When we think of places with distinct coffee cultures, countries like Italy, Ethiopia, or Columbia often come to mind. But on a recent trip to Greece, I was thrilled to discover a very robust coffee scene—one that put the Europeans-don’t-drink-iced-coffee notion to shame. Beyond fried kasseri cheese and stringy knafeh, it was the humble freddo espresso that made a lasting impression on me.
It’s a drink that shines in its simplicity, a natural answer to sweltering Mediterranean heat. You pour a shot or two of espresso over ice, mix the liquid with a shaker or electric blender, and, thanks to the contrast of hot and cold, create the most satisfying top layer of foam. Enjoy it straight, with a little bit of sugar, or combined with a layer of frothed cold milk for a freddo cappuccino.
“Pretty much everyone in Greece—90 to 95% of people—drinks freddo espresso, whether it’s summer or winter,” says Petros Chiskos, co-owner of European-inspired Roast & Brew coffee shop in Houston, Texas. “It gives you a nice kick in the morning. It’s straight espresso. And you can adjust how sweet you want it. I like to add a dash of sugar and honey, which helps to feel the whole blend of the espresso.”
The freddo was invented in the ’90s, when espresso made its way over to Greece, and specialty brands like Illy began to pop up. It became the chicer cousin of a more established—and equally as good—Greek iced coffee: the frappé.
The story goes that the frappé was invented, by accident, in 1957. Yiannis Dritsas, a representative of Nestlé Greece, was at the 22nd Thessaloniki International Fair, tasked with presenting a new iced chocolate drink for kids: a concoction made from shaking milk and cocoa powder together.
But during a break, an employee of the same company, Dimitris Vakondios, went to the kitchen to prepare his regular Nescafe. But he couldn’t find hot water, so he replicated his boss’s technique, instead mixing the instant coffee with cold water and ice cubes. From there, the frappé was born. And it was only a matter of time before we started seeing whipped coffees on TikTok, whether in the form of a frappé or dalgona coffee.
Unfortunately for us Americans, the freddo espresso and frappé are not as easy to find in coffee shops across the U.S. “Usually you will find them only if the place is owned by Greek people or if the owners happened to travel to Greece,” Chiskos says. A few examples include the cafes and markets that dot Greektowns across the U.S., like Atropolis Bakery in Chicago, Bakalikon in Detroit, and Karella’s Cafe in Baltimore.
Chiskos and his business partner/best friend, Thomas Soula, were born in Albania, but both moved to Patras, Greece when they were just five years old. “We spent our whole lives there,” Chiskos says. “And it was always our dream to open a place that would remind us of home.”
I asked Chiskos for advice on how to make these specialty Greek coffees at home. Since returning from Greece, I’ve been making an ad-hoc version, brewing one shot of espresso, tossing it into an ice-filled cocktail shaker, giving it a mix, and then pouring it into a glass over ice.
It’s a happy medium between a hot espresso—which I could not bear to wash down in humid New York City—and an iced latte, which, frankly, I’m getting a little bored of. It’s refreshingly bitter, yet still foamy, and doesn’t give me the heart palpitations I usually experience after drinking cold brew.
While a cocktail shaker will do, Chiskos believes using a handheld milk frother will bring the freddo even closer to cafe quality, “especially if you are adding any flavor, because you want to break what’s inside of the espresso,” he says. If you go the cappuccino route, Chiskos recommends using skim milk, which will create a longer-lasting foam.
The frappé is the drink you opt for when you need a little more caffeine. Use the same electric frother to mix water and instant coffee, but be mindful of the amount of water you add to the cup—too much will make the drink too foamy, and you’ll miss out on the coffee.
“You want to add about a finger of water, maybe an inch max,” Chiskos explains. “Once you start to see the foam becoming more creamy, add some ice, a little more water, and stir it for a bit. Let it sit for 30 to 40 seconds, and it will be ready to drink.” To make it sweet, you can add some sugar in the initial mixing stage. To lessen the strength of the espresso, add some milk at the end.
With these two coffees, the foam will help to lock in the flavors, but you want to make sure they don’t get watered down by the ice. The solution? Drink them fast. “They’re not really drinks you want to be sitting on for a long time,” Chiskos says. “They’re meant to last you 30 to 40 minutes max.” But trust me when I say, you’ll want to scarf them down immediately.