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Greece in an instant: Greece is often regarded as the cradle of Western civilization and is also acclaimed for its importation of soluble coffee. With very little coffee re-exported (according to ICO), Greece suddenly became a big consumer of soluble coffee especially when calculated on a per capita basis.


Manufacture, trade and consumption of soluble coffee within the European Union (EU) is changing all of the time, if for no other reason than the recent steep rise in member states to 27 following accession of 12 Eastern European nations over the last several years.

Soluble always featured strongly in the coffee economy of the "old" 15 member country EU, although production was concentrated in the three big soluble manufacturing nations Germany, United Kingdom (U.K.) and Spain. Around 80% of all coffee consumed in the U.K. and Ireland, was and still is, soluble. Spain, with soluble consumption at 17% is the other recognized significant user of soluble coffee products.

Fathoming the production, export/ import and consumption of soluble coffee in individual EU countries is not getting any easier due to increasingly large volumes of soluble imported from coffee producing countries for packing and re-export, and an increasing complex nature of intra European cross-border trade.

Tucked away in the figures and rarely receiving due acclaim for strong support of soluble coffee is the relatively small country of Greece with less than 11 million people. Greece does not manufacture an awful lot of soluble coffee but imports a great deal. And with very little coffee re-exported (according to ICO), Greece suddenly became a big consumer of soluble coffee especially when calculated on a per capita basis.

That said the historical lack of detailed figures on coffee consumption as a whole in Greece (including soluble), has not helped this South-Eastern European country situated at the cross-roads of old western Europe and the new east, take its rightful place in the soluble coffee rankings.

Greece imports over 400,000 bags (60 kg) of green coffee beans (not decaffeinated) each year for the period 2003 to 2005 (Table 1). Over 95% of the 2005 total was accounted for by imports from Brazil, India, Vietnam, Colombia and Ethiopia in that order (Table 2). Over an above this volume in 2005 there was as much again imported as soluble coffee, 404,000 bags (GBE--green bean equivalent) compared with just 144,000 bags (GBE) of R & G.

Soluble accounts for over half the market in Greece, with Robusta coffee correspondingly accounting for over 40% of all coffee imports. Import estimates for 2006 of 391,000 bags green coffee plus 611,000 bags of processed coffee (Coffee Exporters Guide 2005) turned out to be highly accurate given actual imports of 1.026 million bags subsequently documented by ICO at the end of 2006.

Manufacturing of soluble coffee in Greece (extracts, essences and concentrates in solid form including instant coffee) is modest but approaches national production of R & G. In 2004 Greece manufactured 7,182 tons of soluble coffee representing almost 70% of R&G production (10,536 tons). Virtually all was not decaffeinated. Greece does not even register on the scale of European country consumption of decaffeinated coffee, soluble or otherwise.

Only the U.K. manufactures more soluble than R & G (50,116 to 16,154 tons in 2004). Spain's 30,325 tons of soluble manufactured in 2004 was less than 30% of its not-decaffeinated R&G production (108,359 tons). Even Germany's massive soluble production (99,357 tons) was only 25% of its R&G, shrinking to 19% if German production of decaffeinated R & G is also put into the equation.

Information sources such as the European Coffee Report produced by the make definitive statements about consumption of coffee in Greece, giving lack of statistics as the reason. According to ICO, re-exporting of coffee from Greece is small in proportion to the amount imported (40,786 bags out about 1 million imported for 2006). In comparison, Ireland with total coffee imports of just over 200,000 bags, re-exports about the same volume of coffee, as does Greece. Be that as it may, simple deduction shows that Greece is consuming virtually all the soluble coffee it comes by, whether manufactured "at home" or imported from other countries within and outside of the EU.

Best guess for total (all) coffee consumption in Greece comes from ICO figures for green coffee put at 911,000, 60 kg bags in 2005 almost double that in 1990 and four times higher than 1964-1969. This equates to a per capita consumption of 5.0 kg for 2005, nowhere near the highest in Europe but higher than the other two big soluble coffee consuming countries--Spain (4.2) and U.K. (2.4).

