The coffee of youth

To paraphrase Monty Python, what have the Greeks done for the rest of us? Yes, sure, there’s democracy, but apart from that what have the Greeks given the world? Oh, OK, there’s trial by jury, theatre, philosophy and the art forms of tragedy and comedy, but that’s it! Well, yes, there’s the concept of the “city state”, a body of poetry and mythology, and the Olympics, but apart from that…what have the Greeks given the world?? Actually, they’ve given us a coffee that might lead to a long life.

Researchers have been studying residents on the Greek island of Ikaria because while in the rest of Europe only 0.1 per cent of people live to be 90 years old, fully one per cent of Ikarians live to be over 90. For those arithmetically challenged among you, that is a 10 times greater proportion living beyond 90. So the question becomes what is the fountain of youth on Ikaria.

According to the researchers, it is their coffee.

The researchers analysed data on 142 Ikarian men and women aged over 65 who had lived on the island all of their lives. When they looked at lifestyle choices of the people, they found that 87 per cent of them drank coffee.

The endothelium is the lining of blood vessels and it is affected by lifestyle and ageing. A healthy endothelium is responsive and flexible, so the researchers examined the endotheliums of these coffee-drinking Greeks. They found that endothelium function was better in the coffee drinkers and there was no negative influence on blood pressure. Based on this the, researchers believe that it may be the boiled Greek coffee that is helping provide the vascular basis for a long life. There is more to Greek coffee though than the beans.

To make a Greek coffee as they drink it on Ikaria, you need something equivalent to a “briki” which you can put on your stove to hold the coffee as it boils. You put coffee and water in your briki and place it on your stove on low heat. You slowly let the coffee heat up, until the surface starts to tremble and foam. You then remove it from the heat until the foam settles, before returning it to the heat again to let it start foaming and puffing up, then you remove it. You then serve it in cup, usually with a glass of cold water.

Coffee made this way is lower in caffeine than filter or espresso coffee but it retains antioxidants. However, it is the way that it is drunk that could be as important as what is in it.

By tradition, Greek coffee is consumed sitting down and is drunk slowly. It is believed that to get the full flavour you need to sip the coffee slowly. Traditionally, coffee has been consumed by Greeks two times a day, in the morning and in the afternoon after their nap.

Perhaps this deliberate, moderate, contemplative, ritualised nature of Greek coffee is the true magic of the brew. Whatever the mechanism, however, at least the Greeks have finally found something to give to the world.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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