek superstition, the more bubbles that form as you boil your coffee, the more money will come to you.)
When you see a ring of foam around the top, it’s about ready. Take it off the heat to prevent foam from boiling over. (According to another superstition, allowing the foam to boil over may bring bad luck.) Evenly divide the foam into the 2 cups and then fill with remaining coffee. Wait to drink until the grounds have settled to the bottom. Since Greek coffee is very strong and rich, it is often served with a glass of water on the side to help cleanse the palette.
Milk is never added to Greek coffee but sweetener sometimes is. There are basically three versions of Greek coffee: Unsweetened Greek coffee is called sketos (pronounced SKEH-tohss); moderately sweet coffee with 1 teaspoon of sugar is called metrios (MEHT-ree-ohs); and a more intensely sweet cup with 2 teaspoons of sugar is called glykos (glee-KOHSS). If you like your coffee sweet, add a teaspoon or 2 of sugar or another sweetener to the pot, along with the coffee grinds before bringing it all to a boil.
One final note: Coffee contains kahweol and cafestol, which both raise cholesterol levels. Paper filters help to capture these substances before they make it into your cup. If you have high cholesterol, it may be best to stick to drip coffee instead of boiled.