Sources for soluble coffee imported into Greece are easier to identify. Cote d'Ivoire, the biggest African producer and exporter of Robusta coffee, only exported 1,867 bags of green coffee to Greece during 2005 but more than made up by taking around 50% of total soluble imports into Greece, a feat forecast to be repeated in 2006. Soluble coffee is increasingly sourced from other EU countries.

ICO breakdowns give an insight into other sources of soluble imported into Greece. Figures from 2003 and 2004 indicated Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands and U.K. as significant exporters of soluble coffee into Greece. Given the extent of intra-EU, cross-border trade this is not necessarily indicative of where the soluble coffee was manufactured.

Instant Goes Against the Grain in Greece?

Why Greece and Greek coffee consumers should be 'swimming in soluble' first appears to be a bit of a mystery given the nature of traditional coffee brewing and drinking in this country. Turkey and Greece may have disagreed on some things but one of the many things in common is their age-old "Turkish" and "Greek" coffee, which is about as far as you can get from contemporary instant coffee in time, taste and caffeine content.

Traditional Greek coffee is made by boiling finely ground coffee and water together to form a muddy and thick coffee mix, the strongest coffee claimed to be sufficiently viscous to 'keep a spoon standing upright.' It is traditionally made in a briki (ibrik or cezve in Turkey), which is a long-handled, open, brass or copper pot. Coffee is poured without filtering into tiny Demitasse cups, fine grounds and all. After being left to settle, the brew is served with sugar and sometimes spice is added to the cup. Nothing could be further from a soluble coffee product and "instant" coffee drinking in form, composition, manner of preparation and time taken to make the coffee and consume it.

Greeks enjoy hot coffee with many drinking several cups a day. Recent market documents report steady growth in the hot drinks sector over the last year or so, with coffee still leading the way and instant maintaining its share. Growth is expected to continue over the next five years with Greek style coffee products including instant at the forefront and moves towards more contemporary coffee products like cappuccino.

But this cannot account for soluble taking around 50% of the Greek coffee market. Deeper digging reveals one of those fortunate accidents marking the discovery, design and development of soluble coffee and instant coffee drinking that is responsible for the high consumption of soluble coffee in Greece.

The sharp sight and taste buds of George Washington (an Englishman living in Guatemala around 1900), who noticed a soluble real coffee residue beneath the spout of his sterling silver coffee pot, and Dr. Sartori Kato's soluble dreams first dashed by the stubbornness of tea (and tea drinkers) but rescued by coffee and the U.S. military during World War I, are amazing enough. But the purely accidental invention of Greek Frappe (a long ice-cold instant coffee drink), and now recognized in many parts of the world, is equally fascinating and fortunate. Benefits accruing from the invention of the Greek Frappe have spread far and wide to include soluble manufacturers in Robusta coffee producing countries such as Cote d'Ivoire.

Frappe In The Frame

Just as the advent of coffee drinking in Spain during the early 19th century was at the expense of cocoa and chocolate (Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, May 2007), Greek Frappe was also born at the expense of a chocolate drink, but much later according to the legend. Greek Frappe dates back to the 1957 Trade Fair in Thessaloniki (Greece) where a company (Yannis Dritas) representing Nestle in Greece was exhibiting a new chocolate beverage for children, produced instantly by mixing with milk and agitating in a mixer. Dristas' employee Dimitris Vakondis was also 'agitated' because he wanted a cup of instant coffee but could not find any hot water to dissolve the powder. In desperation he mixed the coffee with cold water in a shaker and thus created the prototype Greek Frappe.

Whether or not this event should be described as legend is debatable. Given the time line from Ancient Greece with Archimedes and Aristotle, Vakondis' modern, Greek Frappe invention seems like "yesterday." That said it clearly did no harm to Nestle, in spite of instantly eclipsing their chocolate drink at the trade fair. Nestle took the Frappe product on board and has largely been responsible for marketing Nestle Frappe into a national drink for Greece and now consumed more, albeit in lots of non-authentic variations. The drink was also taken on board later by Kraft when they launched their own brand of Greek Frappe under the 'Jacobs' label.

Greek Frappe is a foam-covered ice-cold coffee drink made with instant coffee. In spite of the continued rapid ascendancy of freeze-dried soluble coffee the best Frappe is still made with spray-dried instant coffee because its low coffee-oil content aids formulation and formation of the foam. State-of-the-art freeze-dried soluble coffee now consumed in the mature instant coffee markets (like the U.K.) may be more flavorful but its higher oil content impedes and inhibits formation of the foam at the top of the glass.

Spray-dried instant coffee powder is virtually coffee oil free and made up solely of tiny particles of coffee solids, naturally infused with taste and aroma chemicals and the all important stimulant caffeine (unless decaffeinated to order). The solution formed when spray dried coffee particles dissolved in water is a simpler and more stable colloid compare with that resulting from freshly brewed R&G. It is this sophistication based on scientific simplicity that allows the characteristic thick frothy layer to be created at the top of the coffee, which are the very basis, charm and appeal of Greek Frappes.

In appearance the froth looks very much like the crema foam on espresso but is actually much thicker, more stable and completely different in composition. For the purpose of physical chemistry, Frappe foam is most accurately described as a three-phase colloid in which tiny bubbles of air are held together in a matrix by the coffee solids. The virtual absence of coffee oil compared with traditionally brewed coffee imparts added stability to the system, so that the bubble matrix does not collapse with the same ease as in the crema on espresso coffee.

Soon after the foam is created, a process of thickening starts to occur in which water molecules are constantly pushed out of the frothy mixture. The bubbles come very close together and the foam almost solidifies. This process can take somewhere between two to 10 minutes depending on the agitation process during mixing. With virtually all the water now pushed out, the bubbles will have come so close as to coalesce and create bigger bubbles.

The presence of coffee oil, which is a hydrophobic (water-hating) agent at this stage, can quickly stimulate and speed up the collapse of the foaming process to leave a lighter foam with an average bubble diameter larger than 4 mm. Basically the hydrophobic oil interferes with and breaks down surface tension forces at the interfaces between air, liquid and solid in the foam. The reason you cannot make a good Frappe in many countries is because it is becoming difficult to access the basic spray-dried coffee powder for the task, which ironically is the cheapest and for instant coffee drinking generally considered as inferior.

Use of a hand mixer allows creation of finer bubbles, which in turn increases the stability and longevity of the foam. The best Frappe coffees are considered to be those having the smallest bubbles and a foam thickness of about 1.5 to 2 inches (30 to 50 mm).

The foam has no effect on intrinsic taste of the coffee and many drinkers use a straw to avoid face (lip) contact with the foam. Nevertheless the foam on top of an authentic and now iconic Greek Frappe is considered to be integral and important part of the whole consumption process. Many Greeks love to savor the textural taste of the foam, which tops their Frappe and refuse to consume the drink without the proper depth and durability of foam.

Variations On A Theme

Increasingly, there are all sorts of variations on the Frappe theme but basically the barista or barman puts a scoop on instant spray-dried powder coffee in a 10 oz. glass and adds a small amount of milk and ice and a sprinkling of sugar. The mixture is then blended in what looks like a milk-shake machine and topped halfway with sparkling mineral water.

R&G industry tourists visiting Greece are anxious to cash in on the Greek Frappe phenomenon (described by Daniel Young, a prolific writer on Greek coffee as "Grecian Gold"), comment on the gulf in coffee trends between neighbors Italy and Greece. Some have suggested Greek Frappe would be all the better if it was made with espresso coffee. But they miss the salient scientific points underpinning the Greek Frappe and its strong, robust, deep and durable foam. It is the virtual absence of coffee oil in the "cheap and cheerful" instant spray dried powders used by the bucketful to make this novel drink.

Why anyone should think otherwise is strange, given that Nestle and now other big brand names have invested a considerable amount of time and money in designing, formulating and marketing custom-designed spray dried instant powder coffee products just to make authentic Greek Frappe.

There are more than a few contradictions and idosynchrancies when it comes to this cold instant coffee drink. It may take a short time to prepare but that is the only thing brief about the Greek Frappe. It is served in tall sexy glasses as a long, cool and moist thirst quencher to combat the fiercely long, hot and dry Mediterranean summers with maximum temperatures now well over 40[degrees] C. Frappe is not just a drinking experience say Greek consumers but a social experience too, designed to last a long time and promote conversation and dialogue.

Observers scanning the tables and charts that cover soluble coffee trading may look at the "outstanding" amount of spray-dried instant coffee imported into Greece from the Cote d'Ivoire and comment that it seems to be zan awful lot of soluble coffee. According to the International Trade Centre (ITC) Coffee Exporters Guide (2002) the proportion of total soluble imports into Greece from Cote d'Ivoire stood at an incredible 82%. It was still projected at 51% for 2006. The reason for this seemingly unusual heavy trade appears purely and simply to be Greek Frappe requiring the cheapest and most cheerful spray dried powder from Africa's biggest producer of Robusta coffee for its very existence. However, the apparent fall in proportion of soluble from Cote d'Ivoire from around 80% to 50% in just five years bears out information give in the European Coffee Report (2005) that soluble coffee into Greece is increasingly sourced from other EU countries.

The whole irony surrounding the discovery of Greek Frappe is that it was initially at the expense of cocoa and Nestle Company's instant chocolate product at the 1957 trade fair. In the event, Nestle took up and ran with Frappe in Greece and was largely responsible for its commercial success. At the same time the world's biggest producer of cocoa (Cote d'Ivoire) saw opportunities for its next biggest crop of Robusta coffee.

Greek Frappe a contemporary and increasingly popular cold instant coffee drink is supporting spray-dried instant coffee powder, increasingly considered to be a dated soluble coffee product and largely regarded 'past its sell-by date' as a stand-alone ingredient for hot coffee drinks, especially in sophisticated mature markets. Long iced drinks are not the classical way to sell soluble coffee products. But it fits in with current thinking that applications other than straight standalone hot coffee beverages must be found to boost instant coffee sales especially for the basic spray-dried instant coffee powder in saturated or stagnant markets.

Dr. Terry Mabbett is a technical writer with a PhD degree in Tropical Agriculture. He has worked in crop production and processing throughout the tropics--India, South East Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean--and in his home country of the U.K.
Table 1. Green coffee bean imports * into Greece
2003 to 2005

Units 2003 2004 2005

Tons 25,602 27,532 25,594
Bags ** 426,692 458,865 423,615

* Non-decaffeinated, ** 60 kg,

Source: Eurostat; European Coffee Federation

Table 2. Green coffee bean imports into Greece
by origin in 2005

Origin Volume * Percentage

Brazil 327,390 76.75
India 34,623 8.12
Vietnam 29,027 6.80
Colombia 10,950 2.57
Ethiopia 7,205 1.69
Cote d'Ivoire 1,867 0.44
Others 15,511 3.64

* 60 kg bags, Source: Eurostat; European Coffee

Table 3. Snapshot on soluble in Greece

Soluble imports 2005--60 kg bags 404,000
Percent of total soluble sourced 50.00
 from Cote d'Ivoire 2006
Soluble production (tons) 2003 7,182
 2004 8,024
Robusta as percent of total
 coffee imports 40.00+
Re-exports of coffee (total)
 in 2006-60 kg bags GBE 40,786
Consumption green 1964-69 average 201,000
 coffee-bags 60 kg; 1990-99 average 578,000
 2005 911,000
Per capita consumption 2005 (GBE) 4.96 kg

Sources: ICO; Eurostat; ITC Coffee Exporters Guide;
European Coffee Federation's European Coffee Report.
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Title Annotation:Greece
Comment:Greece in an instant: Greece is often regarded as the cradle of Western civilization and is also acclaimed for its importation of soluble coffee.
Author:Mabbett, Terry
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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